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Happy Mother’s Day!

“Blessed be all the mothers of mothers.
Blessed be all the daughters of daughters.
Blessed be all the daughters of mothers.
Blessed be all the mothers of daughters.
Now and forever, wherever we are.” –Diann L. Neu

In Uganda there is a special word that means “mother of a newborn”–nakawere. According to the book Mothering the New Mother, “this word and the special treatment that goes with it apply to a woman following every birth, not only the first one. The massages, the foods, the care, ‘they have to take care of you in a special way for about a month.'”

There is a special word in Korea as well. Referring to the “mother of a newborn child,” san mo describes “a woman every time she has had a baby. Extended family and neighbors who act as family care for older children and for the new mother. ‘This lasts about twenty-one days…they take special care of you.'”

These concepts–and the lack of a similar one in American culture–remind me of a quote from Sheila Kitzinger that I use when talking about postpartum: “In any society, the way a woman gives birth and the kind of care given to her and the baby points as sharply as an arrowhead to the key values of the culture.” Another quote I use is an Asian proverb paraphrased in the book Fathers at Birth: “The way a woman cares for herself postpartum determines how long she will live.

Dana Raphael, the author of Breastfeeding: The Tender Gift, who is best known for coining the word “doula” as it is presently used, also coined another valuable term: matrescense. “Nothing changes life as dramatically as having a child. And there was no word to describe that. So we invented the word–matrescence–becoming a mother.”

Happy Mother’s Day to mothers around the world!

Mother's Day

Want to find out what mothers really want? Check out the newest Listening to Mothers survey results: Listening to Mothers III: Report of the Third National U.S. Survey of Women’s Childbearing Experiences

Other Mother’s Day reads:

Womenergy (Womanergy)

Prayer for Mothers

What If…She’s Stronger than She Knows…

This is a modified repost of a previous post for Citizens for Midwifery. It is being crossposted today at CfM, Talk Birth, and Pagan Families.

The Revolving Wheel (Gift from the Sea)

“With a new awareness, both painful and humorous, I begin to understand why the saints were rarely married women. I am convinced it has nothing inherently to do, as I once supposed, with chastity or children. It has to do primarily with distractions. The bearing, rearing, feeding and educating of children; the running of a house with its thousand details; human relationships with their myriad pulls–woman’s normal occupations in general run counter to creative life, or contemplative life, or saintly life. The problem is not merely one of Woman and Career, Woman and the Home, Woman and Independence. It is more basically: how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center; how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel.”
Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

Lindbergh’s notion of mother as the axis of the household wheel really resonated with me, as did her descriptions of being pulled off center and distracted by a million aspects of the “wheel” of life. Her comment that saints were rarely married women made me smile, because it makes me think of Wayne’s Dyer’s comments that gurus rarely have eight kids, because there is nothing like the experience of parenting to shake your sense of yourself as someone who has it all together, spiritually or otherwise. And, it makes me think about how after some reading about Zen philosophy, I decided that Buddhism and Zen were not for me, because attachment is at the core of a mothering life. I got super irritated with old Buddha and his remarks about being “non-attached” and I thought, “easy for you to say, Mr. Go Sit Under a Tree and Wait for Enlightenment while your wife stays home and takes care of your kid—I guess she was too unenlightened and ‘attached’ to let go.” Being a mother has taught me a lot about relationship as the ground of being and relatedness, not non-attachment, as the core of a rich human experience. As I described in a prior post:

I have learned a lot about the fundamental truth of relatedness through my own experiences as a mother. Relationship is our first and deepest urge. The infant’s first instinct is to connect with others. Before an infant can verbalize or mobilize, she reaches out a hand to her mother. I have seen this with my own babies. Mothering is a profoundly physical experience. The mother’s body is the baby’s “habitat” in pregnancy and for many months following birth. Through the mother’s body the baby learns to interpret and to relate to the rest of the world and it is to mother’s body that she returns for safety, nurturance, and peace. Birth and breastfeeding exist on a continuum as well, with mother’s chest becoming baby’s new “home” after having lived in her womb for nine months. These thoroughly embodied experiences of the act of giving life and in creating someone else’s life and relationship to the world are profoundly meaningful.

via Breastfeeding as a Spiritual Practice | Talk Birth.

Anyway, Lindbergh says:

…to be a woman is to have interests and duties raying out in all directions from the central mother-core, like spokes from the hub of a wheel. The pattern of our lives is essential circular. We must be open to all points of the compass; husband, children, friends, home, community; stretched out, exposed, sensitive like a spider’s web to each breeze that blows, to each call that comes…
How difficult for us, then, to achieve a balance in the midst of these contradictory tensions, and yet how necessary for the proper functioning of our lives. How much we need and how arduous of attainment is that steadiness preached in all rules for holy living…

She also acknowledges the essential, and yet often difficult to find, need for solitude to find stillness as the axis of the revolving wheel of life:

…Women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves; that firm strand which will be the indispensible center of the whole web of human relationships. She must find that inner stillness which Charles Morgan describes as ‘the stilling of the soul within the activities of the mind and body so that it might be still as the axis of a revolving wheel is still…
This beautiful image is to my mind the one that women could hold before their eyes. This is an end toward which we could strive–to be the still axis within the revolving wheel of relationships, obligations and activities…
… she must consciously encourage those pursuits which oppose the centrifugal forces of today. Quiet time alone, contemplation, prayer, music, a centering line of thought or reading, of study or work. It can be physical or intellectual or artistic, any creative life proceeding from oneself…
…It need not be an enormous project or great work. But it should be something of one’s own. Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day—like writing a poem, or saying a prayer. What matters most is that one be for a time inwardly attentive…
~Anne Morrow Lindbergh from Gift from the Sea

I recall feeling this way about my own mother—that she was the center of our family, the anchoring space, the core to return to.

Other thoughts from Lindbergh that I related to after finding them online when reading reviews of her book and stories about her life include:

“I cannot see what I have gone through until I write it down. I am blind without a pencil…I am convinced that you must write as if no one were ever going to see it. Write it all, as personally and specifically as you can, as deeply and honestly as you can. … In fact, I think it is the only true way to reach the universal, through the knot-hole of the personal. So do, do go ahead and write it as it boils up: the hot lava from the unconscious. Don’t stop to observe, criticize, or be ‘ironic.’ Just write it, like a letter, without rereading. Later, one can decide what to do.”

And that made me think about story and being a story woman and I also saved this quote (not from Lindbergh):

We constantly weave life events into narrative and interpret everything that happens through the veil of story. From our smallest, most personal challenges to global issues that affect nations and generations, we make the world fit into the story we are already carrying. This unceasing interplay between experience and narrative is a uniquely human attribute. We are the storytellers, the ones who put life into words. – Christina Baldwin, Storycatcher (via The Circle)

Here’s what’s been happening in my wheel lately and the stories I’ve been weaving (Zander featured heavily the last time I wrote a primarily personal update post. This one has more moments from Lann):

How funny that we had to wait for spring before being able to actually make a snowman this year! (*note bat posed for imminent destruction too!)

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Last week, Lann had his first test (yellow stripe) in taekwondo. He did a good job!

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Future plans involve moving on from cardboard armor, to real movie stuff…

In the car on the way home from a different class, Lann was planning his birthday party (Sept). He wants to learn how to make silicone movie masks. He said: “I’ll do the sculpting and art part, you do the reading and talking about it part, Dad can do the sitting around with his mouth open part, Zander can do the running around and squealing part, and Alaina can do the napping.” I said: “does Dad really only sit around with his mouth open?!” And Lann said, “Mom, in AWE!” He also said they’re going to go to the Drury Inn and dress up in Lord the Rings costumes, “and, we’ll have to hang up a sign that says Nerdfest.”

That same week we were briefly discussing the massive scale of the universe and the fact that the Earth is hanging around out there in space, spinning, and Lann said, “sometimes my brain hurts when thinking about a selection of topics.” 😉 And, that reminded me of a long ago Lann story when he was about four. We were doing the whole, “I love you as big as the sky” type of thing, and I said, “I love you as much as the universe–and guess what, the universe has no end, it keeps getting bigger, and goes on forever!” And Lann said, “oh mom, that’s so beautiful I don’t know what to say.”

The week before, Lann hitched a ride to taekwondo with Baba and since I was on break from class, I was home with Zander and Alaina (usually they go grocery shopping with Mark while I’m in class). Zander came running in to get my iphone so he could take a movie of something and I heard him their room taking a movie and narrating to Lann as he does so, so that he can give him the movies when he gets home and catch him up on what Z’s been up to while they’re separated! Good buddies!

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Heartbreak of tooth decay sculpture from fall of last year–mama covers head, not wanting to know and yet holding both baby and the extracted teeth. At her heart is a jewel, because she acts with deep love.

We’re dealing with ongoing dental issues with Alaina. Despite our heroic efforts, she’s ended up with the most severe problems of any of our children. Last week I took her to the local pediatric dentist. He was really nice and informative and Alaina did really great with him. However, she needs a LOT of work, more than I thought, and it is going to be really expensive. She needs the crowns she already has replaced because they were not fitted correctly by the first dentist and there is decay around/behind them, plus she needs four other crowns and also two regular fillings. :*(

We’re definitely going to have to go through the general anesthesia route. The local pediatric dentist only does this work in the hospital and we got the estimate from the surgery center for the hospital portion only and it was $8900. Our insurance will cover part of it (we’ll still have to cover about $4500), but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that that is absurd. What a broken system. Taking your kid to the hospital for two hours to get their teeth worked on just should NOT cost $9000, no matter who pays for it, that is patently ridiculous. So, I’m going ahead with the consultation I made for her in Springfield on Wednesday. I called in advance to double-check and they do their oral surgery work in an outpatient surgery center rather than in a hospital and their estimate for the clinic part is $2000, total. That is more like it and is worth the two-hour drive (one way). I wish I hadn’t bothered taking her locally, because now we just have to do the exact same thing on Wednesday and then still go back. She has to have a physical first, before she can have anesthesia, so I also made an appointment for her first-ever visit to the doctor. What I really, really wish is that I’d just taken her to Springfield in the first place, last year, when we first started to get her teeth taken care of. I am so angry with the dentist we took her to in St. Louis. I was happy with the same office for Lann (different dentist, 8 years ago), but I have HATED everything that happened there with Alaina and I wish I’d never taken her there. I feel like they actually caused the problems she has now by not acting to treat the teeth I first brought her in about and then doing an absolutely CRAPPY job on everything they did after that. I don’t actually feel like I really have energy to really be angry though, my primary feeling is sadness and anxiety about what is to come.

In a cuter Alaina story, I made myself a little sculpture to use as a pendant, but Alaina appropriated it. When I finally put it on her, she said…”dooool.” I said, “did you just say ‘cool’!?” And she said, yes!

She also “knits” and likes tiny dogs…

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We get a lot of use out of the Ergo still too!

And, I guess our kids should be in a band:

Alaina sings!

Zander drums!

Lann drums too!

We went to my sister’s house a couple of weeks ago and the kids immediately took to my brother-in-law’s drums. Neither had ever drummed before and Zander really rocked it! Alaina singing was a moment I captured last week when I was printing invoices and she was sitting behind me putting on a show.

In my own news, I finally renewed my ICEA childbirth educator certification after dawdling on it for a long time, but I let my CAPPA certification lapse. It was a hard decision, but made the most sense. I’ve been moving on from birth education for quite some time, and continuing to shell out money for something I’m not using often doesn’t make a lot of sense.

My new classes begin today! After the hectic disequilibrium that comes with the final week of a school session, the following week feels a lot like coming home from being out-of-town—excited to see your familiar life, yet also slightly panicky about needing to “catch up.” Plus, there is so much to be unpacked…and then, BOOM, two weeks off is SHORT. My online class is full and my two in-seat classes have 12 students each. There was a lot of prep to do get ready for them–I always forget that these “breaks” aren’t about having a vacation, they are about preparing for next session.

I’m not sure how good I do about being the “axis,” but my wheel is a pretty fulfilling one 🙂

Non-Advice Books for Mothers

Mothering can involve a complicated and multileveled emotional terrain. What often speaks most clearly and helpfully to mothers is other women’s stories and experiences, NOT “advice,” prescriptions, promises, or admonishments.

I’ve noticed two types of “attachment parenting” mothers—those who discovered AP after having their baby or child(ren) and those who chose attachment parenting in advance, sometimes way in advance. While of course a host of factors are involved, both internal and external, I’ve also noticed that those who discovered, feel more content and are less likely to be hard on themselves about their AP-“failures.” If you discover something, you have an ideal to live up to. If what you start with is the ideal, essentially the only way to go is down! I’m one of the latter bunch, having envisioned my attachment parenting perfection and bliss for at least three years prior to actually giving birth to my first baby. After my first son’s birth, I dove into more and more and more parenting books, trying to make sense of my new life. And, to me totally honest, Dr. Sears books started to drive me out of my frickin mind, even though I agreed with the guy about almost everything. I still recommend him, I met him in real life in 2007 and consider him an excellent resource, however tMarch 2013 078he subtext I perceived in his books was: “do it the right way and you’ll always be happy and baby will never cry” and that was really, really hard on me as a vulnerable, sensitive new mother of a pretty cranky baby. So, I practically collapsed with relief when one of the birth center doctors suggested reading the book Misconceptions by Naomi Wolf. After this, I became obsessed with what is somewhat dismissively referred to as “the momoir”—memoirs of motherhood written by real women. Loved them. Lived by them. Learned from them. They “heard” me when I really, really needed to be heard.

Recently, a lovely friend and first-time mom on Facebook remarked that she needed to stop reading “advice” books about motherhood and try something else (though, still interested in reading about motherhood). Her comment reminded me so much of myself and I swooped in, ironically, with “advice” about other books to read. As I thought about books to suggests, the piles upon piles of books that I devoured came back to me in a rush. This morning, I went through my bookshelf and made a list of those that were influential enough to make the cut and be kept, versus being resold or passed along in the giveaway box. It is a big list! And, it is only a fraction of what I actually read. What was also really interesting for me to realize was that I haven’t read a book like this in ages, there are probably dozens more now! I still have several unread on shelf, but I no longer feel as if I need them in the same “lifeline” way in which I combed the library shelves with my first baby in his little sling.

So, here are my tips and suggestions on non-advice-based books for mothers. In general, I vote ixnay on any kind of “how to” mothering/parenting books. I vote yes on parenting memoirs, books about self-nurturing and mother-care, and sociopolitical commentary on motherhood. Disclaimer: a lot of the books on my list are written by “mainstream” authors, many of whom are pretty critical, sometimes very harshly, of attachment parenting. I find that some of these books create a lot of polarization with regard to Amazon reviews. At the risk of sounding very snobby myself, I would suggest that you are unlikely to enjoy these books if you are any of the following:

  • Unable or unwilling to engage intellectually with topics surrounding motherhood/parenthood.
  • Uninterested in the larger social, cultural, and political context surrounding individual mothers and their parenting “choices.”
  • Dismissive of the role that sociopolitical influences have on the lives and experiences of individual women.
  • Unable or unwilling to allow other women to define their own experiences and to recognize that not everyone experiences things the same way, and that that is fine, even desirable.
  • Fond of describing maternal honesty as “whining” and prefer “suck it up” approaches to sometimes painful explorations of complex feelings.

Before I list my books, make sure to check out Brain, Child magazine! I DO still read and devour this and feel as if it “saved me” multiple times during the first three years of parenting. And, make sure to check out my What Kind of Mother Are You Quiz, based on a memoir called Inconsolable.

These books may include links to prior posts/reviews about them. A lot of them are a blend of memoir and sociopolitical commentary—I classified them according to my perception of their primary emphasis. For all book reviews I’ve ever posted on my site, see this page.

Memoirs:

  • Let the Baby Drive by Lu Hanessian. This is one of my very favorites. Nourishing and enriching and relevant. May have a small tinge of “do it my way.”
  • Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott. This is a classic. A memoir of the author’s first year with her son. She is a single parent and so the book addresses some of the challenges involved with parenting solo. This book is incredibly funny at times.
  • Callie’s Tally by Betsy Howie. Very, very funny, though not particularly “AP” (so if you’re looking for that, read Let the Baby Drive instead). This book chronicles how much money the author has spent on her daughter during her first year of life.
  • A Better Woman by Susan Johnson this one is an often painful to read memoir of a woman’s experience with an obstetrical fistula
  • Fruitful by Anne Roiphe (also addressed in prior post: Motherhood, Feminism, and More). This is a good look at the tensions between feminism and motherhood and navigating new identities
  • Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! A tale of mothering three sons.
  • The Blue Jay’s Dance by Louise Erdrich. Very lyrical, mild book. (Quoted or written about in these prior posts)
  • Dispatches from a Not-So Perfect Life–by a frequent contributor to Brain, Child magazine.
  • Inconsolable: How I Threw My Mental Health Out with the Diapers–memoir of a journey through severe postpartum depression. Darkly funny. Critical of attachment parenting, but in a manner in which I can identify.
  • Growing Seasons by Annie Spiegelman. This memoir is by a “sandwich generation” mother, caring for a toddler and for her own ailing mother.

Anthologies:

  • Mothers Who Think—collection of essays from writers for Salon.
  • The Bitch in the House–not all about parenting, about marriage, work, etc. Often angry.
  • Toddler–stories about parenting toddlers by one of the former editors of Brain, Child.
  • Beyond Onecollection of essays about adding a second child. I loved it. A friend I lent it to thought it was “horribly depressing.”
  • Real Moms—a surprising gem from MOPS. While I find many of their books too “surface” in emphasis and also very mainstream-Christian-mom directed, this one is great. One of my favorites.
  • The Fruits of Labor–about parenting at all stages of life. Some are tragic. This is more literary memoir than “tell all” memoir.

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  • What Mothers Do (appears in Motherful) by Naomi Stadlen. I love this book! It takes a close look at how women mother and how skillfully they do so (so that on the outside it looks like they are doing “nothing”). This is not a “how to” book, but a book that tries to look below the surface and explore concepts that are very difficult to verbalize/articulate. She strives to put into words/give us language to describe what is it that mothers do all day–their often invisible contributions to life. Contributions that are often invisible even to ourselves. This is a very affirming and unique book. This is one of my top picks for tender new mothers. There may be some subtext about doing it “right” though.
  • Of Woman Born (included in this post: Motherhood, Feminism, and More). This is a classic sociological and personal exploration of the role, meaning, and cultural valuation (or devaluation) of mothers. This was my first exposure to the notion of motherhood as institution rather than simply as role/relationship.
  • Price of Motherhood  by Ann Crittenden. Emphasis on economics, but very interesting analysis of multiple cultural, political, and social influences on mothers.
  • The Motherhood Manifesto—by Moms Rising. Showed me there is an actual “mother’s movement” afoot!
  • Paradox of Natural Mothering—academic in tone. I really enjoy this book. Lots of food for thought. It is a little uncomfortable to read too because she is so spot-on in her analysis of mothers like me. It is strange to feel “under the microscope.” The author herself is a “quasi-natural mother,” so the analysis isn’t harsh criticism, but it is a critical look at the “cult” (my word, not hers) of natural mothering and has a LOT of excellent discussion about feminism and natural mothering. She says–and I completely agree–that natural mothering represents the intersection of three ideological frameworks: voluntary simplicity, attachment parenting, and cultural feminism.
  • The Mask of Motherhood
  • Misconceptions by Naomi Wolf. As I mentioned, this was the first book that I ever read about a woman’s postpartum experience. It was suggested to me by the doctor at the birth center when I expressed some teary frustrations about adjusting to my new life and wondering if I would ever get “back to normal.” This book is on the “angry” side–it is not a nurturing and tender read and she is critical of things I value (like LLL). I did not identify with the author’s birth experiences or feelings about birth (I felt tremendous during birth and powerful, empowered, triumphant, and confident) and her conclusions seems mis-drawn, i.e. her birth was terrible, ergo, birth itself is terrible and those who tell you otherwise are lying, but her postpartum feelings closely match my own (weak, wounded, invisible, etc.)
  • Perfect Madness by Judith Warner. Included in this post: I just want to grind my corn! Fairly harshly critical of attachment parenting. takes potshots at LLL.
  • The Mother Knot by Jane Lazarre (included in: OBs and Normal)
  • Big Purple Mommy—about creativity and motherhood and still nurturing one’s creative self.
  • The Mother Trip (included in this post: Small Stone Birth Activism)–this one is written by Ariel Gore, original founder of the awesome zine, Hip Mama.
  • The Mother Dance by Harriet Lerner. This one focuses on the psychology of women primarily.

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  • 25 Ways to Joy & Inner Peace for Mothers
  • The Tao of Motherhood
  • The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood
  • Mother Nurture by Rick & Jan Hanson. This book is phenomenal. Very comprehensive. It addresses mothers of children from birth to age 5, so even if you are several years past the early postpartum weeks, this book has much to offer to you! One of the focus areas is on “Depleted Mother Syndrome” and addresses coping with it via all areas (body, mind, social/relational).
  • Mothering the New Mother–classic postpartum doula book! Highly recommended.
  • This isn’t what I expected—postpartum depression recovery.
    After the Baby’s Birth by Robin Lim. This book is very holistic in approach and is one of my very favorite postpartum reads. It offers such gems as, “you’re postpartum for the rest of your life” (which some people have said they feel like is depressing, but I find a tremendously empowering statement!) and “when the tears flow, so does the milk” (with regard to the third day postpartum). It does have a large section on Ayurvedic cooking, which, personally, I don’t connect with, so be aware that that section is in there and depending on your belief system, might make perfect sense to you, or might seem inapplicable like it feels to me.
  • Mothers Guide to Self-Renewal

Novels/Others:

  • I Don’t Know How She Does It—fiction about an employed mother and the juggling act with which she tried to balance work and family.
  • Motherhood Confidential–this one is pretty weird. I almost didn’t include it and I also don’t know whether it is fiction or not. It is billed as “chicken soup for the spleen” and as an “anti-advice” book. I like the recommendation to scrape off the “dogma-doo” of parenting. It is about two best friends, one who becomes an attachment parenting homeschooling mother and the other who is a “detachment parent” and how rocky their relationship becomes.
  • Three Shoes, One Sock, and No Hairbrush by Rebecca Abrams. Primarily about adding a second child.

International Women’s Day: Prayer for Mothers

nursingmamas

This week marked my eighth anniversary as a breastfeeding counselor.  When I began, I didn’t how long I’d keep doing it and I’ve had a lot of discouraging rough patches with dwindling group membership in which I felt like giving up, but now I suspect I might end up as a “lifer.” When I started this work I had one little 18 month old boy. Now, that little boy is closing in on TEN this year! I’ve logged over 1200 contacts since my accreditation. I’ve learned so much from the mothers I’ve worked with and I continue learning new things all the time.

This month as I sat in the circle at our mother-to-mother breastfeeding support group meeting, I looked around at all the beautiful mothers in that room. I reflected on each of their journeys and how much each one has been through in her life, to come to this time and this place, and tears filled my eyes. They are all so amazing. And, my simple, fervent prayer for them in that moment was that they could know that. Know that on a deep, incontrovertible level. I tried to tell them then, in that moment. How much they mean to me, how incredible they are, how I see them. How I hope they will celebrate their own capacities and marvel at their own skills. How I see their countless, beautiful, unrecognized, invisible motherful actions. How when I see them struggling in the door with toddlers and diaper bags and organic produce that they’re sharing with each other, I see heroines. They may look and feel “mundane” from the outside, but from where I’m sitting, they shine with a power and potency that takes my breath away. Moderating toddler disputes over swordplay, wiping noses, changing diapers, soothing tears, murmuring words, moving baby from breast to shoulder to floor and back to breast without even seeming consciously aware of how gorgeously they are both parenting and personing in that very moment, speaking their truths, offering what they have to give, reaching out to one another, and nursing, nursing, nursing. Giving their bodies over to their babies again and again in a tender, invisible majesty. In this room is a symphony of sustenance. An embodied maternal dance of being.

So, today on International Women’s Day, when I visited the woods behind my house, I offered up this…

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I offer a prayer for all mothers
may you breathe deep down into your belly
may you tip your face to the sky
let your shoulders soften
your forehead smooth
your eyes close gently
your lips part

And may you take a deep cleansing breath
from your feet on the earth
all the way up through your legs
hips
belly
chest
shoulders
and throat

And with this breath
honor your own capacities
marvel at your own resources
notice your strengths
celebrate your successes
listen to your own wisdom
recognize your own heart.

Take a moment to see
really see
how often you act with great courage
how often you act with deep love
and how much of your life’s energy
spirals and spins around your children.

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.

Fill your body with this breath
expand your heart with this message
you are such a good mother.

What to tell a mother-to-be about the realities of mothering…

I see new friends starting out on the road to motherhood with mixed feelings. Immense joy at the ecstasy of love they are about to experience, great protectiveness, wishing to shield them from the scars it will make on their souls, the pain, the heart ache, the worry, the exhaustion, the touching of anger which they had been able to keep hidden all these years. But this is the journey. The one that makes us the mothers that we will be. The mothers that our children will live with every day, yet barely know… –Lucy Pearce, Moods of Motherhood

A few years ago, a life coach and women’s health expert I follow online got pregnant. During her pregnancy, she started a new Facebook fan page called Blissful Motherhood* (*not really. It was called something different, but I’m protecting her identity). I am going to confess that my first reaction was to kind of meanly laugh to myself as I thought, “oh honey! You poor thing. You have NO FREAKIN CLUE.” So, a couple of months after she had her baby, she showed back up on her real Facebook page with a familiar lament: oh my goodness, this is SO HARD, why didn’t anyone TELL ME?! And, again, my initial reaction was kind of a mean secret snicker (so, how’s that Blissful Motherhood page treating you now?!). Then, I swallowed that unbecoming reaction and I told her this:

When I had my first baby, I would see women who were pregnant and feel almost a sense of grief for them—like, just wait, you have NO idea what is coming. I also told my husband more than once: “this is both more wonderful and more HORRIBLE than I ever could have imagined.” The fear of being thought a “bad mom” is SO powerful that it keeps us quiet about many things. I’ve felt more than once that my kids were “torturing” or me or literally trying to crush my spirit/soul. It sounds horrible to type it out, but that is how I feel sometimes! I’ve also written about how it interesting to feel both captivated AND captive. Bonded and also bound. I discovered that there was a whole new section of women’s rights I hadn’t even been aware of prekids–mother’s rights. I do think many, many women have written about this, but when you start out you feel like you’re the only one whose “daring” to mention the ugly side [she’d also mentioned, “why doesn’t anyone write about this?” Um, they totally do. A lot]. Start reading “momoirs”—they’re a lifeline! So many good ones out there. I have a big collection of them. Oh, and start reading Brain, Child magazine. The best look at real mothering I’ve ever know.

This, “why didn’t anyone tell me?” and, “why isn’t anyone talking about this?” is a common refrain echoing in the postpartum tales of many mothers. So, why don’t we tell them? Or, what can we actually tell them? Is there a way to really do so? I kind of think there’s not.

Lucy Pearce explains it like this in her Moods of Motherhood book:

Nobody told me… You look at me bewildered, eyes grey with exhaustion. Milk-spattered, baggy clothes, hair awry. “Nobody told me…” you begin. You look at me, urging me to explain myself. How could I have kept this, all of this, secret from her? Surely it was my duty to prepare her. “Nobody told me how much it would hurt, how exhausted I would feel, how much love I have in my heart that I think I will burst, how overwhelming it all is…” her eyes begin to well with the enormity of her new knowing. All I can do is to smile. To hold her. “We tried.” I say softly. Stroking her tousled hair. And I think to myself. It is not so much that we did not tell you, as you could not hear. Until you have your own child, held in your heart, your ears are blocked, your eyes are blind to the reality of motherhood. Its pains and its glories. Once you have been there, stood in the body of motherhood, then you can hold hands with every woman who has ever mothered. You know her joys and pains. You are her.

Looking at my own pre-motherhood life, I think this is right. I could not hear. I didn’t want to hear. I saw frazzled mothers stumbling into LLL meetings and “complaining” about their precious darlings and thought things like, “I’ll never feel that way!” I remember thinking after my first son was born that everything I’d feared it would be like to have a baby was TRUE and everything I’d dreamed it would be like, was also true. My mother told me before he was born that the, “highs are higher and the lows are lower” after a baby, which is also very true, but I don’t think there’s any way to fully prepare for that. My future doula gave me a letter at my blessingway in which she tried to lovingly express what it is really like and I put it away thinking,”for you maybe!”

First baby tender triumph and dazed reality.

First baby: tender triumph and dazed reality.

In response to the Blissful Motherhood life coach, another woman responded: “I remember my mom trying to get real with me before I had my first baby and I was horrified with what she told me, almost angry that she would try to burst my bubble… then I had my little boy came along and I wondered why she hadn’t told me more…Sometimes the realities of motherhood do just seem too harsh to share…” Personally, I didn’t want to hear much about the realities of parenting from my own mother, because if her experience of mothering was terrible, HELLO, that would have been my fault. I didn’t want to know that I’d made her suffer and stress!

My own childbirth educator simply told a story: when her own first child was a newborn, sometimes the baby cried so much and so long, that the educator would put her down in the middle of the living room floor and go outside and run around the house multiple times. While initially only “hearing” this story in brief passing (i.e. I’ll never feel that way), I touched back in with that story multiple times during my first son’s first year. I never actually did the running, but what the story gave me was permission to feel badly about parenting and to want to get away from it. And, you know why? Because that childbirth educator was a rocking cool lady and if someone that rocking cool had to “lose it” and run around her house like a freak, then I must not be doing such a bad job myself.

However, I also don’t tell them, those sparkling, beautiful, bright, glorious, happy, and full of promise pregnant women, what it is really like, because I don’t want to ever be the one to steal their joy, their excitement, their sense of promise, and their happy anticipation of “the greatest days of their life” or the fulfillment of a lifetime dream of parenthood. And, guess what? I think I’ve also realized that that sense of promise and anticipation is reborn, at least in part, during every pregnancy. It isn’t only the territory of the blissfully unaware, it is a gift that accompanies each new baby—the dream that this baby will be wonderful and perfect and so, too, can you be the mother you’ve always imagined being. It is a new, bright, hopeful start, every time.

It wasn’t actually until I had Alaina that I felt like I finally really enjoyed having a baby and being a mother the way I’d always dreamed of. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the others, I certainly did, but not in that delicious, complete, whole, and vibrant way in which I reveled in her. She was the first baby for whom I felt fully capable of totally giving myself to and not feeling captive by that gift. Perhaps not coincidentally, she was also the first baby for which I did not quit doing other things I wanted to do in order to mother her. My first son’s birth necessitated essentially totally dismantling my previous life and identity. It was SO HARD. I felt so much grief and loss about abandoning so much that I’d cared about so deeply. With my second son, I was finding my legs as a mother-person and feeling my way into other roles and responsibilities that were compatible with motherhood. My feelings of depression and fatigue after him were lifted when I started to find my voice as a blogger, as the editor of the Friends of Missouri Midwives newsletter, as a breastfeeding counselor, and as a birth educator. I’d redefined myself to include motherhood as the core facet of my identity, but in a way that allowed me personal expression and the ability to “make a difference” to other women. With my last baby, my mother-voice outlets were firmly established, my tribe was healthy and strong, and my non-mother career was compatible in an integrated and fairly harmonious way with family life. It was then that I finally felt like being a “good mother” AND doing others things at the same time was actually possible and (pretty much) stopped trying to make excuses for never having given up on that desire.

So what do you think? What can we tell mothers-to-be about the realities of mothering? Do we tell them anything or do we just hug them later when they cry and tell us they had no idea, why didn’t anyone tell me? What stories, like that of my own childbirth educator, do you have that you share with clients? Stories are handy ways of imparting life wisdom without being directive or prescriptive, or implying that someone must be exactly like you. I tell my clients a story of reaching out my hand to my husband, our fingers not quite able to touch, and saying, I miss you. I tell them about my feelings of this parenting thing being both more horrible and more wonderful than I ever imagined. I tell them about my childbirth educator running around her house. I give them tips and tips and more tips about making a postpartum plan. And, I tell them they look gorgeous. And, that they’ll be wonderful parents; that their babies are so lucky to have them. I listen to their happy birth plans and celebrate their enthusiasm. I point out how I notice how well they work together and what a great team they are. I wish them beautiful births and happy babymoons and tell them to email me or call me if they need anything. I hope they’ll remember that I’m there and that I do have the capacity to hear “ugly” without rejecting them. I remind them as many times as I can that they’re strong and beautiful and capable…and then, I open my hands and heart and watch them fly away into their own unknown, mysterious, tender, fragile, and precious journey.

hands

Postpartum hands picture, taken by my mother in 2003.

Some relevant past blog posts:

Taking it to the body… Part 2: Embodied mindfulness, introversion, and two hours!

Trust yourself. Take it to the body. She always knows.”

For my meditation practice for my compassion class, I’ve been working with several things, starting with the above quote. As I explained in part 1, how often do we deny the urgings of our bodies? It seems as if mindfulness begins there.

So, I’ve decided to practice an embodied mindfulness and meditation…taking it to the body and checking in with what she knows. Consciously noticing and being aware of my body’s signals to sleep, eat, and eliminate. It is much harder than you would think for something so basic and essential for well-being and I “fail” many, many times a day, but, and this is the point: I notice as I am failing, as I am not listening. That is better than remaining unconscious, right?!

The second part of my practice is that I’m trying to make sure I feed my spirit first—going to the woods, praying, setting intentions for the day, lighting a candle and setting up some of my goddess art sculptures near me as I work, rather than letting those things languish for “when I have enough time” and “later.”

The third part of my practice is to notice my thoughts and how I think about things, bringing mindfulness to the repetitive, wheel-spinning , brain-groove making patterns of thought that I habitually engage in. I frequently feel like, “something has got to change!” or, “I need to change what I’m doing and THEN, XYZ.” In mindfulness practice, I notice that more often it isn’t what is actually happening in my life that is upsetting or stimulating the “change” urge, it is expressly how I think about things that needs to change. I have become aware of the following unhelpful brain-groove thoughts that continue to dictate my behavior, choices, feelings, and responses:

I might die

I need to be perfect

I can’t rest

I’m out of time/running out of time/there isn’t enough time

(I haven’t fixed these yet, but awareness of them is a big part of the puzzle.)

As appears to be my custom at this time of year, I had a big meltdown this weekend feeling resentful, overbooked, stressed, ragged, frustrated, blocked, irritable, etc., etc. Then, I piled on a hearty dose of self-admonishment for all those feelings and stirred in some big helpings of guilt. I blamed various things, I blamed myself, I ranted and raved about how something needs to change and I need to do something different because this just isn’t working. (most of this was actually in my own head because Mark was sleeping in the living room as he recovered from the stomach flu that swept our house this week, more on this later.) I was crabby at loved ones. I felt guilty for wanting to be alone and for feeling done with snuggling my nursling and smelling her sweet head, knowing, knowing, knowing that the time is passing and that I will miss it and yet, dang it, stop climbing all over me and ramming your hands down my shirt! I felt like I “should” be doing all kinds of things differently. Like I should be a better, nicer person and like maybe I’m choosing wrongly in my life. I wanted to just stop, to get off, to quit everything. I decided I don’t want to help anyone else anymore and I just want to take care of myself. I cried because I need my parents and Mark to help me so that I can help other people and if I just stopped trying to help anyone else, I could take care of myself/family and not need anyone to help me either. I made plans to make a big life map and ruthlessly chop things off it. I decided to embark on a massive self-care, self-improvement project for the new year. I dragged out piles of books to look through. I remembered that busy is boring , I craved time for a retreat. I exclaimed that I just want to grind my corn! I lamented my ongoing crisis of abundance. I looked up my old post about balanced living and saying ‘no’ and thought about how I’m going to say a big fat NO to everything all the time! Must be clear on priorities. Must choose well and wisely. Then, I got annoyed with myself for already having figured this stuff out before, for writing about it already, for boringly lamenting it all before, for never learning (or integrating) my life lessons, and for knowing better and yet doing it anyway.

And, then…everyone went to bed. I sat up by myself and worked on a drawing for a “make a plate.” The kids all did this at my mom’s house over the weekend as a Christmas project—you draw a design on a special piece of paper, send it in to the company, and they send it back to you as a plate. I wanted to make one too! So, I did:
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I really like it. After drawing, I felt tons better. I sat alone in the living room with my computer and got my online class all caught up for the week. And, suddenly it hit me. This ugly ragged self of mine I was seeing and experiencing and hating. She was popping out because I hadn’t had my two hours all damn week! And, after I realized that, I understood that things weren’t really that bad after all. Last week was insane. I knew it in advance, but it doesn’t mean it was easier to cope with it. And, if I tuned in to myself and my body, which is really, really hard to do when you’re an introvert without your requisite two hours, I just heard the familiar cry for what I need, to just be by myself at home for some time each week. Not to quit everything, all the time, but just to have some regular, consistent still points of solitude.

This is what last week looked like for us:

Monday: Twenty papers submitted by my online students, they all need to be graded in addition to my usual weekly grades for the week. While I did my usual grades and online class prep work, no papers got graded with the time I had available. Manage to quickly write an assignment for my own class, part of which is excerpted at the beginning of this post. Scramble to town to take the kids to meet Mark. Teach class on Monday night from 5-10. Come home freaking out about the rest of the week and HOW CAN I POSSIBLY GRADE THIS MANY PAPERS WHEN I HAVE NO TIME! Maybe I’m not meant to do this, maybe three classes is too many, maybe there is just something wrong with me.

Tuesday: After doing school with the boys, laboriously make pumpkin pasties to take to the Harry Potter potluck for the last day of homeschool co-op Wednesday. Insist on all three children helping with the “fun” and get super stressed out at not being a more zen mother of awesomeness. Call my dad desperately in the afternoon requesting “tribal reinforcement” (my tribe is a good one!).

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Pumpkin pasties. Awesome, or unnecessary torture?

After he takes the kids over to play at his house, manage to grade four of the papers among many other tasks. Then, take the kids and head to town for their taekwondo class and my own reiki class (why take a reiki class now when I already have so much going on? Who knows?! Crazy, remember?) Reiki class is great—totally works and I feel like such a healer! Go home and practice fab skills on Mark and boys and they are impressed. Feel buzzing with energy and hands are tingling. Stay up until 2:00 a.m, on purpose and finish grading ALL papers. Feel awesome and smug and have killer, killer headache.

Wednesday: killer headache continues. Take kids to homeschool co-op and potluck. Pumpkin pasties meet with approval. Pick up two of boys’ friends for an overnight. Fingers crossed for Alaina to nap when we get home, since I’m desperate to be alone and need to get “caught up.” She doesn’t.

Make homemade mac and cheese for dinner and it rocks. Boys and friends stay up until past midnight. I stay up and finish prepping for Friday’s class.

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She actually wore bowling shoes this time! Insisted on carrying ball every time for a whole game!

Thursday: Killer headache remains (not enough sleep, I think at the time). Make quesadillas for all kids in house and barely stagger out door with them all to go to playgroup at bowling alley. Bowl a terrible 85, but have lots of fun (Alaina is adorable bowler and gets a 17 [non-bumper lane]). Belabor different post-playgroup scenarios to manage rest of day.

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Mine, mine?

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Brothers are not into bowling and complain nonstop and sit staring like this. I finish their games.

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She’s a natural!

Send boys with friend to get pizza and go to park, while Alaina and I go to Wal-Mart to buy dinner supplies for a postpartum mama. Take dinner to new mama and listen to fab birth story and do breastfeeding help for next two hours. Kids come back from park and are sent with other friend in my van to gymnastics class. Help jump friend’s car and then go to pick up all gymnastics kids (my own boys + two). Am slightly late and they’re getting worried. Zoom to taekwondo to drop all off. Go to Panera to eat dinner and meet couple for wedding ceremony planning. Alaina finally falls asleep and nurse-sleeps throughout Panera visit. Back to get boys at 8:00 and meet other friend to deliver books she’s borrowing, plus pick up evaluation from her from recent birth workshop. Head home, dropping off boys’ friend at her house on the way. Remember LLL monthly stats are due and do them (27 helping contacts for November!), plus send overdue emails and answer help message. Catch up in online class. Collapse in recliner, hoping Alaina’s Panera snooze wasn’t an uber-late nap. She nurses more and falls asleep. Score! Mark and I start a Teen Wolf ep while she keeps nursing. Suddenly, A wakes and projectile vomits all over my body. Yikes! What’s up?! As I wash the chunks off in the shower I start to feel bad too (headache continues, FYI). At 1:30, I throw up too. Alaina throws up seven more times during night with various degrees of mess. Grateful for Mark and his clean-up skills.

Friday: Mark stays home to help, but still needs to get own work done from home. I throw up one more time and debate going to class tonight—do I go or stay?! Zander starts throwing up. My head is actually going to explode with pain. Have fever and chills. Decide not to go to class, even though it means incredible hassle with double make-up classes now (because of no class on Thanksgiving). Nap and wake at 3:00 deciding it is class or bust after all. Both options feel like dumb options. Decide to be Typhoid Molly. Take Advil, get dressed, and head for the Fort where I teach. Class is fine. I have a guest speaker and show a video about child abuse. Hope to leave early, but feel better as class goes on and get busy with student questions/discussions. Dismiss early enough to get out the back gate and take short route home.

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Selecting candies.

Saturday: Work party at my mom’s house. She has good projects planned. While the men cut firewood, the women make seasoning blends using herbs and spices I ordered last week from the bulk food buying club. Alaina is fretful and clingy and nurses nonstop, even though she has to stand on a chair to do it while I mix my seasoning blends. Kids draw pictures for their plates and also make fun cracker houses. Alaina finally naps and I grade two late papers, respond to a help message, and try to catch up with my online class again. Feel bad and guilty about not helping with dinner prep and also misunderstood by others about legitimately needing to get my work done. Feel annoyed that I have to make excuses or justifications for it, feel others are annoyed with me. Eat communal turkey dinner and yummy cake. Home feeling generally distressed, unhappy, and overbooked. Am reminded that I’ve forgotten/misunderstood something again. This keeps happening. My brain is leaking. I can’t hold everything and I keep dropping balls, communicating poorly/not enough, missing things or misunderstanding things, and forgetting stuff. Wish I hadn’t had to go anywhere on the weekend. Need regroup time. Suddenly remember with a shock that today is the FoMM newsletter deadline (for contributions, not for me). Send requisite emails and consider fact that I have exactly zero contributions thus far. Lann wakes before we make it to bed and barfs turkey dinner ALL OVER bedroom floor. As Mark cleans it up, he starts to feel sick too. Is up and down during night with stomach pain and finally also vomits.

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Finished houses with architects.

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Lann’s house.

 

Sunday: I feel pretty good at start of day, but start to freak out as day progresses. Mark is down sick in recliner all day. Alaina is whiny and clingy and doesn’t stay asleep at naptime. By 2:30, I’m still in PJ’s and feeling emotionally fragile. Begin the internal monologue of self-doubt, criticism, and desire for change described above. Kids go visit my parents and I work frantically on various bits and pieces, like preparing for my class on Monday night. Feel I’m choosing wrongly and still not taking care of myself. What’s wrong with priorities?! Argh. Gnash. Suffer.

Sunday night: stay up after others are in bed. Make my drawing for my plate. Have epiphany that this is all about the two hours. I usually get two hours to myself multiple times a week. Review week and see NO two hours. No wonder I feel like crap. I need it. I really do. It’s this introversion thing. I have to be able to count on sometimes being alone. Hmm. Maybe that is all it is. Maybe I don’t really need to quit everything after all, but maybe I need to plan carefully and assertively and strongly avoid weeks like this last one. Maybe I just need to firmly, guilt-free-edly, hold some space for myself, no matter what. Mentally review week and see, DUH. That was a busy, hard week. I got barfed on. I threw up. I taught class with the flu. No wonder I feel overwhelmed, stressed, and upset. It would be weird if I didn’t feel that way. Isn’t it normal to be a little crazy when life is crazy? Remember that one crazy week doesn’t mean entire life is unraveling after all. Wonder if maybe, just maybe, I should actually feel impressed at my own capacities. Stay up “too late” and enter all my grades so that on Monday, I can do some other things that I want to do—like write blog posts—rather than work on my classes and then go teach as well.

Remember I wasn’t going to write long, boring, navel-gazing blog posts like this one anymore and consider not posting it after all…

Think of lots more things to add and remember lots of other to-dos I got done…

Notice current students have become “fans” on Facebook and really, really consider not posting after all…

Spend way too long trying to format pictures for this post and finally give up and set it to post later in the week with crappy-alignment pictures.

Copy this picture from Facebook and try really, really hard to remember it…

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Deep breath. Hug self. Hug kids. Try again.

1000 Words

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We got new family pictures taken yesterday in the woods behind our house. While I love words very much–very, very much–sometimes there’s nothing like a picture to say what you really feel… 🙂

“For months I just looked at you
I wondered about all the mothers before me
if they looked at their babies the way I looked at you.
In an instant I knew what moved humankind
from continent to continent
Against all odds.”

–Michelle Singer (in We’Moon 2011 datebook)

Guest Post: The Women’s Lounge

This guest post is part of my blog break festival. The festival continues through December, so please check it out and consider submitting a post! Also, don’t forget to enter my birth jewelry giveaway. This post falls into the Motherful category and was written by my own mother (I’m the 11 year daughter mentioned in the story)!

The Women’s Lounge
by Barbara Johnson

“Excuse me, there’s veal in your baby’s ear,” whispered the stolid-looking, well-groomed businessman seated next to me on the crowded airplane (who had spent the entire trip trying to project himself into another realm where traveling women with multiple children were prohibited from invading his space). I glanced down. Sure enough, there was a pool of tomato sauce, with veal, in my sleeping 6 month old infant’s ear. I grabbed an inadequate airline napkin and swabbed ineffectually away, while Mr. Businessman began searching around in his brief case – presumably to avoid further contact or conversation with me. I seized the moment of his inattention to duck my head discreetly and quickly lick up the remainder of the mess. Slightly gross, but highly efficient…..This episode apparently unleashed some hidden reservoir of chattiness and my seat partner proceeded to produce volumes of photographs of his family, accompanied by amusing anecdotes. No further mention was made of veal.

I managed to extricate myself (holding sleeping baby girl and an insanely oversized diaper bag), my two –year-old high-needs son (understatement), and my two older daughters (ages 9 and 11) from the plane. I was met by an airline representative to be transported to our connecting flight gate. This had been carefully pre-planned, as I knew I had only a 25 minute layover and many small bodies to transport. I was smugly proud of my maternal organizing skills, never reckoning on the embarrassment of hurtling through the Salt Lake City air terminal, honking warning sounds at innocent travelers. We were crammed onto the hindmost seat, facing backwards with our feet braced to avoid being thrown out on our faces every time the vehicle accelerated. The cart reeled past all manner of passengers, including many people certainly more in need of transport that we were. A young man pushing 2 occupied wheel chairs, an elderly woman with a walker, and a blind man with a cane. My humiliation mounted as we beeped them out of our path.

The diaper bag was a massive affair, having been carefully selected for maximum capacity. Its depths contained not only diapers, but boxes of juice, a variety of snacks, my purse and personal items, as well as activity selections for 4 age groups. Oh, and my book that I had been carrying with me for 10 years, hoping for random opportunities for quick reading (hah!). Toys, crayons, tiny cars, stuffed animals, granola bars……It weighed a ton. The relevance of this information will be revealed later.

I could have saved myself this ride had I bothered to check any of the departing flight monitors. They would have told me what I found out upon my jubilantly prompt arrival at the gate. My connecting flight was delayed. Well, that’s not so bad! We can surely occupy ourselves for a while in the airport! No problem! Since there was no departure time listed, I parked the kids in a waiting area and lined up to ask a few questions.

Traveling companions circa 1990

My organized-traveling-mom-with-four-children veneer cracked a bit when I heard that the plane was delayed for 6 hours. This was not good. Must make the best of it! Not to worry! I’m a 24 hour a day parent! A woman of the 90’s! I can do this! No problem!

I returned to my gang, suggesting that we tour the airport and see all the fun sights, like airplanes taking off and landing over and over, and expensively fragile gift shops. Everyone was tired of this after an hour, so I broke out the snacks. Not good enough – the restaurants and vending machine items looked vastly superior to the eyes of my children, but not to my traveling budget.

My 2-year-old son began to melt down. My daughters needed to use the restroom, but I had an irrational and paranoid fear regarding restroom perverts, so we all had to shuffle in together (including the burdensome diaper bag). Exiting the facility, my toddler spotted a candy machine and hurtled headlong towards it, shrieking and maniacally pulling knobs. The baby in the backpack was pulling my hair while bouncing. The big girls were totally loaded down by the diaper bag (it took both of them to lug it around). We were a public spectacle! Oh, the shame! There were still 5 loathsome hours to wait in that sensory-overloaded airport. It was too noisy, to bright, too loud, too hot and too stinky for any sane person to endure for that long! Argh!

There was a gentle tap on my shoulder and I turned to look way up into the face of a burly security officer. Was I to be arrested for disturbing the peace, or possibly vandalizing the candy machine? I cringed.

“Excuse me, ma’am”, he said. “Did you know there’s a women’s lounge over there?”, and indicated a door near the restroom that had a small plaque reading “lounge” on it. I, in my ignorance, had supposed such doors thus marked to be solely for the secret use of airport personnel, and certainly NOT for traveling mothers. But no, apparently I was allowed to enter! The large and kind officer hoisted the diaper-bag-from-hell and led the way, tipping his hat politely at the door as I staggered through it.

An amazing oasis in that desert of chaos greeted me. It was a small, cool sitting room with a couch, table, several chairs and a sink (with paper towels! Oh joy!). As I removed the baby pack, using the handy counter, and collapsed into a chair, a woman of greenish-white complexion emerged blearily from beneath a blanket on the couch, offering weakly to make room for us. “No, no!” I gushed. “We’re fine! There are plenty of chairs. Just settle back down!” She gratefully did. We exchanged stories while I nursed the baby and passed out snacks. She had been compelled to actually miss her connection due to motion sickness, and was actually too ill to continue. Well, that was certainly not fun and possibly worse than my situation. At least we weren’t throwing up. I like to use the reverse psychology of “it could always be worse” to comfort myself under adverse conditions… “Have a cracker?” I offered. She took it and actually seemed improved. Maybe the diaper bag was worth it after all.

The door opened, admitting a cacophony of airport noise, along with a desperate-looking young woman loaded with a rotund infant and a crying 3-ish girl, clutching her stomach. She thrust the infant into my arms, saying “Would you mind holding him? She’s going to throw up!”, and ran out. The baby and I stared at each other. I offered a cracker, which he solemnly accepted, and I hoped was acceptable to his mother. Actually, she looked harried enough to not even notice or care. He was content to merely hold it and watch my kids as they played.

The door opened again, and all eyes turned towards it, expecting the return of the baby’s mother. But no, it was an Asian woman accompanied by a miniature, elderly woman using a walker. They looked around hesitantly, smiling shyly and bowing. Hmmmm……Ms. Airsick, revived by the cracker, shifted around to make room. The elderly woman inched through the children, avoiding fingers and toys, and eased down with an audible sigh. “Many babies!” said the first woman. “Well, they’re not all mine”, I said. She looked puzzled. “I don’t know this one” indicating the solemn fellow on my lap. “Ah”, she replied. “His mother left him with me because her daughter was throwing up, but I never saw any of them before in my life” I babbled. “Ah!” she repeated, clearly baffled. The tiny raisin of a mother (I guess) barked a question in what I supposed was rapid-fire Chinese. “Ah!” said the woman. They both beamed at me and I beamed back. I asked them if they had a long wait, but apparently our conversation about babies had exhausted their English vocabulary. They did say “Hong Kong, many hours, much trouble”. I could read the rest in their eyes. Without a working grasp of the language and a special-needs traveler on top of that, they were trying to travel home and it was not going smoothly. After a while, an Asian-American airline representative came to fetch them. They bowed away, repeating “Thank you very much! Bye-bye!” I wished I could have understood more of that story.

Meanwhile, Little Vomiter and her mother returned. We discussed various stomach complaint home-remedies. Ginger Ale? May try that next time, but of course there’s none available in the airport – perhaps on the plane? Our babies had birthdays only 2 days apart and before you knew it we were exchanging labor stories. Ms. Airsick looked better. Perhaps tales of other people’s discomfort helped take her mind off her own stomach.

The door opened again, admitting a woman with twin four-year olds who looked miserable. We squeezed together to make room. She was having a nightmare trip in which her flight had been totally cancelled and there was a luggage mix-up causing her bags to be sent to Atlanta (they thought). My paltry delay was beginning to seem like a pleasant gift.

This pattern continued throughout my sojourn in the women’s lounge. Women of all ages and backgrounds took solace there. We helped, comforted and commiserated with each other, waving a cheerful farewell as each departed, knowing only the basic fact of TRAVEL INTERRUPTED. In the minutes of our contact, we each forged a bond. It felt as if we were all connected, and fulfilling some cosmic destiny by being thrown together in that haven to support each other. I never asked anyone’s name or more than their travel destination, but we learned so much about each other anyway. The bond of femaleness and motherhood bound us together, allowing us to trust and help each other. I sent my daughters to the restroom with a total stranger, no longer fearful of lurking criminals. We shared an unpleasant, but not unbearable, travel experience and emerged from it enriched. We were like ships that pass in the night, recognizing our bond in a vast ocean. We were all suspended and isolated in a sea of people sailing towards their destinations.

I passed through the Salt Lake City airport many times in the subsequent years, but never faced another delay and never again sought out the women’s lounge. I picture it still exactly the same, with an ongoing stream of stressed women finding peace, comfort and support. I’ve felt this support before, from family and friends in troubled times, but never before I had I been stranded in such a way. The women’s lounge was a haven for us all. The interesting part of it was how quickly we bonded and trusted each other. We were completely united in our efforts to protect our families from the rigors of the airport, and recognized that it was time to band together – no whining allowed. We took care of each other, but it wouldn’t have been possible outside of that room. That space provide a place for us to focus on the needs of ourselves and our children without the mad, jumbled stimulus of the terminal. Bolstered by the peaceful interlude, we were all able to withstand our delays, gathering strength from each other as we prepared to travel onward.

Barbara Johnson was a homesteading, homebirthing, homeschooling, traveling mother of 4 when this trip happened in 1990. Her children are now grown and married, and she enjoys spending time with her 3 grandchildren. She is the director of Shannondale Craft Camp in southern Missouri.

Guest Post: Motherful at Midlife

This guest post is part of my blog break festival. The festival continues through December, so please check it out and consider submitting a post! Also, don’t forget to enter my birth jewelry giveaway.

I was happy to preview Peg’s book earlier this year and enjoyed receiving a post from her reflecting on being Motherful at midlife…

Motherful at Midlife

by Peg Conway

“Life is so unnerving
for a servant who’s not serving.”

These opening lines from “Be Our Guest” in the musical Beauty and the Beast popped to mind during our daughter’s recent fall break from her freshman year in college. The departure of our oldest son two years before had certainly impacted the household, but with both of them away and the youngest now a licensed driver, the house feels like the empty castle that Belle happened upon in the story.  A sense of expectation surfaces, waiting for  . . . what?   Like a phantom limb, my routine was accustomed to more coming and going, more conversation, just more people around.

The Sunday when Kieran was home, we planned a brunch for after church.  As Joe and I worked in the kitchen together to put the meal on the table, a sense of having donned a familiar garment came over me.   “This feels like ‘us’ in a way I haven’t known in a while” I said.  Although our family table has long anchored our life, especially through the busy teen years, something didn’t fit quite the same way. Providing a nourishing meal was not creating the same satisfaction as before.  In early September, my life felt unnerved by fewer nurturing tasks to perform. Just six weeks later our adaptation became clearer, with Kieran home on a weekend when I was booked with several activities related to ongoing commitments I have made.  I had less time and energy for the style of nurturing that had been an essential part of my life for a long time, and I didn’t mind.

Yet at the core I remain a mother. The emotional and spiritual transformation wrought by the physical processes of pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding feel permanent.  What does this mean?  Does one cease to be motherful when the children are grown?  Or rather, how is one motherful at midlife and beyond?  Physician and menopause specialist Christiane Northrup advises that the hormonal changes as childbearing wanes cause a shift in women.  We truly are less nurturing than when we were caring for young children, but what emerges in its place can be creative, powerful, and immensely fulfilling.  Rechanneling motherfulness, women’s midlife initiatives may arise from old passions re-discovered or the pursuit of new paths.  I know several women who have entered politics, local and state-wide, now that their children are grown.  Another started a school for young children to implement her unique vision for learning.  Someone at my church took up pottery making and donates the proceeds from sales to charity.  I can think of two other women who have started consulting businesses.

My own standard for future endeavors is the deep satisfaction I derived from homeschooling, especially being part of a weekly co-op where I team-taught writing and history with other mothers.  I have struggled to articulate just what made it so rewarding, but I think it has a lot to do with community, forging relationships with a diverse group while engaging in a project of personal importance.  Of course my enjoyment also related to spending generous time with my children, but I have had to accept the finitude of that experience.  Grieving and letting go are significant motherful activities at mid-life.

Professionally, I’m still finding my way, but writing is figuring prominently.  I started a blog two years ago, and last month realized a long-held dream by publishing a book, Embodying the Sacred: A Spiritual Preparation for Birth. Involvement in several local non-profits is helping me discern further.  I’m also discovering that simply being present to young people is a motherful mid-life outlet.  Recently I began spending delightful time with my 2-1/2-year-old niece.  We read books, take walks, play with plastic food and dishes, dolls, and blocks, talking all the while about what’s happening then and there.  I also savor moments with my young adult children as they become companions present to me.  The memory that endures from my daughter’s visit is not the food that I cooked on Sunday morning, but the hike we took together with our dog on Monday afternoon…

Peg Conway is a writer and community leader in Cincinnati, OH.  She blogs about life and faith at pegconway.com.  As a childbirth educator and doula, she was certified with Birthing from Within, Doulas of North America, and BirthWorks.  She earned degrees from Xavier University and Northwestern University.  Peg is in the process of becoming certified as a celebrant through Global Ministries University.

Guest Post: Don’t Touch Me… Don’t Even Look At Me

This guest post is the first in my blog break festival. The festival continues through December, so please check it out and consider submitting a post! Also, don’t forget to enter my birth jewelry giveaway. This post falls into the Motherful category…

Don’t Touch Me… Don’t Even Look At Me.

by Veronica of Mormon Monkey Mama


Being a monkey mama isn’t all it’s cracked up to be sometimes. My kids still cry. I still have to discipline and direct my 3-year-old. Yesterday was especially difficult. Squirrel Monkey, 3 years (SM) is getting sick and Owl Monkey, 5.5 months (OM) is still sick. When SM is feeling sick, she is very testy. So, yesterday, she kept doing things she knew she shouldn’t to get my attention, acting out her physical feelings. She didn’t want to eat anything I gave her, she was whiny, and she mostly wanted to watch TV all day. So by the time my husband, Gorillaman, got home, I. Was. DONE. But I can’t be done. I have a nursling. And though that is often very zen… it wasn’t yesterday.

We put the girls to bed at 8:00. That never happens here. SM is usually up until 9:00 or 9:30. She went to bed easily. But OM, who usually goes to sleep pretty easily, was fussy because she couldn’t breathe.

So the mother abuse began…

FACTS:

*Baby toes are like a velociraptor‘s. I have bruises on the insides of my legs from OM taking her big toes and digging them into anything she comes in contact with. Most of the time, especially when we are nursing lying down, that is my leg, groin, or stomach, as she writhes around being frustrated about her inability to breathe easily.

*It’s especially uncomfortable, verging on vomit-inducingly painful, when the baby goes from nursing peacefully to clamp-and-twist in 0.2 seconds. It’s even worse when you have a recurrent plugged duct because of said baby’s latch. I know from experience… a lot of it.

*Babies have unbelievably strong fingers… the better to pinch you with. I have bruises on the insides of my arms and the tops of my breasts from aggravated little fingers that find purchase and CLAMP DOWN! Hand wrangling should be a class for pregnant moms.

*Toddlers/preschoolers have sharper elbows than the coffee table corners we protected them from a couple of years before.

My normally sweet and gentle Owl Monkey has become a baby badger. Ow. Add that to the bone crushing antics of a testing toddler, well, is it any surprise why I avoid any sense of intimacy on a day like yesterday? By the end of the day, when I have been poked, prodded, pinched, and pummeled by tiny hands, feet, and toothless gums, I don’t want to be touched. By anyone. I don’t even want to hold hands. My lucky poor husband, who has been away from his doting family all day, wants to come home and have some sort of physical closeness, even if it’s just to sit together on the couch and watch our show. It’s not fair that our jobs give us seriously different needs. But such is life so we both make sacrifices. So sometimes I snuggle, though it makes me feel like crawling out of my skin. And sometimes he takes a cold shower. 😉 Such is this life of parental bliss. And bliss it is. For just as you think you can’t handle any more, your 3-year-old crawls into your arms again and needs you to snuggle her to sleep. Your 5.5 month old flashes that gummy, milky grin. And suddenly your heart is full again, the bruises don’t matter, and you hug your husband that much closer knowing that only the two of you truly understand…

It’s all worth it.

Veronica is a semi-crunchy stay-at-home mom to two girls and a sweet English Bulldog boy. She is passionate about breastfeeding, gentle parenting, co-sleeping, and babywearing. She spends her days chasing her 3.5 year old with her 23 lb 9 month old on her back! She hopes to encourage and support other LDS (Mormon) moms as they embrace the mommying counterculture and parent instinctively.

Originally published on Friday, July 13, 2012 at Mormon Monkey Mama