Stop acting small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion. — Rumi
This month I’m facilitating a discussion in the Mama Scout Readers and Writers Tribe of the book Composing a Life by Mary Catherine Bateson. I’m only three chapters in (reading is slow going for me right now), however I’m finding myself nodding and underlining and resonating with the experiences of these women who came before me.
In the last six months I’ve found myself having time (and energy) to devote to my writing. As my daughter has grown older, her independent play has increased and it has left me at times wondering what the hell to do with myself. I found my way back to writing and was spending more than an hour a day (sometimes up to three or four hours a day) journalling, blogging, writing academic papers, and waxing poetically about life via the written word on social media. It was certainly a taste of heaven.*
(The asterisk are the times I had to stop writing this very post to meet the needs of our family or more accurately, our new little tyrant 😉 )
That has all changed of course since our son was born a little over a month ago. We have each had a lot of adjusting to do, and I’ve had the physical recovery from the birth to contend with as well as nipping postpartum depression in the bud. This has meant no time to write in over a month and it has been frustrating and heartbreaking for me. I have yet to write out our son’s birth story–with our daughter I had her birth story written out within a few days–** or write about how we came to his name or about how amazing his big sister is and has been since his arrival or really about anything that is important to me and that I want to get down on paper or screen.
I have yet to master the fine art of nursing at the keyboard*** (nor do I know if I really want to) and so time to me is both sparse and sporadic. Even though my husband happily feeds our son the expressed milk I supply, there are times our son refuses the bottle, only being satisfied with milk straight from the tap. This of course means I drop everything I’m doing, including writing (or eating or peeing) to feed and calm our baby boy.
I want to note I am not complaining. I love our son, and love that I am a source of both comfort and nourishment for him. I do find joy and fulfillment in motherhood and yet there is more to me than being a mom. I am giving very real life examples of how our work as women is sidelined for our families. Our children, especially when very young, always come first. Many of us also sacrifice our own needs or desires in order to make life easier or more accommodating for our spouses–often without even discussing with our partner that we have needs or wants or are making any sort of sacrifice.
This sacrificing our self for our family is true for women without children too. Our parents come before our own needs, as do our partners, our nieces or nephews, even our cats and dogs. Or worse, we allow a job or career we find no satisfaction in take precedence over what our souls long to do. We put our own creativity and nourishment on hold, on the back burner and often never get to it.
It is culturally ingrained in us to put our own needs aside as women. Be this as it may, we do have a choice to follow that path or not. There are consequences to any choice and honestly I don’t believe in balance (as in the myth of the work-life balance). We choose our children or parents or spouses over our selves over and over without thinking about it, and we do, as individuals and as a women as a group, suffer for it. How many great memoirs or paintings or architectural or engineering designs have been lost because we have been so accommodating to others?
This is not to say there is not a time and season for everything. I know that I am in the season of the young child (again) and this means that time for my writing will be limited, but it doesn’t mean it comes to a stand still. I am conscious of where I am in my life and where my family is. I consciously and mindfully find chunks of time here and there, pump out bottles of milk and say a prayer that our little tyrant will accept it so I can do the things that fill my own soul, those things beyond motherhood that I am called to do.
And so the ebb and flow of life continues.
It would be easy to say that I can’t write now. That I can’t focus on school or my clinical training. That I can’t continue to build my business. No one would fault me and many would say, of course, that is how life is. But I’m not willing to accept that. Yes, we have a very young infant and an older child who need my attention and love. Yes, my husband is our main bread-winner and so certain accommodations need to be made so he can work. And none of that means I can’t have time for my own pursuits. Perhaps I don’t get three hours a day at this point, instead perhaps it is three hours spread over a week. But it is still time I take for my own creative and intellectual outlet.
I invite you to do the same. To step away from the convenient excuses that life offers you to not shine, to not glow, to not be and become the person you are called to be. Set aside fifteen minutes a day to write or paint or doodle or daydream. Fifteen minutes every day just for you to do something just for you. Break it into three five minute breaks if you need to. Meditate, stretch, make yourself a yummy nourishing snack, create a quick blackout poem, read a couple paragraphs in a book or write a list of things you’d love to write about later. Whatever it is that fulfills and replenishes you, make the time for it. Make yourself a priority.
You deserve this time for you. The world deserves to see you glow, to see you nourished and replenished. Take this summer to create the habits to support you becoming the person you want to be. Release the convenient excuses and your fear of your own glow. Step into being and becoming the person you are truly called to be.
Last week I released a program – Mid-Summer Glow – for registration. I have decided not to offer the program this summer after all, instead focusing on my writing and creating my fall program (Being and Becoming Circle). This decision is a step into my own self-care and releasing of some “shoulds” that have been circling in my brain. If you are looking to work with me this summer, you can still register for my free summer-long program Glow Wisdom by clicking here.
If you are interested in joining the discussion of Composing a Life, simply ask to join the Mama Scout Reader + Writer Facebook group here. We’d love to have you as part of our tribe!!*Stopped to feed our son and then once he was asleep put diaper laundry in the dryer **Stopped to feed our son and get him back to sleep ***Stopped to change our son, add time to the dryer, pump a bottle and hand son over to Daddy so I can try to focus. (and look, it worked!)
A social worker once said to me that parents are in the trenches until their youngest child has turned seven. We are mostly at the beck and call and whim of these young people, who need us to help them develop emotionally, psychologically, physically. It’s thankless work (mostly) and we get precious little time to ourselves for our own endeavors and loves. We have to fight tooth and nail it seems to get five minutes of downtime to allow our brains to have some quiet and we get little support from the outside world. Yes, being a parent is endlessly rewarding, but let’s be honest, it’s hard fucking work.
I saw the truth in these words, how we parents are in the trenches for the first seven years of our children’s lives, with my own daughter. In the last year as she approached and became seven her independence expanded exponentially, to the point of me finding myself on several occasions staring blankly at a wall having no idea what to do with myself: she was contently playing on her own and didn’t need or want me to join her. In the last year I’ve had the space to reconnect to my love of writing and to develop my business in a way I didn’t know would ever be possible being a homeschooling mom. I have to say it’s been bittersweet, watching her grow and not need me or want me as much as, or in the same ways, she once did.
I’ve had time to find me again, and dear gosh, it has been amazing.
And while those first seven years I would agree we as parents are definitely in the trenches, I have to say that for the first month of their lives we are on the effing war-torn front lines.
I hadn’t remembered how hard that first month with our daughter was. It was over seven years ago, and after that first month passed she became the propaganda baby we all remember and talk about: totally zen and calm, easy to soothe, a great sleeper, etc. What followed her first month of life erased the horror of those first four weeks. Four weeks where I was sure we should just give her up for adoption because we were the most unfit parents on the planet and where I questioned myself every moment and constantly had a critical voice telling me how I was screwing her up.
The last month with our son, his first four weeks of life, have brought back some of those traumatic memories. We have relived the sleep deprivation and I had several moments of deeply regretting having a second child. I’ve been in tears and felt like a total failure as a mother, not only to our little guy but also to our daughter who has been truly a young saint in the making as we adjust to life as a family of four. I have snapped and yelled and cried and screamed more than I care to admit and I have felt such deep guilt for all the change in our family. The critical voices came back, along with the intense anxiety and depression and I felt myself slipping into the downward spiral I lived through with our girl.
We seem to be at a turning point now. In part because our little guy’s brain is forming the pathways it needs; he’s becoming more interactive and awake during the day, allowing us more sleep at night. And we’re all figuring out his cues and cries and are able to get his needs met a little faster. He’s becoming the zen propaganda baby his sister was and let me tell you, this is a great relief for everyone in this house.
And while his growing and changing and developing is a part of it all, I believe a major part of the turning point is I recognized I needed help and with the support of my husband and some close friends, I got it.
You see I experienced postpartum depression with my daughter. For over two and a half years. At first I didn’t recognize the symptoms and signs, but eventually I did and then became too proud and stubborn to do anything about it. I also was suffering from hypothyroidism and my adrenal system had all but stopped working, which I found out when I finally did go to my doctor. But it was over two and half years of suffering: mine and my family’s, before I started seeking help and then it was at least another six months before we were able to really start seeing any changes as my body and mind started to heal.
At the beginning of our little guy’s third week of life I knew that I was back on that path of suffering. I had promised my husband before we even got married that I would seek help immediately if the postpartum depression symptoms came back and so after a couple days of feeling the depression and anxiety seep into my core, I told him I needed to get help. He supported me in calling my midwife and last week I started medication and supplementation to alleviate the symptoms.
I’m not 100% yet but I’m sure a hell of a lot better than I was a week ago.
I’m sharing this for a few reasons. The greatest being the shame that surrounds postpartum depression. I had so much shame with my daughter and a desperate need to prove that I could do it all and handle everything. I’ve stated before how this lead to me having a near psychotic break. My husband almost lost his wife, my daughter almost lost her mother. It was the darkest time of my life and while living it I would never admit to anyone what was happening inside my head and body, now I feel the need to share the story.
One of the greatest lessons my daughter has taught me is the importance of self-care, self-love; the necessity to take the time for my own replenishment and renewal. Or more to the point, that my survival depends on the ability to care for myself, to seek help when I need it and to release any misplaced shame around our need for help. That I don’t need to be “super mom” or to “do it all” and that I need to care for myself and allow others to help me with that care. That taking five, ten, twenty minutes to myself is not selfish, it is necessary for me to live.
Babyboy is giving me the opportunity to practice this lesson. It has been a hard month, not only because of sleep deprivation and learning the nuances of a new little person and stepping into caring for him regardless of what I think I need to be doing in the moment; but also because I am stepping into the practice of lessons learned and allowing the space for me to need, ask for, and receive help and remembering that even little bubbles of five to fifteen minutes for me can offer a world of renewal. Taking five minutes to make a phone call for a doctor appointment or to stare out the window daydreaming; or ten minutes to make a yummy refreshing summer drink; or twenty minutes to make a replenishing and nourishing easy meal.
This in-my-face reminder of the need for self-care inspired me to remind everyone of the importance of a self-love practice: the little things we can do to refresh, renew, and replenish, everyday. Self-care is recognizing the importance of giving time to ourselves and knowing that by taking this time we are able to become and be the people we want to be and allowing our own inner glow to burst through.
I have said many times and I am sure will say many more, that my daughter is one of my greatest teachers. My son is proving to be one of them too.
From my daughter I have learned perserverance, rule-breaking (again), unconditional love, that the “authorities” don’t always know what they are talking about, and that deeply feeling one’s emotions–all of them–is the way to find true connection: to one’s self, to those we love, to the world. She has also taught me about creativity and individuality and what it really means to be a rebel. And her greatest lesson to me: You can never be fully prepared for what life has to offer.
She’s patiently taught me these lessons since she was in utero–when we were told at seven weeks pregnant she probably wouldn’t make it; when my water broke at 34 weeks and we hadn’t yet put together her changing table or even packed our hospital bags. She has been at least five steps ahead of me for the last seven plus years and by knowing her and mothering her I believe I have become a better person, coming closer and closer to the person I am meant to be, called to be.
I expected a similar pregnancy with our son: one filled with scares and unknowns. We (myself, husband and medical team) expected him to arrive early, like his big sister. I spent the first half of my pregnancy holding my breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for the bad news and obstacles, and yet they didn’t come.
My son is teaching me patience and to truly embrace each new day as it comes without expecting the worst, allowing space for the best. He has taught me to love my body again, its working parts and non-working parts. And his greatest lesson so far: settling into the becoming, the inbetween, the almost.
I’ve been pregnant more than three weeks longer with him than I have ever been before. I’m learning the nuances of aches and pains and contractions. I’m learning to embrace the uncomfortable: not only literally being uncomfortable because I have a 20 pound bowling ball of fluids and new organs and baby where my stomach and intestines once sat or because my hips and pelvis are spreading in ways I can’t believe are actually natural. No, the real discomfort is in the not knowing, the inability to plan, the wanting him here already and having to release any sense of control I may think I have to make that happen now.
He’s forcing me to rest in this place of almost: Almost a mama of newborn; almost the mama of two; almost the mama of a son; almost a family of four; almost stepping into this next iteration of my, our, life. I don’t know when BabyBoy is going to decide to enter the world and so all plans we make now are consciously tentative, made with the caveat of “unless he decides to make his appearance before then.”
The reality is all our plans are tentative, whether we acknowledge that consciously or not. A million different things can happen to change our course, from the big and dramatic changes like the birth of a child or the death of a loved one, to the more minor, everyday things like coming down with a cold, or a car breaking down. Life happens, and we can plan all we like, and yet the reality is we don’t have control.
So we are all living in this space of almost in many ways, in this space of constantly becoming. We make our plans and have our dreams and go through our lives. And how we deal with the changes in course, I believe, speaks volumes of who we are, who we were and who we will become. Do we resist and fight and demand the illusion of control, or do we step into the moments, embracing the pains and pleasures as they come to us?
I say we all do a bit of both resisting and embracing. I know I do.
When I sense the resistance however, when I become aware that I am fighting something I have no power or control to change, I breathe. I step into my body-centered mindfulness practice. I become curious about why I am so resistant, what is the fear behind the fight, behind the temper-tantrum. (And it’s always a fear that lingers there, trying to keep me safe, trying to keep me from shining.) What am I ready to release, what is the lesson that is sitting here for me to see, to breathe into?
Over the last week or so I have had more than a few temper tantrums. I have told BabyBoy he won’t get any birthday parties if he doesn’t make his appearance soon. I have been snappy and mean to my daughter. I have been angry that we aren’t moved into the next step of our lives. We have been ready for weeks now, with hospital bags packed and in the trunk of the car; infant supplies all procured; feelings of readiness and anticipation over-analyzing every twinge from my uterus, every mood shift, every food craving. I have researched every possible way to naturally induce labor and tried many of them.
I have tried to push us forward, when the lesson is to sit back and release and allow life to unfold as it is meant to. To open space for the becoming, to be in the being now: this almost, this “in-between.” I fall back on my breathing and body-focused mindfulness practice and explore my fears and hesitation and embrace this little boy and his lessons for me, allowing more space for the unknown and the almost. And knowing I cannot plan for tomorrow, I allow myself to live in today.
To celebrate BabyBoy’s eventual entrance into the world, I have revamped my self-study program Savoring Sensuality and am offering it at a 30%+ discount. For more information and to register, click here.