The Sisterhood of Motherhood

friends

The first time that I realized the healing power behind telling my story was on an afternoon a few months after my daughter was born. I left Joel with pumped milk and a tiny, demanding baby girl and cautiously hopped in the car with two of my girlfriends headed for Papa Hayden’s. Somehow over lunch and dessert the story came out. Her birth story. And I cried. At first it felt a tad selfish. There I was suddenly taking over our wonderful conversation with my boohoo story. But guys, I needed to do that. And they were happy to let me. And this is why sisterhood is so important in motherhood.

It is really easy to get home from the hospital or birth center with your baby (or stay at home because you had a home birth, in which case Booya Grandma! Fist bump!) and snuggle in to your micro universe of home and stay there. Or at least that’s what feels easy. Because babies eat often and poop often and cry often and staying home and trying to break in the motherhood shoes is much more comfortable in your kitchen than the grocery store…or even a friend’s living room. But can I let you in on a secret? At some point you’re going to want to, scratch that, NEED to do what might be more work in order to reap incredible emotional benefits.

Until very recently I have shied away from play dates and friend lunches with kids because it always seemed like a lot of work. My four-year old girl has never been all that fabulous at sharing. She’s dramatic, exists in a firm bubble and easily gets annoyed by younger kiddos because she made it through four years of life without having a tiny sibling mess up her dollhouse. So play dates always meant having to do some positive discipline magic and deep-breath-taking and three hundred reminders about how to take turns. It felt like too much energy to expend in an already exhausting day. So here’s the thing. Sometimes you wake up and look at your grumpy kiddo and say “heck no, I am not taking you into public today for everyone’s sanity and well-being”. And that’s ok! But sometimes a second glance will reveal that it’s Mom who needs the attitude check. In that case, I want to lovingly insist that you go. Go to a girlfriend, a sister, your own mom…a fellow female who also woke up exhausted and strained who you can juggle the insane day with until naptime and at least commiserate with as your kids do more naughty things together than they would have done on their own. It’s worth it. Every once in a awhile the plants and stars align and it’s a blue moon AND your husband or mom or babysitter or some other miracle person is able to watch your kids. And you know what I’m going to say. GO! Run away and actually enjoy conversation. Laugh and be honest and cry if you need to and just please please please understand that you need it.

This can be easier said than done. We don’t all have mom friends nearby. If that is your story, then what can you do? Do you have mom friends that live far away but you can have occasional “drink wine and skype” dates with? Do you know someone who you can count on for good text banter throughout the day? Cause I’ll tell you what, there is nothing like waking up to a text from a fellow mama friend that reads something along the lines of “it’s 7:02am and I’ve already said the phrase ‘no you may not pee on your brother!'” to make you feel a little more normal. And if you’re still shaking your head “no” at me then it’s time you go cultivate yourself a little plot of sisterhood land! Chat up the moms you see every Sunday in the crying room at church, or the mom who is also wrangling her active 2-year old during storytime at the library. Be bold and ask if they would want to exchange numbers for a play date. We weren’t designed to go at this game of life alone.

I will never forget sitting in the bathtub at 1:00pm about 12 days after my daugher was born trying not to cry for the 10th time that day while contemplating giving up on breastfeeding so my hormones could settle down a bit. I didn’t yet know that crying and panic attacks were postpartum depression, but I did know that I felt crazy and guilty for being sad when I had a healthy, gorgeous baby girl. And I really didn’t want to talk to anyone. But my cell phone sat on the edge of the tub and it started to ring. One of my oldest and dearest friends checking in on me from a whole state southward. (You know who you are, Babe.) I answered. And I cried to her about how horrible I felt and then listened while she told me her own story about crying and feeling anxious and scared and sad after her son was born. That. That right there is what makes this whole motherhood thing just a little more beautiful. Just a little easier to wake up and don with the start of a new day. We need each other, my friends. We need our sisters. And to all of mine, thank you.

Breathing Life into Dry Bones

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When I was about 7 months pregnant with my son, my second child, the wild woman in me started to rise up. I hope you know her. We don’t talk about her much in Western culture and she certainly doesn’t get ladylike points. But you have felt her, and she’s there within even if she has been smooshed down so far that she’s only taking up residence in your toes. She’s the fierce mother hen that rises up within when you see someone being mistreated. She’s the fire you feel in your belly when you’ve been aroused. The wistful longing that takes over when you look out over a field and get the urge to run- the choking kind of need, of want for more. Clarissa Pinkola Estes gave me a name for her when I first picked up Women Who Run With the Wolves in graduate school. (Please, please if you are a woman read this book. And if you’re not, buy a copy and give it to a woman… and then you may as well read it too.) So when I started to prepare for Baby Boy’s birth it was my wildish self that I felt awakening more every day.

When I gave birth to my daughter I was a different woman. For one, I wasn’t a mother yet. I hadn’t experienced cut off my right arm for you love or stared at 10 round piggy toes like they were the key to my very existence. I certainly wasn’t bold. That’s an attribute that I’m still learning and a role I’m practicing. Hers was not an uninformed birth by any means, but it was not an empowered one. I was induced at 10 days past my estimated due date because I truly didn’t think I had the option of saying “no”. But I knew she wasn’t ready yet. An early manual rupture of membranes (water breaking) with a long labor lead to infection and a fever. Add back labor and pitocin and I made the decision to get an epidural. Somehow I knew all along that an induction would eventually lead to a c-section and 28 hours later that is exactly what happened. Her birth story is only beautiful because it gave me her. Isn’t that sad? Shouldn’t it have other redeeming qualities? Yes, it should. And it does. I got to see my family come through and support me in the most sacrificial way possible. While I labored down and then pushed for hours and hours my mom, husband and sister took turns holding my legs and feeding me ice chips…until 4am people. 4am. Now that’s love. But her birth? Her actual birth? Well it was surgery and I hadn’t wanted that. Not because a c-section isn’t birth but because I hadn’t prepared for it to be, and I didn’t know how to make it a beautiful, spiritual experience. It left me feeling empty- like a mere vessel whose existence was importance but feelings were not.

The story of my healing from birth trauma and postpartum depression is one for another day. The story of the Wild Woman? Let’s get back to her. So there I was, 7 months pregnant and suddenly faced with Her. I don’t know how far down I had pushed my wild woman. She wasn’t all the way down into my toes, but I certainly hadn’t been living with her living and breathing through me. When I picked up Women Who Run With the Wolves the words struck a chord like they hadn’t in their first reading. In particular, I resonated with the story of La Loba: Wolf Woman. The story of La Loba can be found in various forms from Eastern Europe all the way to Mexico. Always, she is an old woman, crawling and creeping through dry river beds and canyons, mountains and forests in search of old bones- wolf bones in particular. And when she has collected enough bones to create an entire animal she sings over the bones and breathes life into them. Slowly the skeleton begin to flesh out until it is alive, strong and covered with fur. It is her job to awaken the animal and give it vitality once more. At the time, reading this story I had no idea why it resonated with me. But it did and even all through my labor with my son the story kept coming back to me.

I know why now. I know why and it chokes me with tears of deep deep gratitude. You see my birth with Baby Boy was almost identical to my birth with Little Miss. I was induced with her at midnight and went into spontaneous labor with my son also at midnight. Both babies were posterior facing and gave me excruciating back labor. I had a fever for both of their deliveries. Both labors were 28 hours, ending at 4am. They were born weighing an ounce apart. At first I didn’t understand why Baby Boy’s birth had to be so similar to his sister’s. Why couldn’t my body figure out how to deliver a baby in less than 28 hours? Why, through all of my exercises and attempts to get him facing the right way did he still insist on being posterior, making labor and delivery incredibly difficult and painful? Why couldn’t I get through labor without an epidural? And to all of these questions, I finally have the answer. “Because”, God says, “don’t you see? I was gathering the bones. The bones of your first delivery- the bones that were left dried out and scattered when your dream of a natural birth died. I gathered every little piece that told the story of your daughter’s birth and I redeemed them.” See my birth with my son was hard, but the ending? Oh the ending. The vaginal birth that healed me. The act that brought me back to myself and showed me courage that I did not know I had. The reason it had to resemble my daughter’s was so that I could see that the pieces didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that I chose an epidural or that I didn’t have a 6 hour labor. The life behind the birth is what matters. The breath. The existence. The love.

It matters that we are heard and honored in birth. It matters that we feel respected and valued. It matters that we have options and the knowledge to make healthy decisions. I have known both sides of this coin and the flip side? It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful regardless of the outcome. When God woke up those old bones He woke me up with them. And I am thankful. So very very thankful.

 

Welcome!

This is a project that was birthed with my daughter, 4 years ago on a cold February morning when 28 hours of labor ended in a cesarean section and the most unfathomable love for a tiny, pink-skinned baby girl. It is the culmination of prescription drugs for postpartum depression, the choice to be a stay-at-home mom, difficulty conceiving our son, multiple home changes, a beautiful VBAC, and a short stay in the NICU. Nothing has changed me like motherhood at yet at the same time nothing has made me more myself.

See, I have this feeling, this deep in my gut hunch that if we gave the postpartum period its proper credence we would be a completely different people- a healthier and happier society. What if women were truly prepared to become mothers and equally cared for in the months after birth? What if we treated postpartum depression differently than we do other kinds of depression and anxiety? What if we cared for the soul of a woman as she become mother and not just the growing child within? I think a lot would happen. A lot of good.

I want to discuss these questions. I want to hear your stories and share them with this beautiful community of mothers and mothers-to-be. I want to offer space for healing and a place to look at the spiritual side of mothering. And maybe something will grow from this. Maybe something will take hold and revolutionize maternity care, or maybe this meager site will touch just one person. Whichever becomes the case, I will rejoice and offer myself, my heart and my words.

Here’s to you! Here’s to your stories and your families and your hearts. And here’s to us.