Posts tagged motherhood
Torn In Two
 
 

Every moment, I’m torn in two…

One side of me is loving every minute of motherhood. I love the smiles, the toddler finger pats, the tears my hugs can fix, the daily requests for bubbles, and the music making.

I hold my daughter in my arms and squeeze, willing the moment to sink into my bones. The embrace is my spirit’s desperate attempt to make the memory, the size of her, the smell of her, a part of me. How can I hold on to these moments in a way that keeps them unique and special, not simply merged into one season and phase of motherhood?

But, there’s also this other side of me. This part of me wakes up ready to go back to bed. It’s the side of me that browses social media on my phone as my daughter sits in my lap watching PBS. It’s the part of me that prays for nap time, bedtime, and any time I can sit down without a tiny human calling my name, wanting to play, or needing a snack. A very real part of me simply wants to be able to do what I want to do whenever I can.

This tension in myself has been one of the hardest spaces I have had to live in. How do I acknowledge the places in myself that long for when life felt easier and more about me, while paying attention to and growing the places that crave for more of my girl than one day’s worth of minutes can hold?

Thankfully, one thing motherhood has taught me is that I am not alone. I am part of a legacy of women who have felt this mixture of honor and weight attached to motherhood. I am not the first, nor will I be the last to wish time would simultaneously slow down and speed up.

Each day, we have a chance to try to hold the line between our needs and the needs of our children. Both matter deeply, even on the days that both can’t seem to coexist. So, we breathe. We give ourselves oodles of grace and second chances. We choose Netflix over laundry when it feels right. We talk to other mamas, our tribe, and our family when we need help righting ourselves. We breathe until nightfall. We rest, and then we try again.

I’m being slowly convinced that most of life and motherhood, at least the good juicy parts, are in the trying.

JOURNALIST: Brooke Bohinc

Sisterhood Rising
And last week I saw Cameron Diaz at Fred Segal, and I talked her out of buying this truly heinous angora sweater. Whoever said orange was the new pink was seriously disturbed.
— Elle Woods
They say nothing lasts forever, dreams change, trends come and go, but friendships never go out of style.
— Carrie Bradshaw
Some women pray for their daughters to marry good husbands. I pray that my girls will find girlfriends half as loyal and true as the Ya-Yas.
— Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

There are countless movies portraying sisterhood and the bond that we share, spanning everything from outfit advice to motherhood tips. But have you ever felt it: the kind of sisterhood that touches your soul? It pulls the laughter from the depths of your belly, makes your sides ache as the tears stroll down your cheeks, and you release uninhibited snorts of laughter. Such a jubilant form of happiness!

For many generations, women have supported one another and been each other's backbone. Prior to any feminist movements, women were forced to rely on men for the sheer purpose of survival. We were grouped together for tasks such as serving and taking care of others children; so many friendships were pushed upon us by circumstance. I believe the sisterhood so many of us have is presently built far differently than friendships and sisterhood of the past.

Now, more than ever, women are becoming the primary providers for their families. We are juggling the boss from hell, the bills that pop up for things you didn't know you had bills for, the never ending bake sales, and wanting to be the best mum ever. It all requires the support of a tribe. We could easily exist in our own homemade bubbles of the cycle of life, but we choose not too. We choose to seek one another out like lemonade on a hot summer’s day.

Think about the time spent with your own girls: Sunday morning coffee, weekend brunch once a month, or maybe a regular girls night together. What traditions help you thrive?

As a little girl I hungered for Tuesday evenings when my mum would have girls night with her sisters. They would stumble into the house, legs too sore from an hour of “keep fit” at the local high school gym, but giggling like teenagers over how they couldn't move like the “good old days”. I would sneak out of bed and hide behind the door, listening to their stories until one of them would notice me, and beckon me in. I probably stayed ten minutes at the most, but the memories are etched so clearly in my heart. I was in love with their bond, and I wanted to wrap myself up in it like a cashmere blanket. These women had found one of the keys of life. Making time for themselves lifted their spirits and gave them confidence, not just as women but as mothers, too.

Many cultures around the world embrace women. Our succulent personalities, the ability to release our emotions fearlessly, or our never-ending curves that give way for new generations, not to mention the vivaciousness with which we protect our children. Nonetheless, we are often met with resistance in our supposed land of the free. If we are too passionate about a work project, we are labeled as an emotional wreck. If we reject a man’s advances in a corporate environment, we must be PMS-ing because let's face it, who wouldn't want to be with an overly aggressive type-A male who stands far too close to every female colleague, eyeing her like a piece of meat.

This is why I tribe.

Finding a space for us to be women and partners, in addition to being mothers, is essential to our well being. There are scientific studies that show a woman has a higher chance of survival during an illness if she has a tribe. We need a group of sisters that are connected by soul. There is a clarity one feels after talking to a girlfriend. We can feel the sun shining brightly on us even in the midnight hour of our girls night.

My sisterhood is a tribe of women who move my soul each time we meet. Sisterhood saves you from pain, and at the same time allows you to relieve someone's troubles. Sisterhood is a friend that calls you out on your rubbish, a friend who tells you how proud she is when no one else does. She knows when you’re struggling and is connected so deeply she is able to feel your pain as her own.

We are in an age where the world is in its adolescence, struggling to find the way and travel a good path. Now, more than ever, each of us needs a strong sisterhood.

Surround yourself with friends who remain by your side, in sunshine and in shade.

JOURNALIST: Natasha Badkoubei

STILLNESS

The motion of motherhood showed up unannounced. I was in the direct path of a storm that had slipped under any radar detection. The movement seemed to rev in the groggy hours of the sleepless night and swirl into the distorted hazy afternoon and around again into the dizziest moments of dawn. All measure of time was an illusion as the days and nights and weeks twisted into one continuous thread. This movement, this spinning whirlwind, it had no regard for stamina or sanity or the shaky ground beneath. It was a perpetual movement, and any sense of stillness was a felt mourned memory. Life had arrived, life was anew, and living was in motion. 

I was in no way prepared for this motion of motherhood. The physical part, the swaying, the rocking, the walking, the spinning, the carrying and the jiggling, it all seemed endless. A few weeks in I can remember wearily turning to my husband and in a deep dying-animal voice dramatically conceding, “I just can’t bounce anymore!” I peeled myself off of the big yellow physio exercise ball, handed the baby to his father for a round on Old Yeller, and googled “why do babies like bouncing?” I mercifully came across an article on vestibular stimulation explaining the biology of movement in soothing a baby. Finding solace in the science, I was then ready to digest what had been recommended to me only a few days prior.

“Take a walk,” my doula told me, “Even if you just go around the block,” she said. She was my labor doula, but being the grounded and knowing woman that she is, she continued in support long after delivery. I suppose after you so intimately experience a person it would truncate a relationship to then suddenly disappear, or perhaps she had seen undoubtedly the unspoken reality of first time motherhood understanding only after birth is a woman ready or in need of this timely advice. All of this leaving the house persuasion seemed like a grand unnecessary feat initially, but over time and with enough practice runs of round-the-blockers we gently put tired Old Yeller to sleep and stepped out. Baby hated his stroller and was never one for sleeping in his crib, or sleeping at all really, so we stayed close. I wore him, and we walked. We walked, and walked, and walked. So began my experience as a mother. Hoofing it, as most New Yorkers do. There were pounds of excess baby gear in one hand and a strong cup of coffee in the other. I would laugh at the thought of being called a stay at home mother, because for us very little happened within the four walls of home; I preferred to refer to myself as a keep it moving mother Sherpa. Schlepping, as the locals say.  

I know now that the sleepless nights and the days in action are an inbuilt part of motherhood, but in the moment it seemed absurdly excessive. I found myself waiting, walking, waiting, and walking. I was waiting for the day my body would come to stillness. It felt like going to an exercise class where the instructor yells “sit ups” without saying how many, making the whole process seem limitless with a sole focus on anticipating the end. The commercials about, “No deep couch sitting” or “Moms don’t take sick days” would bring me to tears as I mourned the very simple comfort of my bed. I found myself pushing out the option for ease until the day came that my body would find physical stillness. Then, I thought, when I make time to sit still, then I will be calm, happy, quiet, sane, kind, smart, rich, and beautiful.

Then the day came when the rain soaked Trader Joe’s bag broke on the half-mile walk home with baby kangarooed. I waved the white flag and humbly accepted this life in action. It dawned on me that the idea of quiet inactivity was clearly divergent from reality; I had a choice to accept this hurricane of life in motion or forgo my present happiness in awaiting a future seated day.   

I had outrun the storm for months, but it finally caught up. I had no choice but to step toward the storm. The outer bands had worn down my strength, and I finally allowed the wind sweep me around and around. The strength of the storm did not let up, but in the surrender the centripetal force of the whole drew me nearer to the middle. It had escaped me that even the most ferocious hurricane had a calm eye of low pressure at its center. The storm was not just whipping wind, but the bands of wind and the still eye were both parts of the whole. The motion and the stillness were one, and it is only when we find center can we find unwavering stillness; in motherhood there was no separation of calm and motion, and I had to approach life as that ancient Eastern paradox of stillness in movement like yoga or tai chi. Life is movement, movement is life, but in the midst of a whirlwind there always stands the core of unshakable stillness.

In a new season the winds did eventually slow. The movement again had peaks of momentum and valleys of rest. Sleep returned. Days had beginnings and ends. The whirlwind calmed, and it was like it never was. The only remnant of evidence remaining was the tapped space of stillness now prepared for all the movement of life. This was my initiation, the motion of motherhood.  

Doula reference: @redtentdoula

JOURNALIST: Kelly Van Zandt (@yourmothernyc)

Moving on with Little Movers

All of my musings here have come from a very personal place as I don't know how to write but from my experiences and scars. But, no confessions have felt as personal as this: barring an act of God or medical miracle, I am done having babies.

Now, I don't mean to imply that this decision is one that has been made for me. No, after spending the last seven plus years conceiving, carrying, and birthing our three precious babies, we have chosen to close the door to more children and are moving into the next season of parenthood. Granted, I do have a newborn at home right now, so it's not like I'm out of the baby phase yet. I am still deeply entrenched in diapers, nighttime feedings, and that knowing look I get from other 'new' Mamas that says, "Yeah, these newborn days are so hard and so sweet." But with two older kids at home as well, life didn’t stop moving and there was no ‘6-week bubble’ this time around. Kindergarten school work, potty training, sleep training and fall colds; well, it just all kept on truckin.’

New journeys and parenting experiences are now filling my days as I straddle the worlds between having my babies to raising my babies. I quickly realized that the struggle with making the jump from two to three children, for me, was not the newborn in my arms, but in having two children who still need parenting, not just babysitting. And it is very difficult to live in both of these worlds. How do we move gracefully from nourishing their bodies to nourishing their minds, their hearts, and their souls?

So, as unqualified as I know I am compared to many, I'm going to list a few ways I've found to be essential in connecting with my children, as they grow bigger and braver ever so quickly.

1. Our children have instinctual love languages and we should know them.

This is something I realized when our son was three and we brought our daughter home from the hospital. All of a sudden much of what I thought was normal for all babies became only normal for my son when I had someone to compare him to. While my son is the greatest snuggle bug to ever be born on this earth, my daughter has a love/hate relationship with physical contact from the moment she was born. And from very early on my daughter shined when words of affirmation were heaped upon her head, even asking directly for our attention and approval. My son on the other hand lives in a world where the only opinion that matters is generally his own and he has no extraordinary need for affirmation.

Now obviously, these are generalized examples, and there are always exceptions. (I still hug on my daughter and I still praise my son.) But, even the basic knowledge of how my babes feel loved has been a light to us on this parenting journey. As my littles grow, this knowledge allows me to connect with them throughout our days in intentional ways. I know if I stop to sit and hug on my son for just 5 minutes, his love tank will be full and we have connected in a special way. And if I sit and watch intently with no distractions whatever song and dance my daughter may be performing at the time, and heap mounds of praise upon her at the close, well, you just can’t beat that beaming smile of hers.

If you haven’t heard of The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, I highly encourage you to check out the original book and/or edition about children. You may even learn a little something about yourself in the process.

2. Honesty is the best policy as your kids get older.

The world is rated R, and no one is checking IDs. Do not try and make it G by imagining the shadows away. Do not try to hide your children from the world forever, but do not try to pretend there is no danger. Train them. Give them sharp eyes and bellies full of laughter. Make them dangerous. Make them yeast, and when they’ve grown, they will pollute the shadows.
— Nate Wilson

For me, this is the best outcome of always being honest with our children. It’s not a rejection of being their shelter and keeping them safe. It is also not a full embrace of sharing every little detail of life with them, with little regard of their ability to comprehend it. For me, it is a balance of being honest with their questions to the degree with which I believe they can process, but still letting there be some magic in the world. It’s letting them believe in Santa for a little while longer, but answering honestly their silly and serious questions about what different body parts are called, why they, a brother and sister can’t get married when they grow up, and when they ask at 5 years old, ‘Mommy, what is a racist?”

This is where parenting really gets gritty, Mamas. This is where their little characters are formed, and to my mind, there are few greater gifts to offer them for their futures than open communication and honesty. The conversations are not always easy, and always fraught with my mistakes and misgivings, but the bonds that are forged in these talks and questions answered, even at such young ages, are the bonds that will last straight on through adulthood. They will not remember the long nights you nursed them back to sleep, but they will remember your undivided attention to their quarries and curiosities, and your honesty about the world around them. I’m slowly learning that perhaps I even prefer these emotional and intellectual bonds to the first solely physical connections from carrying and nourishing them I had in the beginning. It is a revelation I never expected.

3. Taking care of myself is taking care of them.

Those who know me will likely laugh that this point even made my list for I am well known as being notoriously bad at getting away for some ‘me’ time. Nonetheless, with every passing day/week/month/year, I realize the great importance of time to myself. Introvert or extrovert, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that as Mothers, we know ourselves and take the time to get away to do the things that fill up our own love tanks. Motherhood is both fulfilling and draining, and I have yet to meet a mother who didn’t need at least a little rejuvenation from time to time. For some rejuvenation comes from pampering or for some it is a simple and quiet space. Maybe it’s working or maybe it’s taking a bath. For me, it is creating and learning a new artistic skill that really helps me feel centered. When my daughter was born I took up calligraphy and hand lettering. This time around, I’m throwing myself into learning pottery.

No matter what it is for you, take care of yourself, Mama. You deserve it, and you need it. Few season in motherhood leave us an abundance of time or resources, and many seasons pass with us running on empty all the time. But it is only when we are filled up as mothers that we have anything to give away to our children, to continually being all that they need us to be, in each stage of their lives.

So, if you're reading this and you're still in the thick of your childbearing years, I see you friend. My heart abides with you through the months of trying, crying, pregnancy, and delivery you are living through. I wish I could text you during all those middle of the night feedings and tell you to trust yourself, you’re doing just fine. I wish I could sit next to you, look you in the eye and tell you to trust your instinct more than the stranger on that Facebook forum, and I wish I could make you understand how fleeting this precious time is.

When I imagined becoming a Mother, I never pictured more than having a baby in my arms. That was the whole of motherhood that I could imagine for most of my life. Now, that season is almost over for me, but the journey of motherhood has just begun. I’m only 7 years into a journey that will last many decades to come. The babies are weaning now, and each needs me in their own way. They need me to know how to love them, how to listen to them, and how to be their Mama. They look at me like I hold the whole world in my hands, not knowing that most days I’m scared of doing anything that might accidentally ruin them. But I pray all my striving will continue to strengthen our bonds, that they might last long after they think they need their Mommy any more. I don’t know many mothers ahead of me in this journey, but from what I can tell, it only gets better

JOURNALIST: Rachael MacPhee (@havenblog)

Community

Our daughter Saoirse entered our lives in the early hours of a December morning. We were surrounded by people: doctors, nurses, and a bleary-eyed med student roused from a couch somewhere to deliver our baby. The last thirty-nine weeks had all been in anticipation of this moment; her body mottled and slippery being placed on my chest. I watched my husband Andrew reach to touch the thick, dark fur that covered her head, felt her little heart beating fast against my warm skin. We had waited for her, and now she was here.

“So, what exactly do we do?” I asked Andrew later in our hospital room. We sat side by side on the edge of my bed, eyes fixed to our child sleeping in her bassinet.

“I’m not sure,” he said. “We’ll figure it out.”

It wasn’t much, but I felt reassured. In our ten years together we had managed distance, job changes, family health issues, and our own three-year struggle with infertility. He was right, we would figure it out. I moved closer to him on that hospital bed, our knees lightly touching. I saw our daughter sigh, and I was happy.

But while happiness was my prevailing emotion, there were other things I struggled to articulate beneath the surface. Together in that room, just the three of us, I felt the full weight of the twenty-two hour drive that separated us from our closest friends and family. We had been away for years, the distance wasn’t new. But sitting there, watching the rise and fall of Saoirse’s chest, I felt an almost primal need to be surrounded by the women in my life. Geography made it impossible however, and so I focused instead on how grateful I was for the supports I did have. I had a hospital of kind and attentive staff, local friends who would have been there in a second if asked, and of course, Andrew.

I didn’t think about it again until later, lying in my hospital bed, exhausted but unable to sleep. I picked up my phone and scrolled through the messages that had come in while I was in labour. There were hundreds. Some were direct texts wishing me well, while others were photos or memes to make me laugh. But what constituted the largest section of these messages was a group text in which some of my girlfriends and family members were participating. In it they talked back and forth about what they thought might be happening, interspersed with commentary from Andrew like, “nothing to report so far,” and “hey, she’s kind of busy right now.” I smiled as I scrolled through. Reading my mother’s concern for a potential 30 hour labour, following along as my sister told her to put down the phone if she was going to write things like that. It was all so funny, and beautiful, and so them. While I had been bringing Saoirse into the world, this group of women had been closing a circle around us. Their love and support wasn’t hampered by our complicated geography. By the time my daughter drew her first breath, these women, and the other women in our lives, had already begun the work of building us a community. A community of women that I have found myself relying on again and again during my first year of motherhood.

It is a year that has gone by quickly. I was always dismissive of people who told me that time moves faster once you have children, but it feels true to me now.  The last twelve months of my life feel like a memory I can’t place; a blur of discovery, and exhaustion, and joy. But within this cloudiness, there are moments of great clarity, and many of them involve the women closest to me.

Twenty-four hours after Saoirse was born my sister flew in to see us. She was the first person to give her a bath. She dressed her in blue and pink at the same time and whispered, “there, that will confuse the patriarchy.”

Both grandmas visited in those first few months. We built a repertoire of lullabies, and favorite books, and neither of them offered advice I didn’t ask for.

My sister-in-law (along with Andrew’s brother) flew out to see us at Christmas. I didn’t want to impose, but she took Saoirse eagerly. She dressed her, changed her diapers, and reassured me that I was doing just fine.

When Saoirse was six weeks old I hit a sort of hormonal precipice. Our guests had started to ebb, and the loneliness that often accompanies new motherhood was setting in. Right when I was feeling my lowest, two of my closest friends flew in from two different parts of the country to be with us. One was pregnant, while the other toted around her four-month-old baby. It was the dead of winter, they had other obligations no doubt, and yet here they were on my doorstep.

When Saoirse was four months old we took her overseas. We traveled to seven different countries, and at times it was stressful. In Portugal, Andrew’s older sister came to visit. In her company I felt relaxed and happy. We drank wine and chatted about life. I felt my old self returning.

In Scotland we visited my aunt and uncle. A skilled knitter, my aunt helped me make a sweater for Saoirse, bright red with grey buttons. She stayed up late knitting pieces so that we could complete it. I think of her whenever Saoirse wears it.

By the end of that first summer of Saoirse’s life we were done traveling, but we still had a month to stay with family before returning home. We spent quality time with Saoirse’s other aunties: Andrew’s sister and my brother’s wife. Both women were very much in the same stage of life as us. Mothers to babies and toddlers they still found time for Saoirse, and to chat with me about motherhood.

I could write pages about these women, and the other women in my life who I am grateful for. Women who are the type of mothers I want to be. Women who are child-free but have lovingly and ungrudgingly accepted and embraced Saoirse’s place in our lives. The past year has been amazing, and hard, and made infinitely easier by the love and support that has been given so freely.

It is this support that carried us over into fall, when we decided to undertake our second IVF cycle. Unlike our first cycle things didn’t come together as seamlessly as we had hoped. Andrew couldn’t take a large block of time off work and so he could only be with me for a few days. The process could still work, but it meant a loss of support for me. He wouldn’t be there to help me mix and administer the injections. He wouldn’t be there to hold my hand.

I was afraid.

But I shouldn’t have been. Because the women in my life, they banded around me. They drove me to appointments and watched Saoirse. They told me I was brave when at nine o’clock every night I had to inject two, sometimes three, needles into the soft skin of my belly. For almost a month I spent time in cars, waiting rooms, after appointment lunches with these women, and they never made me feel as if they minded. Each one of them missed work, or spent time away from their kids, or drove from different cities to help me.

Because of these women we have a second chance to be parents. Because of these women I have seen the tiniest of flickers on an ultrasound screen, and heard the sweet thump of my new baby’s heart. I am not yet twelve weeks, that enchanted time when everything begins to feel safer, but I want to greet this experience with the same honesty and openness we approached our last cycle with. So I’ll speak our truth, no matter what comes.

We made another baby. A being threaded together with science, and magic, and the beautiful intentions and love of the people around us. I don’t want to be wary, or guarded, or let the challenges of becoming a mother in the first place overwhelm my happiness. No matter what the coming weeks and months bring, I know I can withstand it.

We will figure it out.

Because how can we not?

I’ve got my village of women after all; the most beautiful expression of community that exists, and the most powerful arsenal there is against fear.

JOURNALIST: Beth McKinlay

I Burst Tonight

I burst tonight in the bad, yelly way. While holding my infant, I yelled at my son who in one half-hour, refused to listen, would not apologize to his big sister for pushing her, told me he didn't like me or my face, and NO, he wasn't going to eat dinner or pick up the piece of sweet potato he dropped. I am calm. I have love and call to him with a clear voice, but he has just stepped on my laptop.

What did I do? I yelled. Of course, I yelled. Tonight and much of this week, I am stretched, stretched, stretched. I am that balloon blown up to the point where we almost cringe, waiting for the pop.

This is pregnancy, isn't it? Wondering how far our mind and our belly can stretch, or how taut, as our bodies create a secure environment for our babe. We imagine this new life as we slather on more cocoa butter.

Many days, I parent solo. Without the benefit of my husband's presence and parenting (he tends to work long hours), I am both stronger for it and more vulnerable. Just last night, I facilitated bread-making. We did literacy with imaginative books, reviewing "ou" and "ow". We wrote the beginning of a story. They washed and chopped four kinds of veggies. We cleaned up and put away laundry, but (and I cringe here) I also yelled. I threatened with consequences I’d have to follow-up on. I frowned and muttered. Later, when they were asleep, I confided about recent parenting challenges to a friend and bought a parenting book. I brainstormed new ideas of how to reach my son.

In one evening, I burst in seven ways, mostly good, some bad. My kids certainly see this. I am my best and yet, I can also belly-flop to my worst, all in one evening.

I am sensitive to noise. I like a healthy buzz, laughter and music, but it must bounce around with peace. When things go awry, when the kids fight, or the dogs bark, my mommy ears want the house on some silent-reading lock-down. When my amped-up mind receives too much input, I know to use humor to douse the tension and quell the sting of kids not listening. But boy, I can burst into screaming over the din, suddenly when it is too much, and in that moment when all of the not listening has built up. It's that last pheeeooowup into a balloon already crammed with air. A sudden burst and it's all been too much.

What makes you burst, my dear? What makes your heart swell? How quick our emotions can change--from one moment, looking on at our sweet children, wanting to inhale their sweetness and nuzzle their soft ears, to a frustration and praying for our better response. 

But really. Our central nervous system with the thoughts and feelings that come together and inform our body, we must be on overtime, double shifts, and no lunch breaks. What flexible thinkers we are, to go from peaceful, loving interactions, to feeling scared or apprehensive when they approach a hill on their bike or climb to a high place.

Mothering children is like that, in my case, times three. I can tenderly caress my five-month-old daughter's squishy cheek and twirl her chestnut ringlet and fuzzy hair, and then holler up one floor, "WARNING!" to a quarreling big brother and sister. I bounce back and forth trying to create a peaceful homeostasis, but also vacillating on, around, and through quite possibly every emotion.

We women swell with pride, too. We burst in so many ways, with pride, but in joy, also. This week, my daughter emerged from her room in ballet wear, requesting classical music. She brought out the long-out-of-season Mary Kay shadow, and requested blue. That girl danced to Gavotte and Waltz of the Snowflakes, with the dimmed living room lights casting long shadows. She left to help her brother find something to dance in, too, and came back with clear signs she delved back into that shadow. More glimmery blue definition and it looked like she ate a blue crayon. I could not stop smiling. She looked like she felt so beautiful and danced with head high on her neck, total elegance. My son came out with a tutu and soccer shirt. He danced high on giggles.

Go ahead, set the kitchen timer for five minutes. Chart every feeling. Those 300 seconds would probably leave many men gasping. We peel through so many thoughts and emotions.

All through the day, there are various forms of bursting, escalating, and deescalating stress. Enough deep breaths to confuse any set of lungs, and enough stretching to wonder if this is how life will always be - a swim through nine kinds of waters: shallow, murky, brine, and all before noon. I promise I am on solid ground, but it's the mommy guilt that might try to cling to us! The desire to get out and do something by ourselves! Absolute love for our kids and sometimes a battle with feeling critical over our parenting, assessing our home, and the learning environment.

I told my employer, the school where I work, that I will resume teaching this January. This is two months away, which is quickly approaching. It's a hiccup away, countable weekends in which I must mentally and physically prepare to leave my baby. My emotions and my nursing breasts may absolutely burst. Maybe in preparation, I am doing extra feeling? Maybe I’m aware of the overwhelm that may try to grip me? Either way, I want the bursting to be from pride. I am proud of the way my body and mind grow to take care of my babies, and I am okay with growing pains.

Motherhood is the physical and emotional tied, intricately wrapped, tied, and tangled. It is a swirl of two composites, a delicate dance between the internal and external. It is sometimes trying not to utterly tear at the seams but also learning again and again that love is the thing holding us together. Love is our cocoa butter, the salve of laughter. It is the balloon we blow up and release again.

Journalist: Melissa Uchiyama

The Pain In The Feeling
What if pain—like love—is just a place brave people visit?
— Glennon Doyle Melton, Love Warrior: A Memoir

The other day I spent the majority of the afternoon in bed. I wasn’t sick or physically tired but emotionally I was exhausted. The week had caught up with me and by the time Sunday was here, my heart and my head had enough. And so I let the pillows, blankets, and hum of traffic wrap me in their protective space, and for the first time all week I let myself feel. I cried out my worries, confusion, and pain. I cried myself to sleep and then cried some more, but by the time I left my bed I felt renewed. Those things that I cried over were no longer such a burden on my heart. 

There is a spectrum of thoughts (dare I say feelings?) out there about feelings: what you feel isn’t what you are, your feelings lie to you, don’t share your feelings, or get over your feelings and move on. I understand this because it’s how I’ve operated most of my life, but recently I’ve realized that none of these things are true for me anymore. How can I not be what I feel? I am my feelings. My feelings are me.

The feeling I struggle with the most is emotional pain. I’ve often been told I’m strong and people say things like they don’t know how I do it, or they wish they could be like me. In painful or sad situations I do tend to come off as “strong.” I’m calm and not overly emotional, but I’m not some superwoman fearlessly shouldering my pain and flinging out into the universe. The strong front is only a coping mechanism to deal with the pain, or more truthfully, to not deal with it.

Don’t avoid the pain. You need it. It’s meant for you. Be still with it, let it come, let it go, let it leave you with the fuel you’ll burn to get your work done on this earth.
— Glennon Doyle Melton, Love Warrior: A Memoir

I have been an avoid-er. I’ve avoided feeling, accepting, and sharing pain my entire life. All this avoiding caught up with me when, a few years ago I almost lost my marriage to addiction, anxiety, and depression. The resulting pain was so strong that some flames broke through, but most of it I choked back, stamped out, and shoved down. I told myself I was strong and I just didn’t have time to deal with the pain. I was busy helping my husband recover, rebuilding a life, and taking care of a new one. But what I was really telling myself was I didn’t want to deal with it; instead of letting the fire out, I let it burn me up from the inside. Swallowing the pain, swallowing my feelings, did more damage than good.

Being a mother has taught me a few things about feelings. When my son cries it’s usually for a reason. He’s hurt, scared, unsure, angry, or a number of different emotions. As adults we’ve been conditioned to brush this off. “Oh you’re fine,” I find myself saying. “Stop crying,” I demand. But this is dismissive and tells him he’s not worthy of whatever he’s feeling in that moment. Why can’t I let him express and deal with his pain and fear? Why can’t I let myself? Slowly, I am. I’m starting to embrace the pain in the feeling. I have to be conscious about it, but now when pain flares, old or new, I recognize it, I welcome it, and I let it burn on the outside. I want to be a mother, wife, woman, and friend that loves fearlessly, hurts deeply, and celebrates wildly.

Today I invite you to join me. I invite you to feel whatever you’ve been avoiding. I invite you to find out what cracks your heart wide open, to breath out the fire, and let it burn until it’s created something beautiful. Today I invite you to feel.  

 JOURNALIST: Michelle Windsor

Rule Your Mind With Your Own Self-Love

Women, mothers, I ask you: what do you see when you look in the mirror? When you strip off your clothing, when you let your eyes fall upon your naked figure, what thoughts fill your mind? Do you scrutinize every dimple, every roll and every stripe with critical eyes, or do you marvel over each curve, each line, and each glowing inch?

It took me a long time and a lot of careful intention to get to the place I am today—to the place where I sit in wondrous awe of my body, and to lie in comfort with the driving passions that fill my mind. Even though I grew up under the wing of a strong and confident mother, and was taught by example to pay no mind to what others thought, societal norms and the mainstream media did not escape me; and as such, I fell into that deep chasm of self-criticism, -disdain and oftentimes pure loathing— particularly during my teenage years. We’ve all been there – we’ve all found ourselves at fourteen years old, wondering why our breasts are so small, our thighs so thick or our hair too this or too that—we think that if only we were six inches taller, that our weight would be more evenly distributed; or that if only we were six inches shorter, we’d not have to feel like we’re being gawked at everywhere we go. We conjure up just enough reasons as to why we’re not quite up to snuff, and soon we’ve descended into a mindset that envelops us in some true warped knowing that we come up short or that we’re not worthy of reverence.

Then enter motherhood: that season that throws at us a deluge of hormones, confusion abounding, a body perhaps sliced, ripped or torn to shreds, and a new little earthling to care for first and foremost. We see postpartum bodies being Photo shopped all over the media, judged left and right, and we can’t help but hold ourselves to the same unrealistic standards: why don’t our pre-pregnancy jeans fit yet? Will our breasts be this engorged forevermore? And in the years that follow, what we wouldn’t give to have those giant, leaky boobs back… because now they’re deflated and pulled down by gravity; and surely nobody finds these appealing, we think to ourselves. Not really, anyway.

I look myself up and down in the mirror and I like what I see—I need to make that abundantly clear. BUT: there’s a lot of fine print that accompanies that sentiment. I am not without doubt, hesitation or reservation. I wrestle with compartmentalizing the flaws in my body: sagging breasts are excused for having provided my daughter with life and comfort for three years. My soft stomach, though, does not get a pass. A pregnancy does not excuse me from looking exactly the way I do now, I think; that must be blamed on my occasionally poor eating habits, my regular consumption of alcohol and my lack of regular exercise. I allow only so much pregnancy-related fat before I put my foot down and blame the rest of it on myself. There’s no excuse for looking exactly like this, I tell myself. I am still beautiful, but I’m not treating my body the way I should. And that’s the truth.

The deluge of self-deprecating thoughts that fill my mind usually come around the time that I have my period, because I’m bloated and short-tempered; forgiveness is in high demand and in low supply.

I find myself swooped up by the hurricane of responsibilities and of day-to-day busyness; by the chaos of chasing after a three-year-old, and by being a partner to my husband. I feel regularly like I’m failing at both, even though the first thing I sacrifice in order to maintain order is myself—my desires, my priorities, my hopes and my joys. These things fall by the wayside and there I stand in the middle of a storm with nothing to show for it. And all the while, my hair just keeps getting longer, and my stomach softer.

These feelings wax and wane over the course of any given month, and before too long I find myself back to marveling over that naked body of mine in the mirror. I demand of myself to look at that work of art; to consider all that it has done—both for myself, and for my healthy and thriving child. This body of mine, I decide, is a temple, and my mind a raging fire.

Women, mothers, I ask you: how intentional are you in fostering a love for all that which propels you forward? To love others, we must first love ourselves; and that love is as physical as it is emotional. We need to nurture our desires, raise up our passions and hold tight our deepest desires. We must love our every curve, and eradicate the notion that we are to look a certain way in the days, weeks and years after having given birth. We must embrace all that we are, all that we have accomplished and all that we stand for.

Women, mothers, I implore you: give yourself every ounce of love that you pour into those around you. Allow it to multiply, and watch it flow freely from you once you’ve permitted it to pump fervently through your veins. You are worthy, you are powerful and you are a source of unremitting glory. You are everything, and you are so much more.

JOURNALIST: Sandy Jorgenson

In Celebration of Motherhood

It’s 5 am. A little person quietly comes to the side of your bed. You wake up, startled by the face that’s suddenly appeared so close to your own. The little person declares, with absolutely no attempt to control the volume of their voice, “I had a bad dream/my nose is stuffed up on this side/my covers won’t get straight” or some other emergency that you can’t quite comprehend in your sleepy stupor. You have a decision to make: wake up and take the little person back to bed, or groggily roll over and resume some semblance of sleep while you cuddle with what can only be described as an overheated octopus. You choose the latter. When your alarm goes off in what feels like 23 seconds later, you roll out of bed and assume your parental duties which no amount of caffeine, but maybe a little exercise, (though c’mon who has time for that?!) could prepare you for. Your day has just begun. T-minus 14 hours until bedtime – how much can you accomplish and how many can you feed, clothe, and keep alive until then?

Welcome to motherhood.

Women have been mothering fleets of children for generations. This part of womanhood runs deep, it is carried within us, and whether or not you choose to be a mother, as women we are all connected by it. Even if you are not a mother yourself, there is a profound connection between mother and child, grandmother, sister, friend, aunt or niece. And it is powerful. Motherhood is a deeply divine calling. No other experience can change a woman so acutely – and bring to light her capabilities in such an indirect way. There is no school for motherhood, yet somehow, as you take on the care and responsibility of another human being, this untapped potential that you never knew you had begins to take over. Did I know I could change a diaper at lightning speed in the middle of the night? That I could simultaneously make dinner, hold a baby, and have a heart to heart conversation with my mom on the phone? Did I know I could sing amazing bedtime songs and that I’d have an adorable little fan club? That I could still somehow function on 3 ½ hours of sleep, and not all in a row? That I could teach another human being empathy and compassion as well as basic human hygiene? No. I had no idea of this potential until I became a mother. And while I am busy mothering, I don’t often take a step back to look at and celebrate these accomplishments. But I should – you should, WE should.

The beautiful thing about being a mother today is that we are not alone in this! Oftentimes these accomplishments are hard-won and leave us feeling exhausted and lonely. But there is something special about this age in motherhood. It is the glorious network of mothers connected through social media. If you look at the dedication and love out there amongst these women – their daily trials and struggles on display, their successes and failures, their messy kitchens or immaculate houses and well-dressed children – THEY are a celebration of motherhood.  The definition of celebrate is literally ‘to honor or praise or acknowledge publicly a significant or happy day or event' and isn’t that what social media platforms are providing us with? Whether or not we had a happy day baking cookies in a clean kitchen, or one filled with yelling and crying and misplaced shoes, we can publicly praise the good or publicly acknowledge the bad. And in this form of celebration we find others who celebrate with us. This tribe of women who can connect and validate one another; who have the opportunity to reach out and say “YES! I’ve been there!”  We are no longer strangers in this and that is the power of being a mother today – how many mothers of the past could feel so unified with women around the world?

Yes, there are always times when we may look at one another in envious comparison – in this way social media can be dangerous. But remember that behind that camera is a mother like anyone else, who just may be choosing to put her best foot, face, or living room tableau forward because she struggles with self-esteem and could really use the validation.  Or perhaps she wants to showcase the ginormous laundry pile in the cluttered playroom to prove to herself and the world that she tried today. Either way, celebrate. Now that we have this amazing way to connect to one another throughout the world, let’s not use it as a platform for animosity or self-loathing – let us build each other up and sing each other’s praises, let us acknowledge our struggles and support each other’s accomplishments. Celebrate the beauty of motherhood as it exists today – in an ever-connected world.

The times are changing, and while I see many who fear for the future, and specifically the degradation of the family, I am also deeply aware of a growing community in support of motherhood and family. There is a celebration going on and we are blessed to be a part of it. Whether you’re a single mom, mama to a few, or suffering heart-break trying to get there, we are all here for each other. We all have the capability to reach out, so let’s reach out and connect. It is this opportunity that we have to unite that will create wonderful friendships with one another.

After all, is it not these connections that enhance our human experience? We are united in motherhood, and therefore we have the obligation to validate and support one another’s struggles and successes – let us celebrate this role so that our community of mamas can be a light to the world.

JOURNALIST: Ashley Oborn

Motherhood

It was the year I turned thirteen that I broke my first bone. Spring had begun to shift into summer, and I was walking my dog, the leash wrapped tightly around the first two fingers of my left hand. Our dog wasn’t the smartest creature, and he was prone to pull and yank without warning. I knew this, but still held his rope precariously, an invitation for injury. It was only a few feet from our house that he spotted a soft-coated white lab, immediately pulling tight against his restraints. I heard the snap first, the sound of my index finger breaking, then the pain followed, white hot and instantaneous.

My parents weren’t home at the time of the incident. My father was out, and my mother was on dinner shift at the restaurant she worked at. My fifteen year old sister did the best she could in the face of this crisis. Putting into practice what information we had gleaned from hospital scenes on television dramas, we tried to coax the finger back into place. It was only later, when my mother had left work early and driven me to emergency, that we understood how futile these efforts had been. My x-ray showed an injury that couldn’t be undone with a few skillful (or in our case completely amateur) manipulations of the finger. The damage was a diagonal fracture that cut clear through my bone.

The solution was surgery, metal pins to be inserted, and a cast for the summer. I had remained relatively quiet through all of this, but I was thirteen, and to me this diagnosis seemed catastrophic. On the way home, in the passenger seat of the car, I started to cry. I was mourning the loss of what was important to me at the time: summer, swimming, and the freedom of being unencumbered by something as socially damaging as a cast. I am embarrassed now when I think of the lack of grace with which I dealt with this news. I was dramatic. I yelled. I questioned the fairness of the universe.

My mother was quiet for about two minutes of this tantrum. She drove, her eyes affixed on the road in front of us, and then suddenly she stopped me.  “That’s enough,” she said. “There are kids in this world dying of cancer. You can handle a broken finger.” At the time I felt wounded. To me it was a glaring example of how she failed to be like the other mothers I had seen both on television, and in the homes of friends from school. Mothers who baked cakes, planted soft kisses on the tops of heads, and lingered in doorways if only to spend one more minute in the company of their children. While to many of my friends these mothers were a source of embarrassment; to me the coddling, the pet names, and the adoring looks all spoke to what I assumed was a deeper and more powerful love for their children than my mother held for me.

Love wasn’t something we talked about much in my house. We didn’t say the words often, and in fact my mother almost seemed suspicious of people who were apt to use the phrase in ways she deemed reckless. “Love isn’t something you say to just anyone,” she said once while talking about an acquaintance who used the words too liberally for her liking. “If you claim you love everyone, well then you probably have no idea what the words actually mean,” she said. But what did those words mean to her?  In my house an ill-timed “I love you” might be greeted with a curt head nod, or worse silence, and I sometimes questioned why it was so hard for her to say the words back. I understood you shouldn’t say things you didn’t mean, and you should mean the things you said. But, if as I suspected, love existed in our house, linking the five of us together, why couldn’t we speak it aloud?

Much of her emotional reserve I put down to her upbringing. Born in Glasgow, Scotland in the 1950’s she was the second child to parents with a fourteen year age gap. Her father was a large, indifferent man. One who I suspect loved both of his children, but didn’t really understand what that meant in practice. She was closer to her mother, a woman full of life and much adored, although not a person to cater to anyone’s need for validation or reassurance. It was a different time, a different place, and while I don’t imagine it was ever discussed, I know there was a thread of love that ran through their family as it does mine: quiet, constant, and almost imperceptible.

I believe in this thread because it reveals itself through my mother’s stories of leaving Scotland. In them I can hear her yearning, her loneliness in this new country, and her wish to return to what she knew. I believe in this thread because twenty years ago when my grandmother died, my mother fell apart. There was a sudden lapse in health, flights to Scotland to stand at her bedside, and then suddenly she was gone. My usually stoic mother was a mess. She had never been good at expressing feelings, and in the face of this loss she didn’t know how to hold herself together. She wept. She was angry. She couldn’t make sense of what had happened. I understand now how lost she must have felt without her mother. She was frustrated that none of us understood her pain. But how could we? I was a teenager at the time. I was inwardly focused, selfish, and deep in the process of taking my own mother for granted. It didn’t occur to me then that mothers were things that you could lose, even in the face of this clear evidence. My own mother was a fixture in my life, as solid and permanent as my own being. I didn’t understand then what my mother was in the process of learning. Those threads that tied us all together, well they were tied tightly to our mothers, and when they were loosened, everything could change.

I think a lot about these threads of motherhood now that I have a child. I wonder how much of my experience, and how many of my choices are defined and shaped by my mother, and by her mother before us. On the surface it would appear very little. Where my mother is emotionally reserved I am expressive. I am always reaching for my child. I repeat the words “I love you” like a prayer. I know for sure that I will be one of those mothers who embarrasses their children, hovering in doorways trying to sneak just one more kiss. This is my fate, and I will embrace it.  But it is careless for me to assume that this one component of who I am as a mother defines my whole reality. I am different from my mother yes, but underneath that surface level there is a genealogy of motherhood that snakes from me to her. I like this idea. That we are connected by a shared history of motherhood, and that I may not be as different from her as I have always assumed.

My mother is not warm in the traditional sense. She won’t hold your hand. She won’t tell you you’re beautiful. She expects you to know you’re smart so those words will never have to escape her stern Scottish mouth. A few weeks ago I told her I might write a piece about her, and that the topic was warmth. She laughed at this, then looked thoughtful. “Well, that’s the last word anyone would ever use to describe me,” she said in her matter of fact way. I didn’t disagree with her then, but I think perhaps I should have. My mother is warm. Although we don’t always see it right away, it’s there just below the surface. It’s quiet, subdued by a layer of strength, obscured again by her blunt truthfulness that can sometimes sting.

My mother the center of us all. She has stood by my father for over forty years. She has raised three children who are great friends, and created a family that still gravitates together for meals, celebrations, and sometimes for no reason at all. She has built a home where the door revolves and everyone is welcome. She has been there for each of us at every turn: through challenges, broken hearts, emergency room visits, disappointments and great joy. There are times I have taken my mother for granted, or failed to understand her. I thought because I couldn’t see her love for me in her words that it wasn’t there, but I was failing to look at her actions.

I realize now that that day in the car, my broken finger cradled in my lap, my mother wasn’t trying to be harsh or unkind. She was trying to tell me that I was going to be ok. My finger would heal, my life would go on, and she wanted to make sure that I understood that. My mother assumed that I was strong enough to handle whatever would come, and that assumption is a gift I want to give my daughter. I am grateful too, that she has a grandmother who will be there for her as well. Quick to remind her that life will throw you challenges, but you will survive. It’s interesting to me though how different my daughter’s relationship to my mother is. With Saoirse, my mother is playful, free, and loving in a way that I find equal parts surprising and beautiful.

I have watched them together, Saoirse cradled in my mother’s arms, a lilting Scottish tune being hummed. I have heard soft words, coos, and praise quietly directed at my daughter. I have even once, I’m sure of it, heard the words “I love you” whispered quietly into the tiny seashell of her ear. In that moment part of me wanted to draw attention to it. To say aloud, you said “I love you. I heard it.” But another part of me realized that the words didn’t really matter. To point them out was unnecessary. They were always there, invisible but present, unspoken, but no less true in their silence.

JOURNALIST: Beth McKinlay

Serenity Lives Here

Motherhood is the ultimate roller coaster. There is no ride in existence that can match the emotional ups and downs, twists and turns, or the overall thrill and excitement. I never had to wait in line for the ride. I just decided one day that I wanted to take a turn.

My journey, although short, has been a tumultuous one, and in that, I have managed to find peace in motherhood. To some, on the outside looking in, being a mother is either hard and ugly or beautifully simple. I am an eternal optimist as a mother. An eternal optimist that always fears the worse and is overwhelmed with anxiety. My life is run on schedules and routines. Our lives run like a fine oiled machine. Day in and day out we move like robots, but our souls sing of love. In the disarray of schedule keeping, and work meetings, and preschool parties, life sometimes seems like a dance we do with time. I find myself longing for the greener grass, on someone else’s side.

In a world plagued with mommy wars, mom shaming, and mom guilt, how are we supposed to find serenity in our own journeys through motherhood?

Sometimes it’s hard to find, but it’s always there.

Every day is equal parts happy and sad. Every day is equally chaos and calm. When the world seems like it’s moving faster than we can keep up, the kids are screaming, and dinner is burning, you will reach down to pick up your baby, and he will grab your face and lay one of those sloppy, wet, open mouth kisses directly on your lips. There, you will find it. The blissful moments in motherhood that make your heart melt into a puddle on the floor.

These are the moments, for which I live.

Every morning, we wake up at the same time, always before the sun. Our routine is like a dance through the minutes, swaying, and passing bags, hairbrushes, and the occasional child between us. Sometimes, more often than not, there are tears and sometimes unhappy words. Sometimes raised voices echo through the rushed juggling of diapers and tiny socks. But every morning when I pull out of the garage, my oldest shouts at me from the back of his daddy’s truck, “Have a good day, Mommy, I love you so much!“ And there, just like that, the rush begins to steady, and that tiny ray of comfort peeks in.

I am tired, more often than not. Some days, the fatigue can get the best of me. My patience can be thin. It seems that almost every time we have these nights, both boys need me at the same time, every time. One needs comfort, the other attention. No one is ever willing to compromise. I feel like my head will explode. I turn on the radio and scoop both babies into my arms. I dance and sing at the top of my lungs. The most joyous sound begins to fill the house, and we are happy, the four of us together. And there, at the end of my rope, I find euphoria.

Every night before we go to sleep, my boys climb into my bed. While the youngest nurses to sleep, my oldest rests his head on my stomach. The soft outer shell of what was once each of their home. I listen to them breathe. It is calm. It is quiet. It is always the exact opposite of majority of our days. Slow and steady, rather than fast and quick. I watch their chests as they rise and then fall. I inhale their scent, and it is intoxicating. The sounds of their cries have faded, but the echo of their laughter still lingers in the distance. In this moment, the good always outweighs the bad. The worries of the day, the problems, and the fear subside in this moment. We are together here, and we are content.

I believe there is such a thing as perfection. You just have to be willing to get through all of the imperfect things to find it. Motherhood is the perfect storm. No matter how terrible the day has gone, even if there have been too many tantrums and melt downs to count, and even if you lose yourself in a fit just trying to survive until bed time, in the end, there is always a tiny glimpse of tranquility that shines through. You just have to be willing to look for it. Just like the calm in every storm, there is a calm among the chaos. Being a mother is all that I live for, and even in the mayhem, I find serenity here. 

JOURNALIST: Kayleigh Elliott

Dear Motherhood, Thanks But No Thanks

Dear Motherhood, 

As we are approaching the Holiday season dedicated to giving thanks, I feel moved to extend my gratitude for all you have bestowed upon me throughout this journey. 

You have given me many things to be thankful for. Starting with my two incredible little ones. Sometimes I still feel them inside my womb, gentle flutters that trigger me to put my hand to my belly. Then I laugh to myself as I come back to present and realize I must have eaten something that caused those flutters. I am so humbled that you, Motherhood, chose me as the vessel to bring my littles earthside. 

I will never know another joy so completely indescribable as pregnancy. Sure I had my share of "morning" sickness, which often lasted all day. Not to mention the searing fire that sat in between my lungs refusing to die out no matter how much ice cold water or almond milk I poured on it. Thank you, Motherhood, for heartburn. You proved the old wives tale right, both of my babes came out with a full head of hair. 

You gave me two very different birth experiences. My son decided to make his way out 6 days after his due date. 50+ hours later he arrived under bright hospital lights as I laid on my back, exhausted from the rush of natural birth. Following right behind, less than two years later, came my daughter. I was so fortunate to have had her naturally in the comfort of our home. She came earthside in a warm pool after only 4.5 hours of labor--2 of which I slept through! Thanks to you, Motherhood, I feel like a warrior goddess, capable of anything! 

Motherhood, you have given me courage. In fact, so much courage that I would like to tell you Thanks… 

But NO THANKS! 

I know I know, I am supposed to be humbly writing beautiful and poetic words of love to you but the truth is... you gave me something I didn’t want and surely didn’t ask for. Something that consumes my every day life. I can’t escape it, can’t shake it. It is there when I wake up and crawls right back into bed with me every night. Haunting and taunting my dreams... 

The nightmare known as Mommy Guilt. 

Thanks but no thanks, Motherhood...you can have your Mommy Guilt back! 

I will no longer feel guilty for using food as a bribe with my kids. I have no more guilt for feeding my toddler a banana every single morning just so I can wipe sleep from my eyes and use the bathroom alone in peace. I will proudly give my 9 month old whatever leftover scrap from breakfast is in reach just to get her off of my leg while I am cleaning the kitchen, or making lunch, or trying to walk from room to room. 

Motherhood, I say no thank you to the mommy guilt of hating poopy diapers. There I said it and now you can have it! No more will I feel bad for being disgusted when it is my turn for diaper doody. I am not a bad mama just because I can’t stand the task, let alone the smell. Really, who can? If you know someone, send them my way! 

You can’t make me feel guilty anymore for using technology as a babysitter. TV, iPad, Tablet and phones are owed much credit for teaching my littles how to do the Whip Nae Nae. If you think about it, we pay more a month for these than we do actual sitters. So I am taking full advantage! I have to distract them somehow if I want to get things done around the house. 

Motherhood, I thank you for my children who take forever to get ready. But I am done feeling the pit of guilt for being late to EVERYTHING. It literally takes an hour just to change and get them dressed. Not to mention put the diaper bag together and make sure I have pants on before I leave the house. 

Additionally, beloved Motherhood, I am done feeling ashamed. Ashamed of feeling exhausted from the non-stop nursing. You dried up my milk and gave me a break while I was pregnant with our second. But I think it was because you knew how I was going to become a punching bag and jungle gym for her. I do not feel guilty for being happy the night nursing ended. I need the rest to prepare for the battle wounds I will endure the next day. My chest looks like a cat attacked me. She pinches me on purpose and we all know baby nails are sharp regardless of how many times a week they get trimmed! No guilt, no more. 

A few more things, Motherhood, I will no longer feel Mommy Guilt for: Asking my friends to babysit last minute, they love my kids and are honestly happy to help if they can. Asking my husband for time alone, I am not a horrible mama for needing and wanting a break! Lastly, I will no longer feel bad about needing a glass of wine, or 3, once the babies have gone to bed! 

Motherhood, I have wrapped Mommy Guilt up, tied it in a bow and put it on your doorstep. I hope you are not offended that I am returning your gift. It is one that I have no room for. I promise this is the only thing I will be giving back. I hope you accept. 

Because if you do, I will have space to love the soft curves you have given me. I can then embrace the endless appetite I have from nursing and chasing babes. I will delight in the delicate kisses I give and receive from those plump pink baby lips. Most importantly I will learn to laugh at myself again. 

And for all of that, I thank you Motherhood. 

Sincerely, 

Shea

Journalist:   Shea Gardner

@hippiebumpeace

Your Unique Ingredients

Imagine you are making cookies to be displayed publicly. First, you combine the ingredients required to make it your own recipe. You are now presented with two options: you may place a blob of uneven cookie-dough onto your baking sheet as is and bake it, possibly resulting in a less-than-aesthetically-pleasing, oversized-but-still-delicious cookie. Or, you could roll out your dough, take your favorite cookie cutter, place it in the center, press, and there you have it – perfection. You’d likely choose the second option and prefer to keep cutting out the maximum amount of cookies possible. But what if I told you, you now have to throw away the remaining dough you prepared? What if I told you, you were only allowed to make one cookie and, because it was unable to fit into the cookie cutter, the rest of the dough you put the effort into making would be considered nothing more than scraps? You’d probably feel pretty disappointed. Some of you would mush your dough back up into the blob it was before you rolled it out, bake it, and own it for the wonderfully-delicious mess it is. While others would either reluctantly, or some even without hesitation, discard the remaining dough, and bake their single, perfectly-presentable cookie.

As a mother and a woman, like so many, I am guilty of comparing myself to others. I observe my ingredients – what has made me who I am, picking myself apart, focusing mostly on what I see as my flaws. I wish to be more like the people who have it all together – a better mother, wife and homemaker, to have a positive self esteem, to have a healthier, more active lifestyle, to be an organized person who thrives under pressure, and then to make all of those things seem effortless. These unrealistic expectations have me trying to fit into the outline of what I’ve been convinced a mother and a woman should be. I am often left with the same choice you were given with the cookie – do I conform? Roll out my individuality, take the cookie cutter, press, and take on the facade of perfection while leaving the rest behind? Or do I own my God-given individuality for all it is, flaws included, and boldly be?

Something I have learned about myself is I am unable to present just a portion of myself, because not a single part exists that has been left untouched or unaffected by each contributing factor of my journey. Therefore, I would be presenting merely a shell. Much like removing a key ingredient from a recipe, it would be an injustice to mask parts of my life that greatly contribute to who I am. My successes and shortcomings, my strengths and weaknesses, every obstacle I've overcome, both simple and complex, all enrich my story and individuality.

One cannot live an abundant life without acknowledging the life they lead in its entirety – to rejoice equally in both the differences and the similarities of motherhood and womanhood.

The trials I've faced thus far in my life have contributed greatly to my individuality. I reflect on times when a certain struggle I’ve faced consumed me to my core, rendering me utterly distraught and unaware of how or even if I possessed the strength required to maneuver through it. There was a weighted darkness over me in those times and whether or not this storm would make or break me brought anxiousness. How could I live up to the demands motherhood required of me if I didn't come out standing tall? Past traumatic experiences have created deeply-rooted afflictions, which in turn, brought a low sense of self-worth, and a great deal of doubt in my ability to succeed in any aspect of my life.

I feel myself suffocating under the pressure to be all society makes us mothers and woman feel we are expected to be. I struggle with my availability; pulled in so many directions with the children, their schooling and extra-curricular activities, work and keeping up a household for the people who depend on me. Sometimes everything else seems to be left hanging, as if waiting for me to notice. The pressure results in me missing potential daily moments of joy. But in the midst of it all, I'm challenged to step back and look from the outside, to observe how the ones I love most view me in my entirety – oh how their view of me differs from my own! At the moment when doubt overwhelms me and my shortcomings are all I see, they see every effort, all of my abilities, and love me for all that I am.

Every struggle I have journeyed through thus far has made its mark, but not in the way it once did. I'm learning to appreciate every part of who I am, including the parts of me unable to fit into the perfect outline of the cookie cutter. It’s in the ingredients I possess, like a dash of courage, mustered from the deepest parts of me. It’s the search of my soul for a teaspoon of strength to conquer this trying period. It's a cup of faith in believing I am capable when doubt attempts to derail me. It’s everything combined, and then surrendered to The One who is far.

JOURNALIST: Emily Earle

 

SURVIVAL

He approached me abruptly, purposefully, and unapologetic. He wanted to know what my talent was. I scoffed in his face, too shocked to hide my disgust.

When had I been reduced to just a performance ability? Did he see me as the main character struggling through my scenes or was I the understudy, desperately waiting backstage for her moment to shine? I took a deep breath, preparing myself to answer the nameless man and found my mind unlocking moments I had worked so hard to bury.

It's funny how a stranger can intrude on your life and send you spiraling down the rabbit hole. My memory vomited up the most painful night I had experienced...one I preferred to think of as an observer, rather than as a participant.

She sat there curled up, panting like a crazed dog trying to recover from the strain placed upon her body. Her eyes met her own in the mirror and she dropped her head in shame. How did she let this happen? Why couldn’t she stop it? How long, God? How much longer?

The questions were pointless. No matter how hard she racked her brain for answers, her life had spiraled out of control. Where she had once had stability her days were now filled with uncertainty, panic and fear. She had become a stranger to herself. The stranger was so far from the proud woman she knew before. She could no longer hold a conversation without waves of anxiety flooding over her. Clothes were used as a shield and her deep laughter came few and far between.

The thudding of the beast’s footsteps grew louder as she heard it draw closer. Her heart pounded against her chest and beads of sweat formed across her temple in anticipation of round two. She forced herself to stand up, nauseated by the pain searing through her broken shell. She had neither voice nor physical power but she did have an inner strength, immeasurable. Weak and exhausted, she knew she would crumble under his power instantly, but she could not give up on herself.

The foul odor of the beast entered the room before he did, making her gag from its intoxication. The beast was sick. She had tried to nurse him to health but her love for him had only made her his primary target.

The beast would not meet her eyes as he entered the room - perhaps a sign of the last trace of humanity he may have had left.

With the first blow she closed her eyes and transported her mind to a time of freedom when her life was full of richness. There were days when she could feel the rays of the sun penetrating her body and wrapping her in a blanket of warmth. The sweetness of her smile and the sparkle in her eyes were infectious to those around her, but her hopes of love and joy were laid to rest as her body exhaled its last breath.

I snapped back to the present as he asked me again what my talent was. Survival. My talent is survival. It's not pretty, it doesn't sound melodious to the ear or dazzle the eye, but it is ferocious and ravenous for life.

You see, I remember things by feeling: intense, awkward, painful, embarrassing, joyful, content, and neatly filed in my mind, holding me captive to moments in time. For better or for worse, and stuck there like a splinter pushed too far down beneath the skin.

I reminded myself why I was even in that hotel lobby. It was the annual Grand Canyon Bahai Conference. Instantly I beamed. Being around other Bahá'í's allows me to breathe easy as a woman. We are taught our worth from a young age, our importance to the development of mankind and our equal station to all men.

...Education begins with the milk. A child at the breast is like a tender branch that the gardener can train as he wills.
— 'Abdu'l-Baha, Divine Philosophy

As a woman, I'm the primary educator of my children. How incredible it is to know the method in which you raise your children will be a reflection on mankind!

I left that conference knowing I had to live the rest of my life making sure I raise my children to know that there is no person on earth who should be allowed the power to rob them of their happiness. Ever.

My children are young but I promise humanity I will raise them to be citizens of the world. We are all worthy of a good life.

JOURNALIST: Natasha Badkoubei (@itstashabadkoubei)

Drowning In Mom Guilt
I know you hear me, I know you see me, Lord. Your plans are for me. Goodness you have in store, so Thy will be done, Thy will be done, Thy will be done, on my knees like a child all that comes to me is, Thy will be done.
— Hillary Scott

I was driving in silence the other morning. My thoughts were racing, my chest was heavy, and my heart was aching. I had to fight to breathe past the lump in my throat. This was not a new experience. In fact, the same thing happened every morning, from August through May. My thoughts were screaming inside my head. Familiarly, I cried out to God. I prayed for calming. I prayed for peace, or at least, peace of mind. In an effort to quiet the noise, I turned on the radio. These words began floating from my car speakers, through the muffled sounds of passing traffic and turn signals, and straight into my breaking heart.

My anxiety settled as I pulled into the parking lot in front of my school building. I am a working mother. I worked long and hard before my boys came along to get to this place in my career, and now, I wake up every day and have to fight myself to leave them behind. The guilt is excruciating. The anxiety is overwhelming, exhausting even. Some days, it feels paralyzing.

The social stigma of being a working mother is a very real thing for me. Everywhere I go I am certain that I feel the stares of other women, even if my boys are with me. I can hear them whispering, shaming me for being a working mother. Even when I am at work, in a field where majority of my colleagues are women, and most of them are mothers themselves, I can’t escape the guilt, the criticism, or the anxiety. Maybe, I am my own worst enemy. Maybe it’s the guilt, eating away at me, from the inside out.

I choose to work, because I have to. There is no other option for my family. I do not work for myself, I work for my boys, and I work to provide for them. I work to give them a beautiful home, with a big green yard, lined with trees. I work to make sure they have everything they need, and everything they could ever want. I work to give them a better chance at a future in this ever changing, unsettling, unpredictable, and alarmingly terrifying world. I have a dream job by many standards, but it can’t quiet the constant guilt.

That morning, as I sat in my car, piecing myself back together before I entered my classroom, I prayed. I prayed for my children. I prayed for their caretakers, and I prayed for a job that I loved. Despite my own personal struggle each day, I was grateful to hold the position I have been given. Most days, from August through May, I have two (of my own), plus twenty children to care for. I know God hears me, but on that day, I heard him, loud and clear.

I am a mother, and a teacher. I am a working mother, and that is okay.

That morning, I realized this was all a part of His plan. I wipe butts and noses. I kiss boo boos and I hold hands. I sing songs and tell stories. I guide, I lead, I teach, and I love. I am the mother that survives on the very breath my babies exhale. I also know, that even in my absence, my boys know that I live for them. As a mother, I know that my own children need me, but there will be other children that need me too.

I may cry on my way to work every day. I may still fight to overcome the weighted guilt of motherhood, or battle with myself to get into the car and drive to work, and every day, August through May, I will long for the leisurely days of summer.

It has been said, "what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger." Even if we are better for it in the long run, it will never make the struggle any less difficult while it lasts. Before I became a mother my biggest problem was trying to decide on what outfit I wanted to wear, what shoes matched best, which side to take in an argument, Chinese or Italian, or whether to love him or leave him. I laugh about it now, but the fact of the matter is that even our tiniest of struggles mold us, shape us, and form us into who we are as human beings. Our struggles are part of our individuality, they are part of our identity, and  motherhood forever changes us.

JOURNALIST: Kayleigh Elliott

TALENTS & BELIEFS

Last month I experienced one of those weeks where mama-hood was a lot more exhausting than it was inspiring. My 16-month-old got Hand Foot and Mouth Disease (a mild case), which transferred more harshly to my body and manifested in painful physical sores. It was the first week of fall, and our calendar was running out of space with new toddler classes, play dates, workout sessions and a much anticipated moms night…all scratched out and replaced with lying nauseous on the floor while my son jumped on me and shoved books into my lap for hours. 

While housebound and feverish, I threw an epic pity party, hosted by the fact that moms don’t get sick days off like my 'lucky' working husband does. The discontent spread like a virus. My husband’s career accomplishments continue to be praised daily and compensated bi-monthly; my labor is unseen and unpaid. I am one of many, many 'good moms' out there, and there is nothing that makes my mothering special. Parenting is a selfish endeavor anyways; after all, no one forced me to further populate the earth with my offspring. Lies are easy to believe in loneliness. 

I turned to 1 Corinthians and was struck by Paul’s words, “What do you have that you did not receive?”

Is there nothing more humbling and true? With one sentence my vision was corrected, my heart examined. My mindset pivoted from an ill-perceived injustice to a reflection on what I really have: a husband who sacrifices his personal, social and family time to provide enough so that I can be our son's constant teacher. A little boy whose bright eyes and unbridled smile make the blood dance through my veins. A beautiful home in a coveted city filled with people with whom to share this life. Creative outlets that bring my soul joy. And I am not only filled with abounding gratefulness for every undeserved blessing, but through faith I acknowledge that each one was given...and thank the giver. For there is no earthly possession, no cherished friendship, no personal talent nor skill, no sacred family moment, no speck of goodness in my life that was not carefully placed there from heaven. Not even one sip of air I've drunk that was not poured into the sky just for me by the maker and sustain-er of all things. A truth for the masses and no less a truth for me. When I am approaching the second hour of folding laundry…Jesus sees. When I am reading ‘Goodnight Moon’ for the tenth time in a single day…He listens. When I lose patience and indulge in the luxury of self-pity…he forgives. The fragrance of the knowledge of Christ has filled our home with an aroma of peace, even when the work is banal and the days are unending. 

My family’s beliefs, rooted in evidence and watered by faith, have given us the authority to parent our children with a love beyond affectionate feeling. To raise up our babies to accept their divine value even when the world tells them that worth must be earned and peer-reviewed. To gift the generation to come with the heritage of a faithful marriage. To discipline and guide these delicate hearts and minds out of love, knowing even our precious children are bent to break just like us. 

The Lord says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” Today I will choose to live set apart from the woman the world wants me to be or says I have the right to be and instead pray for my happiness to be defined by a joyful obedience. I will not look for attention elsewhere, but I will be loyal to the one that God was faithful to give me. I will not ‘wing it’ and hope for the best, but I will search for wisdom. I will not settle for survival, but I will nourish my own desires and needs. I will not be blown away with the sands of lies but planted in good soil where truth and kindness grow. And when the pressure for perfect fruit mounts high upon my branches, I will remain grounded in His steadfast grace instead.

I am mother and with this title I am both connected under a vast sisterhood and made perfectly unique. And this is the great honor God has for us mothers - that we are daughter too. An identity that gives us all affirmation of individual worth and our eternal belonging as adopted children. A blessed assurance enough for me.

JOURNALIST: Lisa Leyda Petersen

STORYTELLING

At four months pregnant my daughter has already begun to show herself beneath thin cotton dresses. I had thought I would be a mother who speaks to her belly, but I am not. Instead I lightly tap my fingers where I think she may be, a reconnaissance mission, a cautious Morse code. Are you in there? I tap. Are you happy? Do you think you might stay?

That same month my husband, Andrew, and I take our thirteen-foot Boler trailer and drive until we reach the west coast. He is learning to surf and we camp on a beach in La Push, Washington. In the morning, he paddles into waves that he assures me are safe. I search the shoreline for treasures: jagged bits of shell, tattered feathers, and a rock, midnight blue with coral veins. It fits perfectly in the palm of my hand. That night we eat corn on the cob pulled from the fire, and Andrew lights a handful of bottle rockets purchased from a stand on the main road. They crackle hot and orange, first against the dark sky, and later behind my closed eyes as I try to sleep in our cramped trailer bed. The rawness of this space unmoors me, exposing a fear that grows alongside the person beneath my skin. I press my fingers lightly to my belly once, then twice for reassurance. Are you still there? I tap. Are you listening?

If that child of mine was listening there were things I’d like her to know. Things that the drum of my fingers on my rounding belly couldn’t communicate. I would tell her that I met her father in the winter, when we both started work at the same busy British pub. He was kind, had a wide mouth, he made me laugh. We were friends, then more. Then four years in, he left me for a job. There was a move to a faraway community that felt like the end of the world. I missed him but was hesitant to follow, giving up a job I liked in a small office with a view of the city. I wasn’t sure if I was ready. Then five years in, I was. There was a conversation, an engagement, a wedding on a lake where a naked man on a boat flashed our cocktail hour, swaying in the September sun. We laughed, praised his restraint (he had waited until the vows were finished after all), and drank champagne with small tart blueberries that made me think of the Northern town I was moving to. We packed my things and drove the twenty-two hours to our new home. I took a job at the town newspaper, made friends, and settled in.

We decided to have children. We assumed, like a lot of people do, that making that decision would cause them to appear. They didn’t. Or they only half did, once a small flash of pink on a test, quickly followed by a noticeable absence of pink. “That baby was a quitter,” Andrew said, when faced with the multiple negative pregnancy tests I scattered around our bathroom. “Who wants a quitter baby? Not us,” he said. Although, I knew he wanted exactly whatever that baby had been.

I don’t know if these are the kinds of things that you tell your daughter, while she’s only half formed and sleeping inside of you, but I thought maybe they were. More than anything I wanted her to know that we were happy, even without her, but that living beside that happiness was a twisting line of want, and hope, and sadness, that snaked through my belly and pulled tight in moments I least expected.

We decided we would just see what happened.

What happened was a call from my brother. They were pregnant after one month of trying. “I’m sorry,” he said, and I felt my own sad awkwardness through the phone line. And I was sorry too, but only because the things I wanted had begun to dull my happiness for the people I loved.  He was scared to tell me, and that in a way felt worse than those disappearing pink lines.

We booked appointments, sat in waiting rooms, and lay prone on tables. Every way we could be laid bare we were.  Months became years, and we began to forget what it felt like to not be trying for a baby. After three years there was a diagnosis, low motility, and a decision, IVF.  We decided that neither one of us was ready to let go of the idea of having a child. We found the money and got in line. Six months later we were called. 

The process began in March as winter thawed around us. We brought home boxes of medications that Andrew mixed and then injected into the tender area around my belly button. “I’m sorry,” he said after every needle jab, his fingers lightly rubbing the small pink spots my skin now wore. My belly became swollen and round, the appearance of pregnancy without the guarantee. At night Andrew brought me tea and slipped fuzzy socks on my feet, while I curled up drained on the bed.

Then eggs were retrieved, zygotes created, and three days after they had left my body, two hopeful little embryos were put back in. I was told to wait two weeks and then take a blood test at the clinic. After nine days I gave in, peed on a stick, and saw those familiar pink lines. I peed on a stick again on the tenth day, then the eleventh. I went through twenty-three pregnancy tests in those first few weeks. I kept waiting for those lines to stop appearing, for this baby to leave us as well. Two months passed, then three, I still couldn’t believe that she might be real.

It was that fourth month, in the car leaving La Push, Washington and heading down the west coast, that my fear of losing her loomed largest. I wanted not to be scared, but I was. I saw danger at every turn, on the road, in the water, in the fallible home I had built for her inside my body. By the time we reached Brookings, Oregon, I had fallen ill with food poisoning, throwing up for hours beside our trailer in a grassy patch that led to the ocean. Every heave shook my body violently, and I worried that I was hurting her. I pictured her tiny body as hard and still as a stone in my belly.

I didn’t sleep that night.

In the morning as we crossed into California, I felt my sickness subsiding, the sun bleaching away my exhaustion and nausea. In Redwood National Park Andrew and I walked quietly, our fingers lightly laced, following a cool, shady path through the trees. A man, grey haired and small boned, made a joke as he passed us, something about me going into labor in the forest. He thought I was much further along than I was, and I realized for the first time how I appeared to other people: healthy, round, and as full as a cup.  At the end of our path we stopped under a massive tree, and I imagined her, moving like a fish beneath my skin. “Hello,” I said, placing a hand on my belly, not tapping now. “Hello in there.” Addressing her in that moment felt like the truest thing I had done since the moment I had found out I was pregnant.

Now ten months old, Saoirse smiles with a mouth as wide and expressive as her father’s. I have continued my habit of silent communication with her, three squeezes means “I love you,” a string of kisses means the same. But our days now consist of a stream of conversation that begins the moment she opens her wide dark eyes. This will be the way it is, until I can speak no more. Every day I will find new words for her, and from them I will build her stories. Stories that speak to everything that has been, and everything that will be, now that she is finally here.

JOURNALIST: Beth McKinlay

Surrendering The Laundry

The buzzer on the dryer sounds, it's time to make a decision. Do I let the clothes sit until nap time or do I save them from their wrinkled fate? Leaving them makes me twitchy, so I go for it. Right on cue, my little helper runs in to help me “pack”. I feel myself tense up, but take a deep breath and say, "Sure buddy, let's pack!"

I think of myself as a go-with-the-flow kind of mom, but if you start messing with my laundry, the control freak comes out. I always separate clothes by color, I remain aware of certain items that cannot go in the dryer, and wrinkled clothes are not acceptable. I usually don’t have time to fold immediately, but I do lay the clothes flat so by the time I get to them they’re not a crumpled mess. Having a two year old who thinks doing laundry is the best thing next to goldfish crackers doesn’t really mesh with my laundry plans. M doesn't have the patience to wait for my lay flat technique or the fine motor skills to accomplish it. For him it’s a win if he gets a piece in the basket.

My control over the laundry is a strange contradiction for me. I decided before M was born that while I would listen to the advice, read the baby blogs and books, ultimately we would do what was best for us. From the day our son was born we struggled with breast-feeding. His latch wasn’t quite right and he wasn’t getting enough milk. Even with a snipped tongue tie, help from lactation consultants and the use of nipple shields, he lost too much weight his first week of life. After our first pediatrician appointment I was sitting on the couch trying to get him to latch, sans shields, because the doctor had convinced me there was no way to successfully feed with them. After a tortuous session that had the baby and me in tears, my mom looked over at me and said, “Just do what works.”

Yes, I thought with relief, do what works.

I used those shields for 4 months and was able to feed my son.

My go-with-the-flow mentality meant I never followed strict schedules. He slept when he slept, ate when he ate, and was awake when he felt like it. If he cried during the night I would pick him up, rock, pat, sing, or bring him to bed with me. Now that he’s a toddler it’s a little more challenging, but I can still let a lot of things slide. If toys are all over his room, they’ll get picked up eventually. If he wants a snack when he just had one, I say eat up. If he feels like lying down in the middle of the store, sweet, I might just join him. This doesn’t mean my home is a free-for-all or that I’m raising a wild child. He has rules and guidelines, but I want M to feel free to explore and discover the world with me beside him, without pulling him along or holding him back.

I can’t always be beside him. During the week I leave M with my husband, in the safe but vulnerable car, and unpredictable traffic. I hand him over to the care of his teachers for six hours a day where they are responsible for his every need. At night, I yield him to his room, his bed, and the many unknowns of the dark. There are things that can happen during these times that I cannot control. I cannot stop the car that runs the red light, a fall at school, or an unseen sickness. I cannot control him, I know that, and that’s why I have to surrender him to the One who does.

Surrendering doesn’t mean that I don’t worry, but it does mean that I have a place to put that worry. I believe that God is in control of my life so I can hand things over to him. Like my toddler, I too have instructions to follow, but I also have a God that is holding my hand and always by my side. What do I get from all this surrendering? Peace. Freedom. Confidence. The same things I hope M feels from me. Just as I look to God to learn and grow, M looks to me to teach him.

I must also let him do.

The first time he attempted the big slide at the park he wouldn’t go up without me. His little hand gripped mine with a mixture of fear and excitement, and his steps were heavy with hesitation. The second time he went alone, but cautiously he looked back several times to make sure I was there. The third time he courageously climbed to the top without searching for me because he believed that I would be waiting at the bottom. I want M to know that I will always be there, even when he can’t see me. That he can look to me for guidance; bring me his problems, all while having faith in my unconditional love.  My desire is that through my actions as a mother I am reflecting God’s promises.

Does God care about my laundry? Probably not, but I do think he cares about how I approach it and the mindset that I am in when it comes time to empty the dryer.  Perhaps my issue with the laundry is because I can exercise complete control over it. More importantly, I don’t need to control it, and I certainly don’t need the anxiety that comes with trying to maintain that control.

Perhaps I need to treat the laundry like it’s a weight to surrender to God?

Or, perhaps I’ll just surrender it to M and just hope I can embrace the wrinkles.

JOURNALIST: Michelle Windsor

Bigger Than Myself
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Often times I hear, "Wow you are so strong!" or, "You must be so strong, I could never do something like that”.  Carrying a baby that isn't mine and won't be coming home in my arms is often a hard concept for some to understand.  Sometimes being told I'm so strong is a true compliment & sometimes it teeters on the cusp of discern.  Which is completely understandable.  Much of what we are unfamiliar with can slip into unintentional ignorance.  I'm flawed by the those same attributes.  We all are.

I never considered myself a strong person, truthfully.  In my heart of hearts most of the time when my waters are rocky & my compass is lost I merely feel like I only hold on to survive.  White knuckled & blue faced.  But this road is different.  I don't see it as hard, or as if I needed strength to decide to do this.  Even now I don't feel like embarking on this journey took a whole lot of strength on my end.  I was certain from the time I met the two handsome and nervous men that mirrored me on the computer monitor in my agency's office, that I wanted nothing more than to carry a baby for them.  Sure, there were struggles.  The raging hormones on IVF, the failed attempt at a transfer, a medication hiccup and a redo of our subsequent cycle.  I am not unphased by the normal woes of pregnancy.

But through my surrogacy, from the beginning to my current state of seven months pregnant, the only strength present in my eyes is the unwavering strength that lies in the couple for whom I carry this child.  For them and for the others like them.  They may not all be a gay couple eager to make their far off dreams of having a family one day a reality.  But their hearts' wish is shared just the same.  Maybe they are in a different boat, yet their sails are set in the same direction.  Those who have experienced the loss of a child.  Those who suffer from infertility.  Those that long and wish and pray for a baby of their own.  The ones that have walked into the hospital to give birth & return empty handed--empty hearted.  The ones who have sought out different avenues when the one they were intent on didn't unfold the way they had hoped.  Be it adoption or surrogacy or fertility treatments.  There.  It is there.  There is where the real strength lies. I've often sat and wondered what that would feel like. Imagining the pain and heartaches that tether at their heartstrings.

I'm growing this child and handing that babe back over, rightfully where she belongs.  They are the strength in this.  For waiting.  For holding onto hope.  They posses a certain strength in trusting me with their child, awaiting along the sidelines for her arrival.  I sometimes wonder how could a parent be so strong through a process like this.  To sit and wonder how your baby is and how they are growing and what must their sweet kicks feel like from the inside.  Even with constant contact & the knowledge that we both are healthy as can be, there are countries that separate us & for them that must be so hard.  My own strengths for the "hard parts" like labor and childbirth comes from the strength I know the intended parents have been holding onto for many years before the big day even arrives.  It's all much bigger than myself.

It all unravels to where we sit today, now over a year into this little unborn girl's story.  I’m reminded daily for the purpose of this journey when I look into my daughter's face.  Her green eyes.  That baby face full of round, blossoming cheeks.  Full of hope and wonder and invincibility.  The blonde curls that flip and climb the back of her neck and lay delicately on her ears.  The smile that protrudes from that babyface, yet dauntingly childlike at almost two.  The endless love she pours into my soul.  When I am empty, she fills my cup up, and then some.  Who doesn't deserve that kind of unfaltering, unyielding love?  The love I have for her.  The love she has for me.  The magic that was birthing & raising & loving and mothering.  That is why I am doing this.  To give that gift to someone.  Maybe I'll see my own strengths when this is all over & the hormones are gone from pregnancy & the rush of love and oxytocin from this experience has passed.  I am proud of myself, indefinitely.  But for now I meditate & focus on the strength of my newly beloved friends and the impending arrival of their dreams.  I feel joy and happiness that my body can manage something so untraditional and yet so remarkable.  The woman's body is a vessel for incredible sorcery.  I will always honor that.  I am full of support and love and a steady readiness for the next chapter, all while savoring the one we are in now.

Journalist: Kylie Foreman 

Photography: Sweet Lily Photography 

In the Midst of Darkness, Hallelujah We Sing

Have you got that one defining experience under your belt that changes who you are? Has your role as mother ever veered off course, only to drop you upon land you don’t recognize? Maybe you look in the mirror and hardly recognize the person you once were…

It took my husband and me 14 months to conceive our daughter. As the conception process goes, it started off exciting. We were exhilarated at the thought of bringing a baby into our lives. Time slowed, though. The more periods that showed up on my doorstep each month, the more deflated I became. But it happened at last! There came one day I peed on that blessed test, and I reveled in the mystery that is creation.

In early 2013, after a textbook pregnancy, I landed softly into new motherhood. As it goes, in the months that followed my daughter’s birth, my heart, my body and my mind rocketed through wild emotions and experiences. I felt elation, tumbled into postpartum depression, and squirmed my way through sleepless nights, unintelligible cries and a premature return to the workforce. I conquered it all, though. Being a mother suited me, it seemed. Having a child fit me well.

As time passed, my husband and I hemmed and hawed about how seriously we should take our efforts at controlling conception. I wasn’t sure we should ever waste another dime on birth control. And sure enough, as soon as we were ready to try for a second, we conceived! I was pregnant with my daughter’s sibling as if by miracle. I was elated, I was nervous, and I was exhausted. I was a mother to a preexisting 18-month-old. I was over the moon to someday meet this beautiful new being, but monitoring my pregnancy week-by-week was a thing of the past. I was already up to my eyeballs in spoon-feeding, breastfeeding, diaper changing, and tiny-toddler-wrangling.

When that growing baby of mine reached nine weeks gestation and then let go inside my body, my world crumbled. My baby’s heart had stopped beating, and mine shattered into pieces.

And to the floor I fell and stayed. Our fruitless efforts at conceiving a third time became so arduous that I found myself in my doctor’s office. I was told that I would never fall pregnant again. Secondary infertility clambered up my back and settled as a weight upon my shoulders. So through and beyond the floor I continued, downward and into the earth, deeper and deeper, until I landed in darkness.

In a succession that spanned two years, I gave birth, lost a life, and was robbed of a future I thought I had laid out in front of me. Instead of looking toward the future with hope, I mourned the passage of time with a longing for what would never be, and a bittersweet gratitude for what I have. I have one daughter, a miracle in her own right, but she is the only little person to whom I devote my love, and the only one I will raise and watch grow. So instead of wild chaos, sibling rivalry, and hand-me-downs, I will watch with equal parts joy and heartache as my only child ages far faster than I want her to.

Never again will I get my yesterday with her back, or the day before. Our days of breastfeeding and spoon-feeding mushy peas are behind us. I've already seen her first tooth break the surface of her gums and I've watched her take her first step. My husband and I have been through potty training, we've taught her how to dress herself, and now we're watching her learn to ride a bike. Each of these milestones are ones to celebrate—and celebrate we do indeed—but I grieve over the passage of time all the same, and I do so in a way that I can only surmise is unique to those of us who never wanted to raise a child with no siblings. 

On most days since that loss, I sit down in quiet stillness with myself. Are my struggles visible? Surely they’re etched deeply in the lines on my face. Do I make room for all with which I wrestle? Do I house my pain? Do I hold it, nurture it, or give it space? Well, surely I must, for all of it has its place.

My life, as I watch it unfold, is both infinitely rich and deeply lacking. My present looks nothing like I wanted it to. I am broken, and I am beloved. I am a stronger, more resilient woman than I used to be. My heart has been crushed and broken, and my mind is a great ship enduring rough seas.

And so, I am exactly the mother that I am because of what I have weathered. I pour myself into my daughter, and I drink her in with fervent love. I live with a white-knuckled and ardent desire to take everything I can from my time with her, and in return, give her all that I have. The loss of her sibling and my ensuing infertility completely reformed the way in which I parent. It changed my trajectory, my speed, and my level of intensity and my dedication.

Yes, my hope is gone, and yes, a child of mine is lost. But what remains is a deep love for what I’ve been given – for my one living daughter – and a knowing that it's my very privilege to spend the rest of my life with her.

Every struggle, every hardship, every great feat we conquer – all of it envelops us, hardens and softens all the same, and lifts us up to heights we’d never before seen.

“Hallelujah,” sings Leonard Cohen.

 Hallelujah, hallelujah.

 We are mother.

JOURNALIST: Sandy Jorgenson