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)