Posts in The Village Journalists
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

She is You

I love a woman who loves herself. A woman who knows she's not perfect and embraces that. A woman that not only loves herself, but FALLS in love with herself every single day. She knows that she doesn't always say the correct thing, but she is kind, humble, and oh so selfless. She understands that the world isn't always beautiful, but she does her best to add her own beauty to her life and to the ones closest to her heart. She hesitates when making decisions for her family, because she fears not making the right ones. There is fear in her heart, but you’d never know, because she is peace — the binding factor of why her world holds together, even if it’s not even close to perfect.

She has insecurities, like every other human being. But she isn't like everyone else. She makes a difference — even more than she could ever imagine. To her children especially — when they grow up and think of the person they want to be most like in their lives, it will always be her. The way she can whip up a dessert and have it taste like heaven, the way she drops everything without a blink to help someone in need, the way she seems to have all the answers when you don’t know where to turn. When she looks in the mirror, she only sees the wrinkles and the creases of her eyes and her mouth, and the growing grey intertwined in her blonde hair. But the world sees her contagious smile, her laughter and silliness that brightens up the darkest room, the joy they wish to see in every aspect of their own hearts and lives, and the patience she has for values not like her own. How is it that she helps others see who they truly are, more than their own souls do? She sees the curves of her body, more weight than she had years ago, and stripes on her tummy from when she once carried her own babies.

She doesn’t see herself as beautiful because society doesn’t deem her as so — she isn’t young or olive colored skin, or perfectly perky breasts, and her house isn’t clean and doesn’t look like an article right out of the magazines she loves to read. She doesn’t yet realize that beauty isn’t everything. She doesn’t see the power she possesses, because if she did, she would know that she can literally move mountains to create the life she dreams of. She is real in an increasingly false world. She flourishes in her existence, like a flower pushing through concrete. Her real self shows in every breath she takes. Her strength isn't always stronger than her softness, as much as she tries to make this so.


My sweet friend, she is you. Your greatest gift is the power you hold inside yourself, and being the truest soul you can ever imagine. Don’t you dare even deny it — the Earth thrives with you in it. Let us create beauty and love, my love.

JOURNALIST: Bethany Bourgoin

I Sometimes Live in Shadows

My size five and a half feet carry an ocean, a mountain of weight as I stride through the house. Each step is a dump truck stomping downstairs. Each clunk beats out an S.O.S. "Come get me. Show me that this is not how our marriage ends. Show me you love me more than I realize." In our room, I cry.

It's sadness and it's fear. This thundering fear over an argument of wasted chicken thighs. Or maybe it was a discussion over schedules or the dogs? (Does the subject matter ever really matter as much as all of the communication?) We really are okay; my reactions are just off. Do other kids of divorce get this weird, too? This hypersensitive, scared, angry, and we-better-work-this-out-in-ten-minutes-or-we're-done attitude too?

I live my marriage in light of being a child of divorce. Rather, in the darkness of having gone through a divorce. How can I be my best with this insecurity that in the end, may not be victorious? Boy, it's exhausting. If I even think he sees me in any negative way, if he does not remark on my eye makeup, my golden parenting, or some feat I've accomplished, I think perhaps he's had it with my whole personality, that he doesn't love me, and will trade me in my nursing bra for a secretary or colleague. I'm not always like this, but fear, even in small doses, can still be toxic.

If I stay in that place, I sink, and become that poor sad horse in The NeverEnding Story. My marriage view, if even for fifteen minutes, appears as bleak as muddy, dear Artex. I am being dramatic, but at least some of this may have to do with my parents being married five times between the two of them.

I can be freer, not bound by any old hurt. I won't be bound now by history that happened to me decades ago. Maybe it can take a village to support a marriage? It will take care and resolve to comb through my feelings a bit before throwing them haphazardly, or chucking them at my husband. For this, there are options deeper than breaths - journaling, gaining trusted counsel, time in worship, or time in gratitude. My kids will greatly benefit if I can take this time not only for me, but for them, for us, and for the village that lives in these very gates.

Marriage is tough, though. Two people have to sync. We have to decide even when and how we will work things out. Even now, again, we have a resolve waiting to happen. In other words, we messed up. Doors were even slammed. There are two sides, two renditions, and two memories. May we patch our sides together soon. May we honor each other as bride and groom. May all of the other junk drift off.

Women who live in the fruit of community root themselves in truth. We are not sheltered, but known. We take notice when our sister is off. We hold to the truth, remind ourselves again to hold up our mirrors, read the real words, and ask for help. Here are things I know: my husband loves me, it would take something very, very big to wrench us apart, and we have help when we want or need it.

We have this gorgeous marriage certificate, a ketubah, nailed on the wall under an acrylic frame with our witnesses and rabbi's name signed:

They pledge to foster strength and unity.

We have children. We have every tool, but sometimes it is my frightful counsel I call upon. Sometimes, in the too-late hours to have a real quality discussion, I feel hurt and clawed by the divorce claws and all of the shadows of my own upbringing in regards to marriage. Maybe we cannot support our marriage any better than poor Artex could stand with any sort of hope?

I want my children to know that it can be healthy to disagree, even though I am still learning, or even though I need reassurance. I need my husband to dress in fatigues or armor, to throw down some club and say, "Darling, you will always be worth fighting for." If I'm being honest, I want him to put me before his own hurts. I want orchids after any fight, want us to breathlessly recite vows, and hold tight. But I suppose he probably has his own wish list too?

My husband is becoming more keyed-in, though, and more aware of how my background can color my take on a situation. But I still must cling to truth, to the goodness I know from us, and not to the disasters nearly thirty years ago.

My village is largely within these walls, and it is my very thoughts and emotions which can ground me to pursue truth. My marriage shall not be dictated by past hurt, but by the pursuit of two people: our souls, minds, and bodies who choose love, again and again, not confusion or pain.

If I have greater health here, then I can give my children a better sense of the goodness of conflict. May they never fear a marriage relationship. May we all see wholeness here. I will strive to see greater love in our village, in and out of these gates, and all around us.

You hear that, mama? Got that, my dear?

Peace shall dwell here.

Journalist: Melissa Uchiyama

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

Simplify Your Season

I remember walking through trees in the cold, the dewy needles brushing my wool coat, and the wet leaves sticking to my boots. Watching my breath cloud the air in front of me as I look up and around, searching for “the one”. I hear one of my brothers call out “this one!” and one by one we stake our claim, standing sentinel next to our tree of choice, knowing Mom or Dad has the final say. We critique each one for the perfect limb spacing, height, width, and bare spots, etc. The accursed bare spot that is the bane of picking out a live Christmas tree. When we find perfection, my brothers and my dad get to work with the saws, taking turns until one by one they’ve contributed their share of cuts, and down she goes. We happily traipse back to the farm entrance, our tree is tagged and bagged, or, well, netted, and we enjoy the complimentary hot chocolate while Dad meticulously ties it to the top of the car. We cut down our Christmas tree every year. Every year, except one, when much to my dismay we went to a lot down the street from home. But aside from that abhorrent occasion, I have the fondest memories wandering the foothills of the Sierra Nevada’s each year looking for that one special tree.

With my own little family now I haven’t upheld this tradition as much as I want to. In fact, we’ve maybe cut down our tree twice in the 9 years my husband and I have been married, but the memories remain some of my fondest from my youth. There is something about the holidays that brings out our internal desire to continue and create traditions. What is it about tradition that we love so much, or that carries so much weight?

Tradition is our link to the past – it is the fiber of our heritage – passed down through generations. They are created in the moments when we realize, “I’ve been here before, I remember this” and in such a way to help guide us towards what to do next. We move forward with purpose by remembering the past. We want to recreate the magical, memorable experiences that we’ve had in order to re-live them, and the familiarity of a repeated moment brings comfort and security. Though the experience may have been mundane, the repetition or recreation of it becomes special in and of itself. Traditions create memories that can be passed on to our children. They create a bond between us – parent to child, friend to friend, sibling to sibling, grandparent to grandchild. It's through traditions we keep these memories alive, and in that way we can better appreciate those special moments.

My children love baking chocolate chip cookies with Nana when she comes to visit, and they always expect her “sushi crepes” (German pancakes rolled and cut like sushi) every morning when she’s staying with us. When my dad is in town, Pop Pop is always expected to make his famous French toast for breakfast. In their little minds this is just the way of things, but unbeknownst to them they have manifested traditions with their eager tummies. I can’t tell you when it all began, only that now these activities have become special and anxiously awaited traditions. What was a simple morning breakfast, or a request for an after dinner treat, became a unique experience as it happened over and over.

During the holidays it seems this desire is put into over-drive. These days there is this superficial need to keep busy, keep going and doing, to find the most fun activity and create newer, bigger traditions than those from the previous year. Society seems to be driving us to find the best entertainment, or keep our kids happy at whatever expense in order to guarantee a happy childhood. But from my experience, there is more to happiness than the extravagant ventures or keeping busy with activities. Happiness is found in the simple, livable moments we enjoy with each other. We find deeper connection and contentment in these moments of pure simplicity. It’s enjoying breakfast with your loved ones, or being able to sit in companionable silence with your significant other, it’s quality time playing with your children in the comfort of your own home and not an excursion to some big, loud, and entertaining place. That’s why if you look back, your fondest traditions may just be in the small and simple moments that seemed to occur organically year after year.

Which is why I’ve decided to put an end to unnecessary excessiveness in my life this holiday season. I will be honest, I started as I do every time the holidays roll around – with an overzealous exuberance to do and see and plan and volunteer and donate and just do more, more, more in the spirit of the season. Now I am a burnt out mama of three (plus one more on the way) who doesn’t have much left to give to those who matter the most. I know I’m not alone in the spread-yourself-too-thin category, so my challenge to myself and to those who can relate is to stop. Put it all down: the obligations, the work, and the activities. Take a moment to remember your favorite tradition, holiday or not. Relive that moment in your mind, and as you do so, hit the reset button on all your current responsibilities. Remember what it felt like, remember each year you enjoyed that tradition, and let that light guide you forward. Whatever pure and simple joy you received from that moment, let that be your driving force. Make an effort to not make so much effort, and just let the small things come to pass. Pay attention, for they may be more commonplace than you think, but they could mean the world to your children and your loved ones around you. I urge you to make time for the simple things this holiday season. Create traditions rooted in simplicity and in the everyday events, as those are the ones that will last. By doing this you will make each day more meaningful and live with more purpose than the last.

JOURNALIST: Ashley Oborn

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

Where There Is A Place For Grace, Grace Shall Be Given

The couple moved swiftly across the street. Hands braided together like fine lace. She gripped his arm with her other hand at they turned to each other and shared a quiet giggle, their eyes smiling at one another as they stepped onto the broken sidewalk. I knew this look all too well. In fact I almost could feel the warmth of their embrace. The way my whole body warms and flutters when he looks and touches me just so. The light shone green above and my feet pressed the petals. Sigh.

Today is not a day filled with gentle kisses adorned on my neck, or hand lacing, unless you count my toddlers sticky milky fingers yanking at me as she tries to escape down the next aisle at the store. No, not today. Nobody's smiling at me with their eyes. No passion brewing underneath the innocent smirk and giggles that follow that look. I imagined the couple would continue to walk that way for the rest of their way home: hand in hand, and arm in arm. They'd probably get to their front door and kiss, or maybe they'd go inside and make love. Maybe she'd rest her head against his heart when they were done, his fingertips tracing her backbone gently?

I longed for that today. It's not often I do, with raising a toddler and being pregnant, lately most days I'm out-touched anyway. I have no desire for extra hands to touch me. But today was different. Today I missed him, and his touch. I missed those carefree moments of just him and I and taking our time down the street. No rush to get home for nap time, or to fix lunch for a tiny mouth. Just us and the time to feel really feel our love.

Some days I feel so on top of mothering, wife-ing, and even at peace and balance with my individual needs. Sometimes it's one or the other, and then there are days it's absolutely neither. And you know what? I'm learning that's okay. Where there is a place for grace, grace shall be given. I have learned to sway with the ebb and flow that is my life these days. Days, weeks, or months can go by and my focus is best in one spot and strong intent is placed there. Satisfaction is had by one of the many roles of play and I smile.

Yesterday I swayed to the music in the kitchen as I wiped my hands on the kitchen towel and then scooped up my sweet girl to place her atop my bulging belly. She laughed as we spun around the room. Aromas from dinner cooking in the oven filled the house. It was warm, cozy, and happy. It was the house I wished for her to remember her childhood as. He walked in and we greeted him. He slipped his hands around my waist and smiled at his girls. And for a moment before the chaos that is love and family and parenthood began again, we looked into each other's eyes and remembered something sweet about one another. Two tiny hands reached towards us, coaxing us to her side for a game of hide in seek. Our little love goes down easily. We end the day wrapped up in each other's arms. Talking and kissing, as if our heavy eyes aren't too tired from the day, entangled in a mess of bare legs brushing one another, and it's heavenly, this kind of love.

Sometimes I focus too much on the parts that are lacking, the places of loneliness or failure, resentment, and the big one, guilt. For me, the worst place of all, is a room of heavy thoughts that burden the soul and darken even the brightest of days. After all aren't these the days? One day she'll be grown and gone and there will be just plenty of time for myself. Some days those thoughts that overcome me ache in my bones. I frown.

Then there was today. I yelled again. My voice raised and shaking, I immediately wished for them back. My words came out jumbled and angry, and my heart broke at the look on her face, and as the words slipped off my tongue. They are hot and sting, just like the tears that stream down her face. I plead inside my head for just five minutes. Five whole minutes alone, to sit with my thoughts, or to shower. To brush my face with small silly things that helps me to feel pretty, to tidy up the mess that is scattered across the wood floor, or even thoughtfully choose something to wear instead of the quick stash of leggings and tank tops that sit in my top drawer. Guilt rides in. It is hateful and gloomy, and a thief of these days. I apologize and hold her close at bedtime. I go to sleep with fear that I've hurt her feelings and somehow weigh heavy in her heart.

Then there is tomorrow. I exhale. Where there is a place for grace, grace shall be given. I am thankful for a beautiful green-eyed girl who doesn't know how to hold a grudge. She wraps her arms around my neck and kisses me with her wet open-mouthed lips each morning just the same.

I am thankful for a husband that is my best friend and partner, not only my lover. He will be in our bed when the day comes to an end whether I am baggy eyed, touched-out and quick to fall asleep, or just as my head hits the pillow on our romantic nights where we stay up far past what good for us, entranced in one another.

And lastly I am thankful for the ability to allow myself this grace. To realize that this life is full of good days and not so good ones. There are days where I am brimming with love, goodness, and patience for everyone in my life. And there are days where I feel frazzled, flat out exhausted, and disconnected. I can recognize that life looks a whole lot different sometimes than the longings in my head or heart. While I don't have to give up on my dreams or desires, I do have to find a way to intertwine them in my day to day, and if not today, than tomorrow. And that is okay. There is always a tomorrow. Riding the waves of life, parenthood, motherhood, and adulthood is never simple, and I'll try my best to flow with the current as it comes, making way for grace along the way. Plenty of grace.

Journalist: Kylie Foreman 

A Mindful Winter Season

This year, the holidays have descended early and are in full glitzy swing. Part of me sighs, “Can we please just make it through Thanksgiving?” while the other part of me is celebrating. There's no denying that I love this season. I love the memories I have associated with it and the excitement I have to share it with my baby. For her, I want it to be as magical as I can possibly make it for no other time is more full of magic and mystery and sweetness. But, I'm wary of falling into the trap of buying the experience, of getting swept up in the early pressure to purchase what is easily accessible. I want our holidays to be authentic, full of meaning, warm and memorable which takes extra effort, extra thought, and extra purpose. This year, I've set about to incorporate a mindful approach to the traditions we know and love and to create new traditions unique to our little family.

This year, the holidays couldn’t come at a more opportune moment in history. With the recent divisive turmoil and fear and hatred that is swirling relentlessly throughout the country, it is even more important to enjoy a mindful and thoughtful celebration; it is the perfect time to stop and recall what this season is supposed to mean beyond religion, beyond race, beyond politics, beyond hate, and beyond selfishness. We, as parents, have the great responsibility to shape our families, to shield and protect them in a frightening world, but we also have the unbelievable opportunity to create small, inextinguishable flames of warmth and light in a dreary, tired, dark world. And this season is nothing if it isn’t about light in the dark.

This year, since it is the first my little family of three will be spending in our own home, I want to focus on creating traditions that tell a positive narrative beyond the excitement and thrill of decorations and presents. I want these traditions to celebrate our religious beliefs throughout Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, but I also want them to celebrate a sense of mindfulness and intention rooted in reality. I want our holidays to be timeless and full of texture. So, to escape the suggestions surrounding me, I started thinking about what the winter season of celebration, from Thanksgiving to New Year, meant to families generations ago. What did it look like before the panic of presents and perfect trees and visits to Santa Claus at the mall? I think it looked a lot like family and friends gathering, lighting candles and fires, telling stories, sharing laughs, tears, and meals. I think there was a lot less glitter and shine and tinsel and more tattered woolen wear and treasured heirlooms. Our current familiar holiday standards were once rooted in deep tradition, and, for some, they still hold significant meaning. But as a whole, the depth of meaning has been lost. We are surrounded by imagery and traditions that have become common commodities. But they are still here, waiting to be rediscovered and assigned meaning once again. It’s beautiful. In fact, stepping back and out and away from the modern fray of the holidays, reveals a glittering, sparkling impression of tiny lights in the dark.

This year, and years before, we recognize a holiday season that is created to celebrate light from every imaginable source. Families drape their homes in strings of lights, creating dreamy streets and glowing lighthouses filling the darkness. So ingrained has this tradition become, that we don’t realize we’re participating in a much bigger human celebration. Symbols of light are prominent in every major seasonal religious holiday. The advent candles and the star of Bethlehem for Christmas, the menorah for Hanukkah, the diya for Diwali, the moon for Ramadan, the Mishumaa Saba for Kwanzaa, and lanterns and the moon for Chinese New Year. I’m sure there are more. The darkness of winter, the starkness of the cold and snow and blurry weather is transformed through our celebration of light, warmth and life. In ancient flickering, natural candlelight, our human connection is revealed; the artificial, blinking spotlight of contemporary culture tends to distort it. Light, in all of these celebrations, serves as a symbol of our need for the positive reminder of hope and love and community in the darkness of the world. As long as we light the flame and pass it along, there is always hope, there is always love, there is always warmth.

This year, I want my family’s seasonal traditions to be warmed by the golden glow of that ancient light. I want my daughter’s winter to be more than just the anticipation of opening the biggest gift under the tree. I want her to know the meaning of all the symbols, the love and hope and life they represent for people all over the world. I dream of creating an environment where we take time to appreciate the season and how it makes us feel. Family, charity, creativity, thanksgiving, and community are my focus this year. We’ve already planned simple family events like storytelling nights, moon gazing picnics, Christmas music dance parties, a scavenger hunt through the canyon, and a no boundaries hide-and-go-seek extravaganza. We are working on how to incorporate our extended family members who live thousands of miles away from us. We are crafting decorations from clay and paint, little gifts with found nature items and lots of glitter, treats like decorated sugar cookies, caramels, and deep, dark gingerbread to share with neighbors and friends. All of our creations will show we are capable and worthy of display. We are looking for ways to give of ourselves, by donating food and gifts and spending time with the elderly in a local retirement home. By sharing of ourselves, a near-two-year old might understand what empathy means and let her light shine. We are making lists of the things for which we are deeply thankful and we intend to share them with each other and others we know. We will expand our new community through purposeful, intentional actions and respect. Children are naturally full of the most pure and precious timeless glow.  We need to kindle it, praise it, share it, and mirror it into our own lives. How blessed are we, as parents, as humans walking this earth, to have the opportunity to live alongside these fleeting, golden miraculous creatures? In the darkness, we should always seek their guidance.

This year, regardless of your religious, political, sexual, or social affiliation, I invite you to join my family in our quest to light bright a honey sweet flame of the season. Take to to meditate on your family, determine a purpose for this season. Find a way to share your glorious light, to open your home to new sources of glowing love, and to experience the old flame of kinship and community. Don't miss the opportunity to kindle a fire for your family and don't forget to seek out a flickering glow where the darkest seems the deepest.

JOURNALIST: Shannon Sullivan Brown 

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

SURVIVOR

I'm on mile 5 of 10, running the longest leg for my Ragnar Relay team. We are running from Madison, Wisconsin back to Chicago. It's early June so the sun isn't at her hottest yet. But it's midday and you can see the heat rising off of the pavement, making the road ahead shimmer. I'm reduced down to my sports bra and shorts as I hear my mom's voice ringing in my ear, “Dress 20 degrees warmer when you run. If you are still hot you can always take layers off.”

I am lost in my thoughts. Feet pounding the pavement, stride after stride. Pushing my body harder than I have in a long time. I’m proud of myself. It took a while, but I am proud.

I hear more footsteps, another runner coming to pass. I wait until they get closer before opening my mouth to say some words of encouragement. It’s a runner thing.

But she beats me to it. 

“Beautiful tattoo!” She genuinely exclaims, almost as if she knows my pain behind it. It’s as if, she too, is a Survivor.

Taken aback, I reply “Thank you!”

She continues on.

I wasn’t yet a mother on that sweltering day in June. I was still recovering from years of self-destruction and abusive relationships.

I remember 2 months before, a weekend in April, I had returned home to Michigan for a quick visit with my family. Sitting with my mom in our living room. There were tears, uncontrollable tears. Tears of sadness as I poured my heart out to her. 

She sat there patiently while I declared that I never wanted to be in love again. The suffering I went through was too much. My healing heart couldn’t bear the thought of being broken, not even one more time.

As I cursed love, I also confessed my heavy fear of child bearing. The thought of bringing another human, let alone more than one, into this dark and cold world terrified me. Knowing what I know, everything I have been through.

I couldn’t…

No, I wouldn’t…

My relationship with my mom hasn’t been the easiest, your typical mother daughter affair. But in this moment, she was more than my mom. She was my refuge.

She didn’t cut me off as I unloaded years of plight on to her. She took it all in, collected her thoughts and so beautifully consoled me.

As I remember that day, my stomach begins to knot up. Anxiety creeps in.

You see, I am now a Wife and Mother. A Mother of two.

I am a Mother of two who has seen the darkest depths of humanity.

A Wife. A Mother. A Survivor, as my tattoo boldly testifies.

But I fear the day I have to explain this tattoo to my children. There is so much to tell, so much innocence lost.

How do I tell my daughter that her mother was a victim of child sexual abuse, by not one but 2 members of the family? That for years she feared the dark and locked her door at night. That she turned to men, sexually, because that is all she knew.

How do I tell my son that his mother allowed young men to take their fists to her face? That one time in college she had too much to drink and became a rape statistic. That she still fears the dark.

How do I tell my children that their mother lost herself in alcohol, barely making rent, and dug for loose change everyday to quench her thirst? That she drank to erase the memories. That she drank to hide from her past.

How do I tell my children that not everyone has good intentions without taking away their innocence? Is it fair to tell them the truth? How do I warn them of the shadows without causing them to fear the light?

My parents did their best to keep me safe while warning me of those shadows.

“Don’t talk to strangers.”

“If anyone touches your privates, tell us”

“If you need a ride home from the party, please call.”

Words I can hear myself saying to my kids years from now.

But kids will be kids and my words will most likely glide in one ear and right out of the other, with no thought of them lingering as they run off with their friends to play.

So until then, I will think back to that day with my mom. My memory of her so vivid. Her words echo in my heart. Her presence unmoved by my waves of emotions.

She has been here before, she too a Survivor.

My worries coming to a calm, I have reached a decision.

The day my children ask about my tattoo, I will tell them my truth.

I am a Survivor. Coming from generations of Survivors.

I will speak of the shadows, not so they fear the light, but so they know what courage and strength looks like in the darkest of nights.

That courage and strength looks like me. It is me.

I would not be the Mother I am today without it.

 

JOURNALIST: Shea Gardner

 

 

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

Bloom Where You Are Planted

Blooming: one part crying, one part acknowledgement, two parts battle, and one part spreading your roots.

I am a firm believer in crying, full blown down on my knees silent sobbing in the shower, letting my tears blend with the scorching water, tricking me into thinking the day was fine and dandy. Then the saltiness of the last 24 hours hits my taste buds, cutting into the steam like the sharp ringing of an unwanted alarm.

My gift to myself is to cry. The release balances me, and allows me to center myself once again.

Part of the blooming process is acknowledgement. Acceptance of each experience, each battle waged. When I got divorced, many people around me questioned my resilience. As though they wanted me to break down. Expose my wounds to feed the curiosity of others. They couldn't hear me crying, though. My pain was raw, unrefined, and harsh enough to leave a weight on a listener’s heart. I didn't want to leave a trail of misery, so I did my best to tuck it back like a loose strand of hair that constantly falls in your face. The problem is it always manages to stray back in your way, waging a battle against your inner peace.

Whether you have traveled a similar path or not, you will wake up one day and realize you have everything you need, it's all just waiting to be unleashed.

When my nightmares poured over into daylight hours, the sacred hours reserved for loving my children, and I felt a shift in my soul, I needed to crush that lingering ugliness. His presence haunted my being; akin to Freddie Krueger, he gained strength from my weakness. I made the decision not to let him write my story anymore.

In the depth of Winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible Summer.
— Albert Camus

You have to lay the foundation for the future you wish to see. There's no chronological timeline to blooming. It happens over time, each phase integrated into another. Just as a flower blossoms out of a simple bud turning towards the sun’s rays, so is it with the growth of a woman.

We grow with hardship and learn to find our joy. I remember the freedom I felt from being able to pick out my own outfits. No dictator left standing to bark instructions to cover my curves to mask his own insecurities. And writing! Oh, the joys of letting my words touch paper instead of locking them safely away from criticism.

Once I allowed my joy to come to fruition, everything else slowly started to fall in place. A flower looks best surrounded by many more. You have to learn to take care of yourself before you can take care of someone else.

I firmly believe women hold a special capacity to withstand life’s difficulties and grow out of whatever place they find themselves. There will be days where you are scrolling through Instagram and you feel your self doubt rise because every woman you come across is so perfectly put together. You have to stop and remember it's not the full truth; they too are painting a picture that masks the struggles they may be facing. It's what we do.

It's so important to be your own number one fan. Pat yourself on the back when you accomplish a goal. Utter words of wisdom to yourself in those dark moments. Believe in yourself!

As a single mum, I can’t allow myself to be complacent. I'm constantly striving to feed my passion so I can radiate joy for my children to mirror. Every action I take is setting an example for them. An example for other women who may one day find themselves cemented in a situation they only know of through news casts and blog posts. To those women I say: you are not stuck, you are invincible and worthy of everything you dream of. Even as a flower needs a gardener to tend to it, so does each of us need a friend to reach out to.

I do not know how to sit and be still, to watch a movie without brainstorming my next move. I am ever moving, stretching my branches out, and reaching for new soils. Just as a plant outgrows its pot and needs to be replanted into a spacious area, so does the woman bloom.

In the Spring of 2015 I learnt to walk with my head up. In the Summer of 2016 I began to shake the naysayers off like dust on an old winter coat, and by the Fall of 2016, I am beginning to put Me first.

Presently, I am ever blooming.

 

JOURNALIST: Natasha Badkoubei

IMAGE CREDIT: Aleah Clark

 

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

The Breath of Life; The Posture of A Child
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Sometimes being a mom feels like pushing an enormous, dirty tire up an insufferably steep hill. The weeks churn along as you fight to keep the tire above you, repeatedly losing ground and then gaining it back with each mighty heave forward, which lets you catch your breath until you are on the brink of being trampled again. Then one day you realize that the wheel has really been tumbling downward all along, and you suddenly turn around to chase after it - frantically. Time is a sentimental mama’s worst enemy, and motherhood is a series of emotions that are perpetually contradicting one another. The stresses pile high over a present struggle that always passes so soon and then too soon. The hours, even the minutes, of filling a child's afternoon can tick slower than the clock in an eighth grader's schoolroom, and yet each stage of my tiny son's life has vanished as a vapor. In the green days of our existence together, my world was consumed with milk - pumping it, leaking it, squeezing it, even silently cursing it, until one day our nursing communion ended, and all that remained were phantom pins and needles in my chest. And the recent notion of possibly trying to add a second baby to our family has made it seem as though I’ll never catch up to my toddler happily rolling down that hill.

As mothers, we are constantly moving - bending our bodies and spirits into new spaces that once never existed in our realm of reality. We learn to breathe again in these new positions as if practicing yoga, asking ourselves, are we open to the challenge and the change? Are our feet firmly planted? What is our intention for this hour, this day, this lifetime? And maybe the most daunting thought of all, are we balanced? Do we give enough to every other aspect of our lives that pulls at each different part of us simultaneously? Maybe not always, maybe never without struggle, but we continue our practice with a righteous vigilance, striving to shift from one new stage to the next as a seasoned yogi flows through a Vinyasa sequence. She is mindful of every moment, aware of the discomfort, breathing deep from asana to asana, ever reveling in the present with awe and thankfulness for the goodness right in front of her. When gravity pulls on her and tries to cripple her strength, she must focus in, locking her eyes on a singular steady object fixed before her.

 For me, it is my faith that keeps my feet from losing their grip and keeps my eyes from wandering. Jesus is my solid rock, my firm foundation, the anchor of my soul. When my body is weak and my heart is heavy, the love of Christ is unwavering. He whispers, “Be still, and know that I am God” into the depths of my being. For when I listen to His words, I can no longer stay seated in my anger, selfishness or discontent. There is something about the presence of Christ that draws out even the most justifiable grievances and replaces them with a call to reconciliation and a new heart that beats thankfulness. Perhaps this is why He is called the Prince of Peace.

 Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” I pray that every day I have the humility to fall to my face in a child’s pose, sinking my knees deeper into this truth. I pray I allow my son to see the strength that is within me only through bowing before and crying out to one who holds together all life and time.

 For it is not our performance, but the posture of our hearts that will sit within the memories of our children. Therefore we can rise up, we can bend down, we can be stretched, we can fall over, we can improve, we can stand firm and unshakeable, we can teach others, we can be taught. We can approach our role as the parents, teachers and counselors of these tender souls with intention, purpose and self-control. We can inhale truth and exhale self-doubt. We inhale gratitude and exhale self-pity. And we can inhale Christ, exhaling “self” altogether, and drink the most freeing breath of all.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart by acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
— Psalm 19:14

 JOURNALIST: Lisa Leyda Petersen

Fire
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 "Some women fear the fire. Some women simply become it."

R. H. Sin

There are as many metaphors for motherhood as there are mothers. Motherhood is a journey many say. Motherhood is a battle say others. Motherhood is a lonely island I've heard it said and a google search says Motherhood is like The Giving Tree.

But I say motherhood is a fire.

And this fire of motherhood burns. It is not just an inspiring line of Pinterest worthy poetry. No, it's an altering flame, more powerful than you can express to anyone who hasn't experienced it. It breaks apart and refines parts of yourself you thought you needed to survive. It leaves you in recovery longer than you hoped. This sacrificial living that is called motherhood, well, it will stretch you more than you can imagine. It will change you into a woman you may not recognize.

This is how I felt for many years.

I wondered when I would rise to the confident heroine of my own story. I waited to be struck by lightning and sent in a direction of my perfect career, sure that in that moment I would rise up as a confident and inspiring woman ready to conquer the world in heels. Ultimately my late teens and early 29’s were marked by wondering:

When will I 'arrive'?

Then my children came and I wondered:

Who have I become?

Current culture promotes our 20's and even our 30's, as the decades of self-exploration and discovery, and for me this rang very true. But not in the way most would expect. While self-discovery is often associated with autonomy, my 20's have been marked by the forming of our family. Marriage and babies might have seemed to many like I skipped the season of young self-discovery, but what they didn't know was that motherhood was teaching me about the deepest depths of my self. Motherhood is truly the epitome of self-discovery.

The roller coaster of growing our family in my 20's threw me into the fire. But I was not overcome by the fire. I became the fire. I finally became the heroine of my own story. Not by acts of autonomous living, but through acts of service. While some may think I'd have to put off self-discovery for a season of motherhood, it was in motherhood I found myself. While others may say a full knowledge of oneself is necessary before motherhood is attempted, the reality is that all of self is dismantled in motherhood, so perhaps it was better for me to have less autonomy to grieve throughout the process.

Because Motherhood is the fire that asks how much are you willing to sacrifice for this life: Will you sacrifice your body? Your comfort? Your schedule and your sleep? Your autonomy? Your sanity? Your dreams or plans?

Will you sacrifice your life as you dreamed it or planned it?

These questions are the hardest I've ever been asked and they were more daunting than those I asked before children. They made motherhood feel at times like rolling flames coming to consume me. I waited on the safe side of the fire line, comfortable in my routine or knowledge or work, but knowing that as soon as the fire would jump that line - everything would change.

Today I bear the metaphorical burn scars of pregnancy losses, grief, sorrow and postpartum depression; of birth: vastly different and seemingly impossible every single time. I've been burned out by the demanding needs of my children, day after day after day and by the emotional toll being a caretaker of such tiny humans can have on a single soul.

But I am not just marked by loss, grief, sorrow. I've been deeply marked by the deepest love I have ever known. By the countless hours of nursing, and providing life-giving sustenance. I've been marked by being the only one who can calm the baby, kiss the boo boo, and make everything ok. And I've been marked by how living so sacrificially inspired all other areas of my life, including my marriage, my friendships, and my art.

So I wonder, if I'd never been brought to this edge of all I thought I knew, would I have ever discovered my true self if not for Motherhood? Because until you've been asked to sacrifice it all, can you know how truly strong you are?

Can you become the fire if you don't bear the visible scars of the fire?

Can you become the heroine of your own life if you haven't first laid down all that you thought you wanted out of life?

No matter what decade we take on Motherhood and no matter how formed we believe ourselves to be these final questions are the ones that will burn and break us. And then they will rebuild us.

I thought maybe I had lost the woman I'd dreamed of becoming all those years ago. It was so hard to keep sight of her over the years through the flames that threatened to consume me. But my dream was a shallow and hazy reflection of the fiery and strong woman who was actually waiting to be revealed all along.

She had been inside waiting for everything to be stripped away so she could become. She has been the lifeblood pumping through my veins that brought healing. She is the fierce mama bear, always watching. She is the survivor. She is the nurturer. She is intuition. She is confidence. She is the heroine of this story.

And she is finally me.

She is you, mama.

She is us.

And we are the fire.

Journalist: Rachael MacPhee (@havenblog)