We are all in this together: Finding Your Tribe

I mom-stalked my friend Natalie and made her be my friend. Later on I joked about this to her but I don’t think she knows the full extent of my stalwart and sneaky determination to hang out with her. I was about 9 months into new motherhood. I was working from home, without childcare and my partner working for long hours. I was alone trying to balance work and a high-needs baby and my own ongoing health challenges and it was dark and lonely times.

I felt like my entire social circle had dwindled to just the beings that lived in my 800 sq. foot cabin. I had several mom friends who lived in neighboring towns but whose days hinged on nap schedules and like mine, were completely wrapped up in full time infant care. It also seemed to me that I was having a different experience than that of other moms. I wasn’t in love with being a mom. The moments of joy were mostly overshadowed with the fact that it was just so hard.

During those days we tried to get out and walk often. I would stick my son in the stroller and leash the sorely neglected dog and walk down to the river or around our small neighborhood. It was on one of these walks that I saw Natalie for the first time. It had been a really rough day. I hardly ever knew why my son cried, just that he cried so much for the first year. I was overwhelmed and exhausted. Not knowing what else to do, I loaded him in the stroller and we headed out. I pushed the stroller with my throat tight and tears brimming. At the river’s edge, I saw a mom with her three kids feeding ducks. From a distance I guessed that the two oldest were under five and the youngest still snuggled in his infant seat. I had not seen them in our neighborhood before.

As the woman laughed and smiled with her kids I thought desperately,”How is she doing this? How does she have three kids and looks so happy when I feel like just this one is going to kill me? She must know something I didn’t know. I wanted to say “Please tell me how to do this. Please.” But I felt like if I opened my mouth I would just start crying. So I swallowed, gave a small wave and walked on.

I saw her a week or so later from a distance out walking with her kids and again we exchanged a smile and a wave. As I passed by houses, I tried to look for evidence: toys left in the front yard, a bike or sounds of children’s voices drifting from the backyard. There were very few families with young kids in our small neighborhood, I was determined to figure it out. I told my partner there was this mom in the neighborhood and I was going to make her be my friend! It’s a funny thing, this making new friends as a parent. Without circumstances that organically bring you together, like a workplace, place of worship or school function, it’s hard to know how to connect with other moms. Early motherhood can be isolating and even more so in a rural area where there aren’t shops or parks in walking distance where you can meet other people. After days of only a baby to talk to there is an urge to call out when you see any other mom with a baby across the Safeway parking lot: “hey, you are doing this thing too, we should get together and talk about all the things no one else in our lives can really understand!”

So I started noticing what time of day my friend-to-be was out walking and I timed my walks with hers. Eventually I was brave and approached and introduced myself. I gave her my number and said we should walk together sometime. And we did. It turns out she is an amazing mom to three awesome kids and she truly has become the great friend I needed. We’ve watched each other’s kids. We’ve traded apples, homemade bread, jam and fresh eggs. I have called her when I had a feverish baby plastered to my chest and she’s run over to drop off Tylenol on my front porch. Even when life gets crazy and we go a month or longer without seeing one another, it feels comforting to know she is just a couple streets over, doing life just like I am (except with three times as many kids.) And it turns out, she hasn’t any secret formula. Except that we are all kind of hanging on for the ride. But somehow it makes all the difference to know that we are not alone.

come

My son is now three years old. Earlier this year, one of my close mom friends Shannon Rogge and I launched a support group for moms in Guerneville, “River Mamas Connect”. Shannon is a licensed MFT and mom to a four year old son. The mission of the group is to create a supportive space for moms in the West Sonoma county area to connect with one another and with resources within the community and to provide a safe platform for authentic discussion about the experience of new motherhood with emphasis on empowerment, compassion, humor and peer support. 

Sometimes just a few people show up, other times its crowded and noisy with little ones running around and moms chatting above the din. Weekly topics have ranged from Traveling with Kids to Postpartum Depression. We share stories from our week, our “genius” mom moments and laugh and commiserate with our less shining ones. Sometimes we vent. We’ve traded tips for sleep and teething and reminded each other to make self-care a priority. Shannon and I try and point moms in the direction of community resources and services such as a bi-weekly food give-away for families, counseling services, and free family events. But most of all we simply hold space for one another and our own unique experience of motherhood and are reminded that we are not alone.

As newly expecting parents, we all want to be prepared. We do the research, we get advice, we stock up on supplies and books. But even the most prepared mother can get completely blindsided by the isolation that can come with early motherhood. First time mamas-to-be often want to know, what are the most important items necessities for a new baby?  My answer is: find your tribe. Start identifying your support people, find a mom group in your area, start connecting with other moms who are a little further ahead of you. The kind you can text when you’re in the throes. The kind that will come over and hang out with your kid while you take the first shower you’ve had in a week. The kind you can laugh with over your fumbles and bring levity to long days and send courage to see you through long nights. The kind you can talk about the hard stuff. Everything else you’ll gather along the way. Motherhood is an experience as unique as each of our babies. But we are stronger when we remember that there are other moms out there too, elbow-deep in the work of mothering and that we have each other’s back. For better or worse, we are moms. And we are all in this together.

women-support-women

River Mamas Connect is a support community for moms with young children in the West Sonoma County area. Though are weekly support group is not meeting at this time, we continue to plan monthly meet-ups and events, connect moms with resources, referrals and peer support. Find us on Facebook: River Mamas Connect

 

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1 in 7

1 in 7 mothers in the US today report experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety. Among lower socio-economic groups, the numbers jump to 1 in 4 women. It takes many forms. It may not look what a woman or her family thinks depression or anxiety look like.  You cannot always tell a mom has postpartum depression just by looking at her. She may think it’s just her, that there is something intrinsically wrong with her. She may need medication or counseling or both or neither. She may get the help she needs or she may suffer alone. She may very well believe that it is because of something she did or didn’t do. And she may think of a million things that if only could change, she would feel like herself again.

But often the truth is that if you are that mom, yourself is a foreign concept. You might not know where to find her if you even had the chance to go looking between feedings and diaper changes. That is because she is gone.

Forever gone.

There is a new you emerging but you haven’t met her yet. And then there is this strange, precious tiny bundle of constant need snuggled in your arms. You, but not you. Your body yet not your body, an extension of your heart and yet also alien.

1 in 7 is what the stats are. But we know it is probably much higher. (Read: “How Many Women Really Get PPD?”)

It was me too.

The month of May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness month.  In the last few decades the US has made great strides in recognizing the millions of Americans living with chronic and often debilitating mental health conditions and reducing the stigma around seeking treatment. While we still have a ways to go in creating accessible and affordable programs for all who need them, the ongoing conversation in mainstream media has begun to shift in a positive direction.  And recently a few celebrity moms have spoken out recently about their own struggle with postpartum depression (PPD). But maternal mental health still seems to carry a particular charge.

“How much crying is normal?” I asked the doctor over the sound of my son’s screams, while I bounced and patted and rocked and walked and sweated, bleary-eyed and my throat raw with the pain of swallowing my own scream. “Some babies just cry a lot,” she said gently, reassuringly.

But secretly, I was kind of wondering about me.

Because the truth was, we spent whole days crying, he and I. Here I had this beautiful, perfect little boy who in all respects was deemed healthy but who howled like his insides were twisted, with an intensity meant to drown all other sound, all other need or thought except the sheer urgency of alleviating suffering. But there was no soothing. Colic, they said.

“The most important thing is that you get yourself some support,” the doctor went on.  You don’t understand, lady. The only thing I need is for my baby to stop crying. Then everything will be fine, I thought.

Depression and I have a history. But had I even allowed myself to think about seeking help, I was well acquainted with what the out of pocket expenses were for therapy and medication.  My medical coverage had dropped me at 6 weeks postpartum and my family was barely getting by. In the past few years I had worked hard and developed a strong set of tools to help me navigate and see myself through the low times.  However, blindsided by traumatic a delivery and the unprecedented level of demand on the physical, mental and emotional levels, my tools were simply too far out of reach. Deep down I really believed that it was just me. What was wrong with me that I felt like I couldn’t do what women had been doing for millions of years, what seemed to come naturally to every mother around me?

A year and half or so after that day in the Dr.’s office, I had a conversation with a mom friend about her postpartum experience. She says she wished there were some kind of hotel or care center that new moms could check themselves into for a few days and compassionate staff would care for the baby, offer moms a hot shower, uninterrupted sleep and nutritious meals until she re-cooped her strength to feel like she could keep going. Kind of like triage for moms and babies. A place where you a mother could go and say “I need help” without fear of being judged.

And I just thought, why is this such a crazy idea? Why does this not exist?  
We know that having this kind of support changes outcomes for moms and babies, we know about the importance of healthy bonding and attachment for mothers and infants in the earliest stages And yet I talk to so many mothers who felt utterly overwhelmed and alone during the early months of motherhood, who live in a state of constant adrenal-fatigue, who can’t remember the last time they showered or ate a full healthy meal uninterrupted. Yet the concept of what new motherhood really looks like still seems to be mostly lost on larger society.

Newborn needs, post pregnancy hormones, physical trauma, lack of adequate rest and nutrition and then add major identity shift, relationship stress, pressure to go back to work, financial strain, plus whatever-specific-challenge-you-got and it’s a straight up malatov cocktail. That’s not to mention the the pressure to get back “in shape”, lose the pregnancy weight, reconnect with your partner, etc.  It is a wonder that the stats aren’t much higher.

Our culture is among the least supportive of their needs and yet there seems no other demographic we judge more harshly than mothers. Right now, thousands of mothers feel alone and scared to speak up out of intense fear that to confess the need for help equals admitting incompetence. The heartbreaking reality is that thousands of women will believe the lie that they are actually are failing at motherhood when the truth is we were never meant to do it all alone. We were meant to be having babies and raising children in a community, surrounded by our village, our people, our fellow women.

the Birth of aphrodite

Ludovisi Throne Birth of Aphrodite

Birth was meant to be treated as sacred initiation, a rite of passage, marking a major life transition in a woman’s life.  Historically, the very vulnerable time following birth held much more significance in the past than it does today. Customs vary across cultures but often for a period of 30-40 days mothers were were attended to on physical, emotional and spiritual levels with ritual, special food preparations and healing herbs.  Women were allowed to process and heal and step into her new role as mother in a space that revered birth as the powerful and transformational event that it is.

Unless we are really fortunate, most of us do not have this postpartum experience. Most of us don’t have our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, cousins, sisters down the road sharing food and childcare and tending to each other post birth. And even if and when we do have all the support and time and space to heal and process and still feel the weight or sadness, grief, rage or crippling fear can we give ourselves permission to let that be part of the mysterious process that marks a woman’s sacred journey into motherhood? Could we honor it for what it is, speak openly and seek the help that we need without shame but instead acknowledging as a valid part of our story? Why do we insist that motherhood is all light when in reality it is a human drama of the most epic proportions played out in the most common, mundane moments of daily life. It is all of it.

 I have talked to so many women with such different stories about labor, delivery and recovery, it is high time that we expanded our notion of what a “normal” postpartum period looks like to include every woman’s experience. 

I wonder now if I had given myself permission to have my own authentic experience without all the judgment and shame, how that first year would have been different. Because what my depression what telling me was the truth. I was very fortunate to become a mother to a beautiful little boy. But what is also true was that he screamed almost continuously for 5 months. There was no sleeping through the night until he was over two years old. The simple act of feeding my child was heart wrenching, complicated and tremendously stressful. The truth was there were days I was in so much pain I sobbed just leaning over the bassinet to lift him. The truth is I went back to work too soon and worked two jobs nearly full time while caring for my infant at the same time which is only possible if you give up eating and sleeping, basically. I was completely numb.  And yet when people asked me how I was doing I said, “We’re good!” and forced a smile while on the inside I wondered how I was going to survive the next 24 hours. But somehow I still didn’t feel like there was room for my real experience within the socially misconstrued idea of what motherhood should feel like. (When someone asks, “how do you like being a mother?” they aren’t really looking to hear that you feel like you are in a nightmare you can’t wake up from.)

mommy1

this is not me. I stole it from the internet.

The truth was that I felt let down and betrayed by the reality of giving birth, left alone to flail and grapple with deep fear, inadequacy, loneliness and pain, robbed of the experience of becoming a mom that I had dreamed of my whole life and silenced by a prevailing myth that I should be this happy, glowing, grateful image of a new mom. I was angry but there was no one to be angry with. So I swallowed it and smiled. I was deep in grief but grieving is not something typically associated with the first year of motherhood, aka: the happiest time of your life.

16715519-Mother-breastfeeding-her-baby-in-a-field-of-purple-flowers--Stock-Photo

also definitely not me.

I didn’t want the label of PPD, I wanted someone to validate that what I was experiencing was legitimately difficult. That under these circumstances any normal person would have a hard time feeling blissed out. I wanted someone to say that it wasn’t just hormones, it wasn’t just sleep deprivation, it wasn’t just the colic.
I wanted permission to feel like this was the hardest thing I had ever endured and that I didn’t have to do any more than to endure it.

And this is the truth: we deserve more and we deserve better. No mother should suffer in silence. No woman should be forced to go back to work until she feels healthy and capable. Every single birth and postpartum period should be recognized as a process as unique and sacred as each mother and each child. And every single mother has the right to her experience and to the support that she needs. This is why I choose to tell my story.

There are many factors that go into maternal mental health. I am not suggesting that all we need to “cure” maternal mental illness is a community of herb-wielding wise women and extended paid parental leave. But as a culture we could begin by recognizing birth and motherhood for what they are. Not just a marker point on the timeline of a life, but the most momentous and vulnerable time in the life of any woman who chooses to mother a child and a pivotal and irreplaceable period of bonding with a new baby.

silenced

image taken from reductress.com

Most of us would find the practice of forcing a woman to labor and deliver in silence barbaric and utterly cruel.  Would we then silence her call for help after the fact? Would be tell her she should be stronger, that she should be able to handle it on her own, that this is what motherhood is, to swallow to her own screams, her tears and her truth while she nurses that baby through another long, lonely night? Would we relegate her again to quiet indentured servitude to an outmoded and incendiary archetype?

Would we perpetuate the myth that to be a woman is to suffer in silence?

Women of a society steeped in patriarchy, we are fooling ourselves if we think we haven’t played a part in the gruesome history of whitewashing the shadows out of what has previously been the most sacred feminine rite, of wiping away the afterbirth as quickly as possible, in essence, of sanitizing the story of motherhood. 
The poetess Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980) wrote in 1968, “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.”
It is time we told the truth and allowed it to set us free.
My journey back to health took time. I eventually got health insurance, put myself in therapy and got diagnosis and treatment for a birth injury that had plagued me with daily pain. I recommitted to yoga and my meditation practice, and reached out and asked for help from my community. Three years later, I love being a mom. My son is thriving and our bond is stronger than ever. I am in awe of him every day and amazed that I helped to create this little person. I love watching him grow and become more of himself. After all of that crying he turned out to be a pretty well-adjusted, happy-go-lucky kid. And I get why people do it more than once. Still when I’ve gotten some version of the inevitable question, “So do you think you’ll have another?” I glance over my shoulder at the still-fresh trail of sweat, tears and bloodied fingernails I left as I clawed my way inch by inch back into the land of the living. And I shudder. I know there are no guarantees. And while finding myself recently a single parent and the possibility less likely than ever, I know that life is unexpected.  So I just say, “We’ll see.”
 …
“Isn’t it just the best thing in the whole world??” A friend gazes her fresh newborn nuzzling at her breast. And I have to admit that there is nothing in the world like feeling that sweet weight resting in your arms or asleep against your chest. I have craved that feeling since I was a girl. And I looked with happiness at my friend who had the unmistakable look of a new mother: bleary-eyed, love-drunk and just beginning to realize that she had no idea what she’s in for. I pause, feeling my heart ache with the intensity of love for my son who was once just as tiny, back when we were just learning who each other was.
“Yes,” I say, “It is.”
And for once I know it’s true. It is all of it.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
(Ol’ Mr. Dickens knew somethin’ about somethin’.)
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Us, post bath, somewhere around the 6 month mark.

PLEASE SHARE THIS POST. If you are a mom, if you know a mom, if this post meant something to you or even if it didn’t – please share it for someone to whom it may matter. 
If you are currently suffering with depression or anxiety please know that you are not alone. Speak out. Let someone know. If you know someone who may be struggling, talk to them and let them know you are worried and you care. If you have a story about your own struggle and recovery from postpartum depression or anxiety, speak up. TELL YOUR TRUTH. It is so important. 

Toll free hotline: 1-800-PPD-MOMS

Other resources:

Read this: Frequently Asked Questions about Postpartum Depression

Visit here: PostpartumProgress.com

Read this: American Individualism is Destroying our Families

Get involved: National Maternal Mental Health Coalition

Climb out of Darkness 2016

More moms being raw and honest:

Read writer Beth Morey’s post: In Which I Stop Silencing Myself and Tell You the Truth

You are amazing, Mom.

Today at our weekly mom support group we made Mother’s Day cards for ourselves. I decorated mine but I could not think of what I wanted to write as I was sitting there.

It has been a tough couple of months. My son’s father and I have decided to split up. For the moment I am parenting predominantly alone and struggling with the implications of what it means to be a single parent and trying to mitigate the loss of what I believed to be a permanent family unit and who I am apart from the definition of this primary relationship.  But partnered or not, in my experience waiting around for someone else to acknowledge all of the great things that you are, that you do and are capable of at best breeds a annual sense of vague disappointment (come on, ONE DAY a year for moms? Guess what else happens one day each year? National Burrito Day. ) and at worst, deep abiding resentment toward every single family member in your household. It’s really time we stopped.

More important than if and how we and by whom are acknowledged by on Mother’s Day is how we choose to honor ourselves for the every day things we do… all the little things that make up the biggest most important things. Because let’s be real, every day is frickin’ Mother’s Day.

So I brought my card home to finish during nap. Here is how it turned out.

 

Happy Mother’s day to all the mamas. You are all truly amazing. But you already knew that. (And you deserve 100 burritos. And like, 1-3 margaritas if you want them.)

xo

The education of a lifetime: Karen Maezen Miller on Motherhood, Meditation and Anger

Karen Maezen Miller is a Zen priest and author of Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood, Hand Wash Cold and Paradise in Plain Sight. I have written before about her profound book, Momma Zen, and how it inspired me more than any other parenting text I have ever come across. momma zen

And this interview by Shawn Fink of the Abundant Mama project is no different. Brimming with deep wisdom, humor and humility, Karen Maezen Miller penetrates to the heart of parenting as a spiritual path and delivers in a way that is both digestible and wholly compassionate. Listen to the full episode: AMPlify Your Life, Episode 7: Karen Maezen Miller on Meditation, Motherhood and Anger

There is just so much in this interview, I note some highlights here.

Karen speaks about raising her now teen daughter, how much has changed since writing “Momma Zen” and the essential process of staying with what is. She compares her work in Momma Zen as “premature self-congratulation”.

I am in trouble if I start to think that I know what the heck I’m doing or where I am going. We are consistently set adrift, washed up shore and we need one another.

Karen and Shawn chat a bit about how in this digital age we are more connected in some ways and much more disconnected in other ways which speaks to me in a big way. While on the one hand, many moms find community in online forums, groups and on Facebook which are great ways to find and share information they can never be a replacement for real human contact. In some ways, not living as close to family or having good friends nearby can make finding your “tribe”, your support system as a new mother can be challenging. Often online images of motherhood or fear of judgement makes it harder to ask, reach out and receive help.

Karen Maezen Miller on the biggest surprise in parenthood: “The real shake up for me has been the degree to which I encumber my daughter with the job of feeding my ego or emotional needs… [realizing how] “emotionally dependent upon my daughter being happy, doing things that I liked, liking the things that I do”.

Aaaahh, this one was a zinger. As a mother to an outspoken three year old, who feels at least as entitled as any teen to delivering every opinion and performance review uncensored according to his changing mood, whim and unspoken preschooler expectations. Still, I with no other rubric to go by, I sometimes find myself relying heavily on the irrational grading system of a little person still learning how to manage his emotional weather patterns and express his needs in healthy ways. After getting frustrated with him for not wanting to put on his clothes, I walk away to take a break. He finds me a few moments later, the storm between us has passed. He climbs into my lap and I see that he has put on his shirt and socks.

“Mama, are you happy now? Do I make you happy?” he asks earnestly, his face searching mine for signs that my earlier frown has faded. I am aware of his constant gauging of me, of this dance we do of reacting to one another, pulling away and drawing together – and what I may or may not unconsciously make him responsible for.

He falls and bumps his elbow. I hold him while he cries. I offer ice, kisses, a drink of water. What would make you feel better? What do you need?  I ask, wanting to find the solution, the cure, the fix to end the discomfort. It catches me off-guard every time he answers me, annoyed with my well-meant but impertinent offerings , “No, I am cry-ing!” he says, as if it were obvious. He is already doing exactly what he needs to do. And I, in my discomfort with his discomfort, really seek to reassure my tender ego that I am the competent mother, the one who can comfort her child and ensure that moments of unhappiness are brief and remediable.

The common parental desire to control and make things easy for our kids, to keep them from struggle is something (even) Zen priest Karen Maezen Miller is not immune to. And as her daughter, at 16, begins pointing out often with alarming clarity: “It’s not always going to be easy for me, Mom.” Karen grapples with the implications of stumbling along indeed the crooked path of mothering a child-turning-adult, who without mincing words, continues to hold up a mirror for us to see even more places we have yet to let go. “If the only thing [your children] can share with you is the good news, the good times or the happy… well, that’s dishonest.”

KMM on dealing with anger as a parent:

Own your feelings. Approaching our immediate response with compassion instead of suppression (which perpetuates the feeling) or judgment is the way to extend first compassion to ourselves and all compassion begins with compassion toward ourselves. Identifying and stating our feelings out loud gives others a warning about our emotional state and gives us the chance to address what is happening in our physical/emotional body before we escalate to a place of reacting in self-defensive or aggressive ways. Taking the internal temperature without judgment, as if processing data, is how we take responsibility for our feelings without blame and recrimination for whatever we feel is the particular trigger. It gives us the chance to take space, acknowledge our unmet needs or expectations in tenderness and without attachment to a story around a particular emotional response (“If I was a more better mother, I would not feel so impatient/annoyed/angry.”)

Take what you need first in order to be able to respond in kindness. Take a breath, take time, take space. I often tell my son but less often myself: “You are allowed to have your feelings. You are not allowed to be mean or hurt yourself or other people.”

As much of motherhood goes, we don’t get accolades for those tiny moments of triumph when we chose to take three deep breaths instead of lose our temper. As KMM points out “no own is keeping score of the times I didn’t have an outburst.” Or in the words of Biz Ellis host of one of my favorite podcasts about parenting,  One Bad Mother“Parenting is hard and no one gives a shit.” Mostly, that’s true. Thankfully it also the most rewarding thing we ever do. Especially when we get to see our own growth alongside our child’s.

KMM’s offers a refreshing reminder to parents of tantruming toddlers: you’re in it too. Most parenting advice I read offers an imagine of the calm and unruffled parent patiently holding space for the outrageous emotional displays of a possibly foaming at the mouth, destructive and aggressive small child hell bent on getting you to react (my son went through a period of purposefully soiling himself in a desperate act of retaliation) but does not often acknowledge the very intense internal storm raging inside yourself. It would be great if tantrums happened only when we (the parents) were well-fed, showered, had recently slept 8 hours, didn’t have any pressing tasks or places to be or outside responsibilities, were not distracted by any other sort of physical discomfort or pain, had recently had great sex, a good workout or a fantastic date with a good friend or a good book — basically, if we felt our emotional tanks were always “full”. But we all know that toddlers and preschoolers are first are predatory creatures with a recently developed capacity for premeditated action. They have an uncanny sense of knowing when to flip their shit, bless them.

Another thing I love about Karen Maezen Miller is her lack of apology about needing space and alone time from her family. As someone who desperately needs alone time to recalibrate, I  relate to this so much. I am such a better mom when I get the chance to fill up, to take care of myself, to feed my soul and care for my spirit, body honor yourselfand mind. I’m a better mom when I get the chance to miss my kid.  KMM talks about getting away and finding retreat as a way of taking full responsibility for her own life and her own ongoing process of refinement. We simply cannot skip the part of parenting where we parent ourselves.

KMM on meditation practice as a parent:

Karen Maezen Miller’s work was one of my great catalysts to my recommitment to a daily sitting meditation after becoming a mom. KMM says, “If you say you don’t have time to meditate then the truth is you don’t.”

Here is her realistic advice on developing a meditation practice: “Don’t make it hard,” she says. “Don’t make it another thing that you can’t do, you don’t have time to do or you aren’t good at. Because that is the way you [probably] talk to yourself about a lot of things and it is self-fulfilling.”

“You have 5 minutes at the beginning of the day and you have 5 minutes at the end of the day to practice being present and aware. If you can’t sit for 5 minutes, sit for 4, if you can’t sit for 4, sit for 3.

 …You can’t be attached to somehow doing it the “right” way, or getting the maximum benefit or being “good” at it or trying to turn yourself into a saint or even a better mom. Do it because you have to do it for own wellbeing and so that you will hurt people less.”

self care

(For more about self-care practice, watch: 5 Steps for Better Self Care for Moms). You can learn more about Karen Maezen Miller’s work, online teachings and upcoming retreats and events at karenmaezenmiller.comAlso check out all the podcast episodes from AMPlify Your Life: Podcast for Busy Moms.

And then suddenly, he was a boy.

I have been pretty unsentimental, I guess, about  a lot of the milestones so far in my son’s almost-three years of life.  I don’t necessarily feel the pang of being needed less as time goes on, certainly not in the way that maybe the mother of three does watching her last baby graduate from infancy to the front steps of her kindergarten classroom –  in what feels like the space of overnight. I’m three years in. I basically still don’t really have a clear reference for time. I know that there was life before my son, but it’s kind of hard to believe that it actually existed – since what could I have possibly done with all of that free time ?? I am fairly certain I wouldn’t recognize that 31 year old girl if she showed up on my doorstep much less relate to her (what does she DO with all of that free time?) I’ll be honest, its all a little fuzzy and not totally unlike the feeling of having been on a bender for the last three years of my life. Except that, unlike the consequences of unrestrained drinking, some really great things have happened.

The bittersweetness of common landmarks have bypassed me: walking, talking, sleeping in his own bed, going to daycare, potty training, etc.  Babyhood was hard for us, this stage feels lighter – maybe that is a big part of it. Or maybe that he is my first and only kid. I know its a precious and fleeting time. And if ever I forget,  there is someone to remind me everywhere I go and at every chance, how fast it all goes and how much I will miss it when its gone. Thank you, stranger in the check-out line, for letting me know essentially, that I am guaranteed to feel shitty later thinking about how I should be happier right now in this moment which will invariably get gold-plated in my memory…… that I will um, revisit when I am older and sipping my tea in my quiet house with piles of books around and art supplies and projects that I don’t ever have to clean up because no one’s going to touch my stuff and I have the whole weekend ahead of me to putter and dally and not cook for anyone and stay up as late as I want??? Just kidding. Sort of. I know my kid is going to grow up and we always feel wistful for what is behind. The past is like an Instagram account with flattering filters to highlight all of the high moments and none of the bad days. Oh wait, no that is actual Instagram.

At every stage of his increasing autonomy I cheer him on, marvel unflinchingly at the passage of months gone, feeling  a sense of satisfaction that he is finding his footing in this world, as they do kind of with, without, or in spite of me at all.  Often my partner and I will look at each other with some variation of, “Can you believe …?” But I’m still the one without a lot of nostalgia about it. I guess kindergarten will be a big one, we’ll see though.

Anyway, we decided it was time to cut his hair. It’s wild, unruly, a battle to wash and comb through and people have been mistaking him for a girl, (which he’s always gotten to some extent, but now he is starting to notice). We’d been getting comments for awhile from his grandpa and others (seriously, what the hell makes you SO uncomfortable with my kid’s hair?) which was frankly really irritating mostly because it starting making my son self-conscious about it. I was a little scared though, because I had also been told his curls won’t last. The ringlets he inherited from neither his father or myself, I had been warned, would disappear with the first cut. Literally, EVERYBODY has told me that. But he was excited. His first haircut! We promised ice cream afterward.

She didn’t even take off that much. Just a trim. He looked so big sitting up in the chair.

And as soon as I watched those first strands fall to the floor, I wanted to cry.

He sat very still and when she was finished he saw himself in the mirror and smiled with pride. We went to ice cream.

And I just could not look at him without tears spilling over. Just like that, everything had changed. The baby had disappeared. He was a boy.

My heart was gripped with the realization that we’d crossed over a threshold. There was no going back. I tried hard not to let my son pick up on my feelings. “It will grow again,” my partner reassures me when we are alone.

“No,” I say, “everything’s different.”

I was unprepared for the level of emotional reaction. Of course I know, it’s just hair. It will grow. It will be whatever it will be, curls or not. But is these such landmarks, the ones that don’t just naturally happen on their own but require the diligent, careful eye; the sense to know when it’s time to gently remove the scaffolding, the lovey, the comfort habit that has outgrown its service, the training wheels that have lingered past their usefulness. And no matter how much you might want to hold on to it for what it represents –  it is these moments of stepping in to move forward the hand of time when only you can and must, that cause the heart to waver. It is these pivotal moments, some without as much fanfare as a haircut, that come and go in the most ordinary way and yet leave behind a profound imprint of what parenthood is again and again, the letting go. It is the thoughts that buzz around like a mosquito in your darkened bedroom as you lie awake and  throw up a prayer for the twenty-seventh time that you did the right thing . Because even though you might know it was, it still pangs.

Like knowing it was the last time I would breastfeed my son.  The moment I decided I was through pumping. Breastfeeding was complicated, arduous and emotionally wrought for us. Weening was something I had to accept long before I had wanted to. Though it was clear it was best choice for both of us, I still remember that quiet moment, in the dark, with my baby beside me, when I decided to let my body be done. It’s the Instagram reel without the filters, full of the raw emotion of what it really means to be a mother.  In yogic philosophy there is a name for this letting go again and again: aparigraha, the principle of non attachment.  Over and over again, we watch for the signs for when its time to let go a little bit more, when its time to release our attachment to the current story and let the next chapter begin.

“Motherhood is at once an exercise in unwavering fortitude and complete surrender.”  (Read: Suspended in a State of Mommyhood. I’m serious, if you are  a mother or a young parent, you’ve really got to read it. Go, right now.)

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The only true thing.

A couple months ago I got this message from the Universe (I know, one of those). The message was that I needed to get start getting up earlier.

Now, let me tell you what the big deal is about getting up early.

I have this kid, you see. This sweet, wily, hilarious and over-the-top crazy little human who controls my life. And this little human from day one pretty much wakes up at the butt-ass-crack…no, before the butt-ass-crack of dawn because it’s like he has to get a front row seat or something. (If you are wondering when the “butt-ass-crack of dawn” exactly is, it is 4:45am. Or at least it was between 4:30 and 5am for almost a solid year. And before you start assuming anything: YES, I TRIED THAT. NO, IT DID NOT WORK. )

What I learned over that year was acceptance, sometimes through tears. But all of my resistances (which included strategies to “fix” the problem) only in the end caused suffering whereas accepting what was happening just meant that

1) I was tired.

2) It is hard being tired.

Tired is one thing, suffering is another. Tired can miserable, but suffering is what I was causing myself by trying to fight the truth of what was going on: I had a kid who woke up early no matter what we did.

But here is the truth we all know: things change. This is the one truth you can tell a new parent that is actually helpful: It will change. It always changes. Don’t try and tell them when! “Oh, when he gets to 3 months….when he gets to 6 months…a year…18 months… 2 years…” No one knows when because they don’t know your kid, they only know their own experience or worse, what they heard.  People want to help and say something positive but it is really just a set up for bitterness and despair when the promised milestone is reached and you are…. still in a shit-hole. So lets just stop doing that to parents who are having a hard time.  Let’s not even say “it will get better” (because you don’t know and sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes it gets worse. Or whatever is hard is replaced by something even shittier and harder.)  Eventually, it probably will get better. But no one knows when and I have never found the idea that “better” is somewhere out in the distance floating around very comforting. It’s like telling someone who is dying of thirst, “Don’t worry, someday it will rain. Try not to die until then.”

Things change. Another way to say it is right now is the only true thing

Holding on to this has made the hard moments softer to bear and the high moments ever more sweet because I know: it may change tomorrow, in an hour, next month or in five minutes. Cultivating continuous presence is the key that unlocks the ability to see what is true right now, what needs to shift and what I know I can breathe through, and what I better slow down and soak up.

So about six months ago things shifted and the little Acorn Scout started sleeping until six … SIX!! SIX AM!!!! A fucking miracle and nothing less, let me tell you. It is life-changing. I am reborn. Out of the darkness and wretched despair of night wakings, I rise victorious and the world is a beautiful place again and I am full of love for all people. Overall, things have fallen into a comfortable routine around here these days; no major struggles with bedtime, naptime, meal time. Always on the go, always talking, the little monster is generally content and increasingly independent. My work and school schedule, as well as my partner’s schedule have settled into predictability which is really nice. I feel like we are officially out of the “baby haze” and the survival mode of the first couple years. Life has lent us a bit of reprieve from any major crisis for the moment and of course, most of all, we are all sleeping. 

So when I hear this little tug I try to swat it away. For two and a half years I have been fitting in my meditation and yoga practice where I can. A few moments here and there, and at naptime or in the evening.  Juggling work and childcare and an opposite schedule from my partner meant constantly shifting things around, like an endless puzzle where there’s the inevitable jamming together of pieces that don’t fit just right and then left over pieces with no place to go. But for awhile there’s been the feeling that I want to take my meditation practice deeper and I was still struggling to make space in the day for myself.

So this inner voice pipes up (as it will do) and tells me to start waking up at 5:15. And I immediately answer with “You are f***ing kidding me.”  

Let me skip to the end of this argument (which I lost, or won, however you look at it.) When the Universe asks something of you and you say yes, all the support you need is in full supply. I go to bed early. I am usually asleep by 9pm these days. And 5:15 is quiet. It’s sacred. It’s all mine.

By the time I hear my son stirring (6am on the dot, that kid is never late) I am in a completely different space, heart, mind and body. I am able to give from a place of fullness instead of scraping the bottom and feeling the prickly irritation of having to give more than I have. And THEN this other miracle happened: My partner and I had been trading off mornings and since I have committed to every morning he has agreed to do bedtime every night which means I suddenly have a 30 whole other minutes in the evenings to do something for myself. Holy crap! What?!

Here is my challenge to you: What is your truth right now? Not the story you are telling yourself about what things “should” be like but what is true? What is being asked of you?

Remember: the Universe never asks you to do anything without being ready to rush in with full support. 

And unexpected blessings and gifts await you. It never fails.

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Samputa mudra  – For cultivating truth (Satya)

The left hand is slightly cupped, the right hand rests on top with the fingers along the left thumb, created a space as if you held a precious treasure within your hands. Your truth. The voice of your true inner being.

Mudras are gestures of the hands, face or body that are used to evoke certain spiritual, physical or psychological qualities and have been used for over 2,000 years but they can also be found in various religious,  cultural and ritual practice around the world dating back thousands of years. The hands and fingers contain more sensory and nerve-endings than almost anywhere else in the body. This makes them a powerful tool for communicating directly to our brains and the rest of the body.  The subtle position of our hands and bodies have the capacity to alter the geometry and circuitry of the body, shifting vital energies. They are a powerful tool for any mediation practice.

When using mudras in meditation we hold the core quality of the gesture in our minds lightly and simply watch the effects on our breath, body, energy, thoughts and emotions that arise. We don’t try to change the breath or battle the thoughts or feelings that come. We just notice and gently steers our awareness back to the gesture and what we are awakening within ourselves. Because there is truly nothing we need that is not already there, waiting to be called forth.

For more an amazing resource on Mudras check out: Mudras for Healing and Transformation by Joseph and Lilian Le Page 

The Siren Song.

I have been trying to formulate a post for awhile now about what it feels to be in the throes of early parenthood, where any and all free time seems to go to maintenance of the body, mind, general household or inadvertently catching up on sleep (ie; every time I pick up one of the eight books I have been inching my way through in the last 6 months) and yet the creative mind yearning for hours of interrupted space, to allow finally, the muse to emerge from her dusty hiding place. It makes my bones ache how she calls to me with her siren song.

I whisper, “I know, I know.”

A good friend and I reflect upon the irony that here we are – well into our thirties – having had all of this time while we were younger, so much more freedom to explore – and only now as we become mothers have discovered through the alchemical fire more than ever who and what we are called to do, to create, to birth creatively into the larger world. And now when it feels like we have less time than ever to explore these avenues that call to us…

Another friend and I just yesterday lamented yet again the pervasive feeling that aside from motherhood we should be doing something. Contributing. Living up to our professional or creative potential. And even if we know that the job we are doing is the “most important job in the whole world” and even though we would not choose to be doing anything else, somehow … that idea, reflecting the greater societal ideals, sort of starts seeping in to our thinking anyway. “I used to be so good at (fill in the blank)…I have a really great resume!.. Remember when I had that idea to do that amazing project? Whatever happened to that?” 

Though I have been working 25-35 hours a week since my son was 12 weeks old I still feel like I have been in a sense “checked out” of larger society for the last 2 1/2 years.  I count myself incredibly fortunate that my circumstances have allowed me to have worked from home much of this time while my son is young. I would not have traded it. And yet…I think maybe the isolation of being out of the traditional workplace and having to compartmentalize my time and energy into distinct categories 1) family/home and 2) work (what I need to do to keep my family and home functioning) makes me feel out of touch, like I am just not living up to my fullest potential.  

My social world has gotten a lot smaller. I’ve been on sabbatical from local volunteer/community work. I struggle even to keep up generally what is going on nationwide, globally. When friends (without kids) ask, “So what have you been up to lately?” I suddenly feel like I should come up with something different than, “Um, well  – working, and you know, raising a kid.” As if that was just not enough, or at least interesting enough.

Despite the little daydreams I have throughout the day about what I am going to do at nap time or after 8pm when the little Acorn Scout is finally in bed, when the time arrives there are always other things. The inspiration gives way to the more pressing activities, the family/home and leftover work responsibilities or just plain exhaustion.  And then…halfway through the night, I am lying awake with my heart beating fast and a head spinning full of all the creative projects I am not doing because instead I am doing the mundane, daunting, boring, incredibly profound and sacred work of raising a toddler. And these dreams and visions of my creative contributions to the world dissolve with the morning light as I say yes again instead to the alchemical process unfolding unseen between potty training and bug-hunting, answering emails, detailed spreadsheets, snacks, tantrums, flagging patience, clean up and long evening hours before bed when finally, I can grab a few moments of stillness for myself, breathing into the place of faith that all things come to fruition in their own time and the day closes again.

I am wholly enjoying parenthood right now. Two and a half is the best ever, so far. I am loving it and it’s wearing me out. Often, there is very little left over at the end of the day. But I know that somehow, on levels I cannot even determine, this work too is indispensable to whatever comes next for me. Whether or not I receive world-wide accolades for it (and I won’t) this day in and day out stuff is the seed bed of the soul’s work, the essential part of the creative process and my own growth and development as a creative being. I have changed indescribably in the last two and half years; in some ways I do not even recognize myself. It’s awesome. And irreplaceable.

Yesterday, I came across this article in Lenka Clayton: An artist in residence in motherhood: “…Some of the work she produced as part of An Artist Residency in Motherhood was just her working by herself as an artist and focusing on her materials, what she calls the “ephemeral stuff of parenthood,” and part of it was a collective endeavor examining what it is to be a parent and work as an artist at the same time.” One of her projects is called, “Another project was “63 Objects Taken from my Son’s Mouth.” Seriously, so fucking inspirational!

Then, this morning I opened my inbox this morning and saw one of my favorite blog authors, Laura Kelly Fanucci: the essay I never wrote. She has a way – needless to say, a gift – of speaking the crux of things that I haven’t yet found the right words for and when I see them typed out my heart cries silently “YES! Yes, That’s exactly it!”  Like a string of pearls she’s dropped into my hand, like precious gemstones I roll over in my palm to carry with me for strength, are Laura’s words.

All of that stuff swirling around in you, in me — it will be there when it’s time has come to be shared with the world. This is what I am telling myself while I pull over on the side of the road on the way home from the grocery store to scribble down a thought I want to write more about later – will I remember what that scribble meant when I look at it a week later? I don’t know. But I keep scribbling. I don’t give up.

From A Room of One’s One, Virginia Woolf:

“I told you in the course of this paper that Shakespeare had a sister… She died young – alas, she never wrote a word. She lies buried where the omnibuses now stop, opposite Elephant and Castle. Now it is my belief that this poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the crossroads still lives. She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here tonight, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed. But she lives; for great poets do not die; they are continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in the flesh. This opportunity , I think, it is now coming within your power to give her. For my belief is that if we live another century or so … and have each of us rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a little from the common sitting room and see human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality; and the sky too, and the trees or whatever it may be in themselves… then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down. Drawing her life from the lives of the unknown who were her forerunners, as her brother did before her, she will be born. As for her coming without that preparation, without that effort on our part, without that determination that when she is born again she shall find it possible to live and write her poetry, that we cannot expect, for that would be impossible. But I maintain that she would come if we worked for her, and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worthwhile.”

My sisters, keep listening to that siren song with me. When you hear her, smile. Amidst the laundry piles, the grocery list, the bills and the snotty noses, maybe you’ll even start to hum along.

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