The Feminine Mystique: An Addendum

I am tired of people treating feminine rage like some sort of radical phase in the post-adolescent female, burning off as she matures and softens into society. Feminine anger, the most unattractive of traits, is a buzz-kill. It’s sophomoric and worn-out. It’s a bit too touchy.

The post-1970’s white feminist may have poured over the pages of Friedan and Hooks in college, but at some point she is expected to move on to other subjects. She may keep her Bikini Kill T-shirt in the back of the bottom drawer along with other keepsakes from her college days, she may blast Ani DiFranco when driving alone, or quote Audre Lorde on social media just so long as she can retire her tirade against patriarchy for underwire and mascara for the business meeting where 80% of the attendees are male. Just as long as she can hold her tongue when her husband’s colleague tows the line with innuendo and conjure a thin smile at the misogynistic undertones during dinner party banter. While we’ve demystified the feminine mystique, gas lighting has become a new form of subjugation. They don’t really mean it. You are too sensitive, too uptight. Come on, don’t ruin the party.

 After all, it’s not so bad here in our first world nation. Look at how far we’ve come. Women are autonomous, sexually liberated and politically powerful.

Except we aren’t.

We are just white women.

If she is fortunate, her education happens young. For most it’s not until adolescence or early adulthood that we become aware of the misogyny soup we all are wading in. Stage one of awakening occurs the moment she sees through new eyes what we are born into and conditioned to accept: thinly veiled male entitlement, even less disguised expectation that women be satisfied with less compensation, less respect, less accolades, less support, less recognition, a whole lot more work and all along maintaining a body like a centerfold. She begins to see how she herself has slut-shamed and victim-blamed. She sees the subtle and overt messaging that her smiles belong to men and so does her body. When she begins to unpack her own story she sees the story of all women, one that is raw and jarring.

When she awakens she sees that rape culture is what has allowed our country to devastate entire populations, turned flesh and bone into a statistic, demographics which we speak about in classrooms and on film and at fundraiser dinners. The daily infliction of violence upon ourselves through every act of ignorance and blind dollar spent to support the destruction of our natural habitat is mental illness, is soul-death, is sickness of the spirit. And she gets angry. In her youthful twenties, maybe she attends rallies and marches, gets involved in organizations mobilizing for social change and environmental justice, engages in meaningful debate, makes art, refuses to conform.

But the extent to which the masses continue to operate under illusion is so staggering, so maddening, that she becomes exhausted. Living year in and year out with this reality becomes too painful to bear. She burns with anger until it burns her out. Then there are college loans to repay. Or maybe she falls in love. Maybe she’s anxious about getting older. Maybe motherhood catches her off guard or maybe she lands a good job in a field she loves and decides its time to “grow up”. At some point, she slowly begins to put down her arms. Tired of fighting the war that her culture is hell bent on telling her doesn’t exist, she trades in her picket signs for stability.

After all, maybe she still can’t walk down the street without maintaining 360 degree awareness at all times but she can vote. She can do her job as well as any man (and just watch her prove it.) She can balance motherhood and a career and a marriage and her figure and her mental health, just watch her go. She’s been emancipated from the days spent barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, nevermind that it is still women by leaps and bounds who perform the majority of childcare and household chores within two parent households. Nevermind that she still makes 60 cents to every man’s dollar. She is still an empowered woman and she has good health insurance.

When she “settles down” or domesticates, enrolls in grad school, takes a decent job or finds a financially stable man, her family and friends breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe she tells herself she is still the same wild, liberated woman but instead of civil disobedience she plans play dates and business lunches. She might have a moment when she catches herself filling out paperwork, trading her last name for his – when she pauses and remembers her former self in contrast to her life now: combat boots and angry poetry stowed for the safety and comfort of the daily grind. But for the most part, the history she’s read and it no longer moves her. She still gets angry from time to time when she reads an article online but motherhood is all consuming and her career is finally taking off. Or maybe it’s taking everything she has just to get by. So she chooses instead to be grateful for all that she has. She reduces her use of plastics, buys local, practices yoga, meditates, supports environmental causes, represents at the polling booth. She embraces being a mom raising kids that will not the perpetuate bigotry and ignorance she sees in the world even while she accepts that she will always be the parent who misses work when the kid is sick. She turns off the news when it becomes too intense because she doesn’t need that negativity in her life. She is content with activism in smaller, quieter ways that don’t cost her friends, jobs, a marriage or financial security.

And then somewhere near middle age, though the trajectories vary, may come a second awakening. For some it may even be the first. Often accompanied by a loss, the dissolution of the illusion of security. The proverbial rug is pulled. She is shaken awake by betrayal, death, illness or her body being thrown into the tumult of the change of life. There comes some catalyst for her undoing. She may wake up one morning having devoted years to her children, to her husband and his career, to sacrificing her work and her passion to put her family first and feel anger. Raw, ugly, unacceptable anger – at the world, at those who have chosen differently or have had different opportunities, at the very inhabitants of her own home, those who she loves the most and for whom her mother’s heart would be bled dry. Anger that comes from deep inside and is directed everywhere and nowhere at once; anger toward the partner or a boss who has taken her for granted, the children (or lovers) with endless needs, over the years of forfeited self-care and sacrificing her deepest desires. Anger over all of the things she’s given up that she should not be tracking but she does. She doesn’t want to feel this way. She should be grateful. She knows she is privileged. But somehow the life that was so safe and comfortable becomes unbearable. And now everything she knows and loves it at stake. No one likes an angry woman; no one wants a bitter middle-aged, nasty woman. She is forced to choose whether to stay where she is and wither or whether to risk it all to reclaim the self she abandoned long ago.

She may stay or she may take a leap into the unknown. Or she may live many years in between, half alive, with the insidious symptomatic haunting of her own liberation.

And then.

Then there is a man on her television screen.

Suddenly all of the traumas, all of the abuses inflicted upon our sisterhood are embodied in one man standing behind a podium in front of the whole country. The basic rights of human beings, of women, of all disenfranchised people are besieged. Here a man is saying out loud all the things we have held in our bodies for years in silence, the things we were told when we were young were exaggeration, fabrication, misconception. Suddenly now we are staring into the face of oppression and exploitation of the most vulnerable, against anyone lesser than the almighty white man. And there are people clapping, cheering, giving him money, saying he will make things right again.

If we are shocked, if we are reeling, it is because we have had the privilege of not being aware. If we are overwhelmed and dumbfounded with rage it is because we have been lucky enough to live in ignorance. This is not news to millions of our marginalized neighbors. This is the day they have lived in fear of daily and hoped would never come. If it is a revelation to anyone, it is to white people. Suddenly we feel there is so much at stake. But not everything that has been at stake for our sisters of color or their black brothers and neighbors dying in the streets. Not all that has been at stake for transgender, queer, gay, and lesbian fellow Americans and not for our immigrant or native families. We are shaken awake from our white person cocoon to a truth that millions have lived with every day.

The history we’ve heard and it no longer moved us. Until now.

Silence is not longer an option. Our silence has been complicit.

And now She will not be held back. She will no longer acquiesce. The Lioness is unleashed.

And so inevitably, is our grief.

Grief over what has been done to all of women kind, to their daughters and mothers and to the sons born to generations of battered women.

Grief over what we have been party to and perpetuated by ignorance or apathy. Grief that begins with a little girl and the grown men she had to fight off as a child but that predates her own birth by five thousand years. Grief over the pillage and rape of our life-sustaining resources and the arrogance at which we have gone in again and again to take from the Earth what we want and leave Her torn open and bleeding.

Grief for the tribes that we have either destroyed or have relinquished to the most desolate and forsaken places so that we could build our empire upon their bones. The earth Herself under our feet trembles with our history.

And this grief it threatens to bury us under mountains.

Are you awake?

Are you angry?

This is a call to arms. We enter the stage where we are willing to risk unapologetic open rebellion. The time has arrived for the Phoenix to rise and to bring forth Her holy anger in service of Truth. This time anger will not burn us out, it will catalyze us. It will burn from within, unify us and fuel righteous and indignant action. We will not be silent in our relationships. We will not be silent in our communities, in our workplaces or in our synagogues. But we will not meet hate with hate, we will speak with the kind of ferocious love and compassion that penetrates deep and ignites a flame inside those who hear us roar. Our fire will ignite and burn through invisible walls, it will burn up division, it will burn through layers of self-deception and it will set us free.

Now we discover a new embodiment of our previous incarnations. One who is willing to be present with painful Truth and dares to do the brave healing work of her own soul and become the force She was meant to be. One who has the courage to confront the areas in her life where she has been silent out of fear or in order to keep the peace. One who understands that while as women, we all have felt objectified and violated but some women will have experienced this on a level we cannot comprehend and we listen to their stories. One who understands that while we have all felt traumatized there are some who have lived lives of trauma and we must allow them to speak. One who knows that while we have encountered injustice there are those whose lives illustrate injustice in a way we cannot comprehend.

For this is not a new revolution we are creating, this where we join ranks with our sisters that have been fighting all along. We must listen to the war-cries of women who have been marching and singing and praying long before we arrived.

Our new embodiment of feminism will require the unflinching examination of our privilege in order to dismantle inequality. It requires us to come together in a new kind of solidarity with our sisters who know this fight and stand side by side with them, equal but not the same. This new feminist embodiment calls for One who understands that Her power alone is tremendous but our collective power is unstoppable. This stage requires undaunted passion, courage and commitment to transformation. It demands undaunted examination, personal accountability and humility to see how we may begin healing the unspeakable wounds against ourselves, each other and our nation.

For every step a woman takes toward her own liberation is a radical act on behalf of women everywhere. And every act of compliance with structures of her oppression is an act of violence against herself and consent toward the oppression of women everywhere. Her fight is every woman’s. This time we will not burn out. We will fight with ferocity of love in the service of Truth. And we will not be silenced.

Lace up your combat boots, sisters. And fall in step.

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Women’s March on Washington, Jan. 21, 2017 (Photo source)

Read more:

You Are Not Equal. I’m Sorry.

I Can’t Keep Quiet: The Unofficial Anthem of the Women’s March

Woman in Viral Photo From Women’s March to White Female Allies: ‘Listen to a Black Woman’

www.momsrising.org

The year of Light.

2016 was like ripping off a giant, stinking bandage and exposing the raw, festering wound that lie underneath. Both personally, politically and globally.

Now we are all just gathered around, aghast, mouths gaping, wondering what the fuck to do and how could this be. When the air hits it burns. When the nasty, ugly and shocking truth arrives into the light we turn away from it . We let our head fall into our hands, we reach out to try and steady one another.

But it will be there when we turn back. We can’t un-see it. Between denial and grief, shock and rage, no one knows quite what to do yet. Some us will disown it. Others will know the magnitude of the work that lies ahead. Some will know that they’ve been preparing for this. They will know, at times, even when they don’t want to know.

We’ve been exposed.

The devastation is real.

There is no more hiding.

But in that, comes liberation.

Because we didn’t realize until now how much energy and effort it was taking to keep pretending. Pretending individuals were the problem or individual problems were the problem. Pretending our own personal dramas were not inseparable from or even symptoms of a disease from which no one living in this country is safe. Pretending good intentions and positive vibes were enough. Pretending that even the self-help industry isn’t a careful construct to keep you preoccupied with your own vision board instead of looking outside your window, or talking to your therapist instead of talking to your neighbor. Pretending we could change the world without really changing our choices or by fighting battles on social media with opponents whose stories we’ve never heard and lives we don’t understand. Or those who’ve shouted themselves hoarse at ears that cannot hear and will not move out from behind their screens to hear the drum beat of the war song building beneath their feet.

Now we stand face to face with a Truth we’ve created. Not you alone but all of us together. You cannot extricate yourself anymore.

Many will try. Many will cling to indignation.

“I have been wronged,” they will cry, “This is not my world, I didn’t choose this. This is not my fight.”

But we’ve all been wronged. We’ve all been party to hidden agendas and travesties we’ll never fully comprehend. Products of convenience, our own and others’. Sacrificial lambs to the gods of capitalism. Generations of well-fed but malnourished, over-stimulated but soul-numbed, brain dead pop psych spouters.

We are all each the victim, the perpetrator and the enabler.

And there is no where to go.

No one is coming to fix this.

She wasn’t the Answer. She wouldn’t have saved us.

There is no one coming to save us.

No matter who you decide to blame, no one is going to get what they are owed.

The jury we stand before is ourselves, our neighbors, our loved ones living and deceased, our children.

To forgive you, I have to forgive myself.

To forgive myself is to forgive you.

And I don’t know if I am ready.

I am still reeling. I am still angry.

So I keep looking. I keep turning around to look again. I look and look and look until my breath catches in my throat and my stomach turns and I hear my voice from somewhere else shouting “No, no, no, no, nooooooooo…”

Yes. Look. You must look.

We’ve been set up to participate in systematic genocide. They left us no other choice. The Light has been turned on and we are all stained with each other’s blood.

And yet.

And yet.

And yet.

This is not a sentence. This is where we begin to see.

There is no one coming to save us. No one to give back what rightfully should have been yours. Mine. Ours.

Not for the child who was abused.

Not for the family whose home has been destroyed

Not for the tribes whose sacred sites have been pillaged and robbed

Not for the mother who mourns her children

Not for the community who lost yet another innocent Black son

Not for the women raped and left for dead

Not for the daughter who was never protected

Not for the boy forced to endure systematic violence for an imperialist agenda that left him broken and abandoned him when he was no longer useful

Not for the man who can’t go to sleep without battling images of torture and death

Not for the trees that once covered this Earth

Not for the oceans once teeming with vibrant life

Not for the Falklands Wolf nor the New Zealand grayling

Not for the Rocky Mountain locust or the North African elephant

Not for the tropical rainforests of Papau New Guinea or Costa Rica

Or for the victims of the nuclear holocausts of Chernobyl and Fukushima

Not for the refugee who will never return home again

Nor for the exploited immigrant worker separated from his family

Not for the land and water destroyed by fracking across our country

Not for the home and the family I imagined for myself, for the ending of the story that began with such fierce unbreakable love. Not for the other children. Not for how many times my heart has broken.

None of it can be righted. Not of it can be returned.

All we have is this unrelenting Light that now shines upon all. Sometimes this is what mercy feels like. Didn’t you pray for the Light to come? Didn’t you call upon it? I did.

Didn’t you know that when you call upon the Light it will come? Didn’t you remember that what the Light does is reveal the deepest darkness?

Yes, there are those who have been calling in the Light for years.

And it is come. Don’t be fooled. 2016 was not a year of darkness but of Light.

 

We’ve been exposed.

The devastation is real.

But there is no more hiding.

And in that, comes liberation.

 

And possibilities of a new way. For what only what is in the Light can heal. And only we can save us.

The world is FULL.

A mantra I’ve embraced this year and repeat to my son all the time, “The world is full of magic, medicine and miracles. Every day is a new adventure.”

Its been a rough few weeks….months? I’ll be frank, its been a real rough year. For a lot of people, not just me. But the last few weeks really threatened to kick the shit outta me. I lost sight of my mantra. It happens. Things pile up, layer upon layer until you’re staring at a mountain that seems insurmountable and suddenly months of tiredness, years of tiredness, all hit at once and you want to draw all the shades and hide. The world is just too much. I know there are a few million or more people who can probably relate to this feeling right now. What is going on in the world right now feels like way too much to hold. Despite the current social and political climate, this is familiar terrain for me come mid-December. Wanting to hide out, feeling overwhelmed. And the amount of self care I feel like I need to cope seems impossible for the life of a working, single parent.

But here is the miracle, here is the magic: for anyone in a dark place right now, it only takes a tiny crack of light. When it feels like the mountain is sitting on your chest, a knock on your door can turn everything around. When you feel like you’ve fallen for the last time and you’ll never rise again, it may just be that someone else’s call for help that pulls you out of the fog and into the big bright world again. Or maybe a good homemade meal, a walk, a long hot shower. Just for today or just for the next hour. These are miracles. Maybe they don’t change the circumstance. Maybe they can’t bring order to the chaos still swirling inside you or in the world at large, but maybe – they can help us to keep breathing through it all.

I have come to realize that the real miracle is the abundance I have in friends around me who can point me back to light and remind me to keep looking for the magic, the medicine and the miracles. Earlier this month I got to visit with a long-but-not-so-lost kindred friend who I am so indescribably grateful to share this lifetime with. We have known and watched one another grow for over twenty years. We are not the same girls we used to be but somewhere and in some ways we still are. It’s weird. And though our paths have winded away from each other for years, somehow life has brought us back together at a time when we find ourselves in very similar processes. And this gift of being seen, really seen by another person and to speak the truth we see, this is medicine for the soul. 

Then this weekend I was visited by another newfound but not so new soul sister and am elated to see how paths have intertwined. We picnicked on the beach, went in search of a mysterious hidden labyrinth in the cliffs above the waves, we ate the best chocolate I’ve ever had in my life, found some magical crystals and talked and talked and talked. Time passed differently. Everything felt symbolic, every word meaningful and synchronicity abounded. My friend, she brings magic wherever she goes. And this weekend she brought it to me. 

I have another dear sweet friend who fights courageously every single day through pain and depression to keep breathing, to believe that things won’t always be this way. She fights for her life, she fights to find the purpose in her struggle and I watch her and wish desperately that I could take her suffering away. But she inspires me every single opportunity I get to spend time with her, even on her worst days. She is a MIRACLE. Another crack of light, my sister-in-law who sat with me on my bedroom floor and helped me make phone calls I was too overwhelmed to make and create a plan for getting through this last week when all I felt like I could do was lie on the carpet. And another friend who sits me at her kitchen table and makes me coffee and breakfast on a hard morning. Yet another friend who brings me oils to help with pain. My neighbors who bring over food every time they have extra of anything and have no idea that it always arrives at the exact moment that the fridge is empty. The fact that I have at least ten people I feel like I could call at any give point and say “I need help” and they would offer whatever help they could. Small miracles that are big. Small miracles that suddenly make things more bearable. Small miracles that at the very moment they arrive feel like they save your life.

I am moved to tears by the WEALTH of family, friends and community that surround me.

The little Acorn Scout asks “What is a miracle?” I tell him it is an amazing and unexpected gift. So whenever something happy happens, he says, “Is that a gift, mama? Is it a miracle?” And I laugh and say yes, yes! It is a gift. It is a miracle.

The warm sunshine in the middle of a cold December, a friend’s buoyant recovery after surgery, a gift of firewood found on our porch, a hot shower, mending a miscommunication with an apology, a steaming cup of turmeric chai with honey,holding my friend’s sweet newborn baby, the right song at exactly the right moment, cherished new and old friends, soft and warm socks, two almost pain-free days in a row, a card in the mail from a friend I haven’t heard from in too long, an extra long real hug from someone that doesn’t know all of it exactly but doesn’t need to, another morning waking up to beauty of the morning fog in the redwood treetops…treasures around every bend.

Whatever you focus on is what you’ll find. Keep looking, I tell my son (and myself). Keep watching and you’ll see… the world is full.

magicmiracles-source

Collage by me.

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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

 

On parenting in the dark.

For the next four days I am alone. I am completely alone in my house for the next four days. 

Ok well, there is a dog and a cat here but for the next 96 hours there are no other beings in this household that require my attention.  I haven’t been alone in my house for this length of time in over four years. My son’s father came and picked him up this morning, headed to see family 400 miles away. For all my initial anxiety about the upcoming trip, by the time the moment arrived to see them off I was awash with a mixture of unexpected feelings. This week has been one of the darkest and most intense weeks of parenting that I can remember.

The world at large right now feels heavy, hurting and angry.

My heart is heavy, hurting and angry.

And my son, three and a half, seems to have tapped into the collective wellspring or is otherwise coming up against his own pain and rage over the current state of things on the micro-level of his family and immediate environment.

And I am his target for all of this, of course. And target in every sense of the word. I am bruised, battered and raw from the battles of this week. Where has my sweet little companion, full of smiles and affection gone? And what phenomenon is he currently processing to cause such a disturbance in our normal balance of daily life??

I know all the “things”: It will pass, it’s normal. It’s not about me. All I can do is give him a safe place to feel and process. Stay connected. Stay neutral. Stay present. Don’t take things personally. The caregiver he’s closest to gets the worst of it. Practice self-care. Model healthy boundaries. Model healthy ways to work through strong feelings. Give him words and tools to identify what he is feeling and what he needs. Remember the relationship comes first. 

But all of these truisms don’t help me right now. Because even with trying to do my best to remember all of these things, deep in the moment parenting just feels shitty and terrible and awful and unfair. And because I am just empty. That’s it. I’ve just got nothing left to give this kid right now.

And so suddenly this trip feels like grace for both of us.

He is ecstatic to see his papa. He runs screeching and laughing into his arms. He waves goodbye and doesn’t look back. And I am grateful. For their bond and the relationship they have cultivated, which is much closer and more loving than either of us had with our own fathers. Grateful he is not fearful about leaving me. And grateful because honestly – I just don’t think I could have stood another hour of being beat up, being bullied, and of battling it out.  Grateful because honestly – I don’t even like my child right now. And I don’t feel capable of being his mother.

And closing the door behind them, this truth makes me cry and cry.

Last night I heard him tossing around in his bed, calling out softly in sleep. It woke me and I lay there for a moment, waiting to see if the he would settle himself and drift off on his own. He probably would have after another moment or so but I got up anyway and opened the door to his room and crossed the carpet to kneel at his bed. He mumbled incoherently in a half-wakened state. Tentatively, I reached out to stroke his forehead and he allowed me to comfort him. Then slowly, inch by inch, I moved onto the bed next to him and curled my body around his. For the first time in weeks he didn’t resist but relaxed and nestled against me.  I held him close and rubbed his back. In the darkness he reached out his little hand to press it against my face and I saw his brief, small sleepy smile in the glow of the nightlight. I lay there for an hour or more relishing this rare moment of closeness, not daring to move a muscle lest the spell be broken and the feral animal awake. My arm fell asleep and my back started to ache but I couldn’t bear to move. For a short time I felt again our sweet bond. I needed to remember.

nightlight1

 

I know it will pass. I know we each have to process in our own ways what it means to not be an intact family living under one roof anymore, and who we each are as we grow into the people we are becoming.  And as we test the limits of what we think we know and are capable of and explore our own spectrum of experience, we come to understand the safety and strength of the container of this relationship. We trust that it can hold our process, that it can honor both the darkness and the light. But it is only in the darkness where true resilience is revealed, when we find it is stronger and more spacious than we thought, that it can allow and recover, heal and adapt. That it can both nurture and even be strengthened in times when the light is scarce. That it is both steadfast and constant and that it is also ready to change as we change.

Tiptoeing back to my room and back to my own bed, I feel thankful for this tiny bit of reprieve. In the morning I ask him and he doesn’t remember anything. But I know it wasn’t for him. It was for me.

As I watch the car pull out of the driveway this morning it occurs to me that there may come a day when he wants to go and live with his dad full time. The thought hits me a little like a sock to the stomach. As I stand in the middle of the empty living room I am gutted by the realization that ultimately all of this effort, the intense marathon of parenthood, the unwavering commitment to every small teachable moment, the anguish over whether or not we are doing things right, whether we are giving them the right tools, laying the right foundation for healthy relationship with themselves, with others and the world — all of it — every single worry that keeps us up or on the phone for advice or nose deep in books, all of the ceaseless energy we put into giving our children the best possible start guarantees absolutely nothing.

We do all of this with the acceptance that all possibilities exist and one being that there could come a day when our child says goodbye and walks away without looking back. We have great hopes. We cultivate hope against odds at every turn that our kids will emerge from childhood undamaged, happy, vital and devoted to us. But in the end we are all forced to relinquish every expectation and investment in the outcome. We do this parenting thing in every moment out of some mysterious compelling place of unadulterated selflessness. Its the biggest most profound lifelong investment we ever make and yet there are no guarantees of anything. And still, as a species we have decided it worth doing over and over and over again.  It makes no sense.

They won’t remember all of the tiny moments you sweated and grasped for answers, fumbling for the right tools, the right words, the right thing to do. They will just be left with this broad, colorful landscape, full of feelings they felt. And they get to interpret it however they choose. The only certain thing is that we won’t see it the same way.

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I read somewhere that parenting is the a lifelong exercise in unfailing optimism. That sounds about right.

And I have the next four days to find my bootstraps.

 

Five Ways to Fill Your Well

I am re-blogging this fabulous post from The Practical Mystic because it resonates so much with me right now. Summer days are a time of high energy and activity, days are often full of social activities, events and trips. For me, the clear evidence that I have been letting self-care fall by the wayside is when I begin ruining those otherwise lovely, fun-filled times with friends and family by suddenly becoming a miserable grump and resenting everyone around me, including the dog and the cat (omg, especially the cat).

Part of the commitment to self, as the Practical Mystic points out, is carefully observing what your needs are today, in your body and spirit, and knowing that they will shift from day to day, season to season. My usual strong vinyasa practice is not serving me well right now and in the mornings my body is wanting to move more than be still for seated meditation. As the temperature warms and my life is in the midst of major transition, I am being drawn to more restorative or yin yoga practices, exploring tantric breath work and learning more subtle techniques for moving energy in the body.

I am thankful for the great resources offered in this post and re-commit to exploring new ways of nurturing myself in this season, paying closer attention to keeping my “well” from running dry (and I become a heinous bitch version of myself.)

And if it’s already too late and the train has derailed, don’t worry – here is some emergency first aid. I already used it this morning. (:

The Practical Mystic

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One of the things that has been turning over in my head recently harks back to a recent post, where I wondered how it was that my personal practice could be tweaked so that I could avoid burnout and illness during and after a busy period. On a walking talk with my mother the other day, she suggested that now I am in my 40s, my daily routine may need to be tweaked to reflect my changing life. After all, she said, your 40s are a time of hard work out in the world, and these busy times are likely to become the norm. Your practice needs to incorporate filling your well so that you can embrace this time, a time that you have been preparing for over the last decade and longer, without burning out, getting sick or both.

Aha! The missing piece of understanding clicked into…

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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.)

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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