Motherhood has, as of late, turned me upside down. I guess I had it coming. When I became pregnant for the first time unexpectedly, I didn't have cold feet about becoming a mother. I didn't fear losing my freedom nor my body. I had a doctor who interpreted most of my pregnancy as having the potential to go very wrong, yet I carried to term and I gave birth quickly and easily, with the help of a doula rather than drugs. I nursed easily and my baby was healthy and I did not suffer from postpartum depression. My "pre-baby body" returned, I ran my organic tea business out of my home, and all was good. It was all so good. And now, it's harder. A lot harder.Read More
There's a lesson in this. This mantra is how I'm learning to approach struggle everyday, the inevitable hiccups that wrench my insides, literally and metaphysically and metaphorically. This is how I open to the purpose of struggle, bringing clarity, and eventually, freedom.
It's what I think when I lose patience with my little children and I say or do something I regret.
It's what I think when I spend money on something that makes my body contract instead of expand.
It's what I think when words slip easily from my mouth and I find myself wishing I could repossess entire conversations.
It's what I think when I drink liquor and I wake up in the middle of the night to vomit the food I could not digest.
It's what I think when I share something on social media only to delete it later.
It's what I think when I stay up late and I have to survive the next day.
It's what I think when I hear myself spewing venom to someone I love dearly, whether it's my husband or my child or my sister or my mom.
It's what I think when my two older children fight and I don't know how to make them stop.
It's what I think when I stay home for too many hours or days and I forget to enjoy the landscape of this tiny yet massive planet.
It's what I think when I compulsively check social media or get caught up in the world wide web in all of its sticky splendor.
It's what I think when I stop writing every day.
It's what I think when I feel in the pit of my stomach that something isn't right.
Sometimes, the lesson is simply a reminder: this is not for you.
I can drink wine in moderation because my body processes it, but I must stay away from the liquor.
I can buy anything I really need, but I should never go shopping for entertainment or therapy.
I can stay up late, but for the love of God, I must put down the book by midnight.
Sometimes the lesson is to think (and breathe!) before I speak, to make a schedule and stick with it, to not speak at all, to keep calm and carry on, to get out of the house, to fill my cup before I run dry.
Sometimes the lesson is that something needs to change. That I have beliefs to release and edges to find.
The same challenges show up in our lives until we learn from them.
So, the next time the struggle has you in it's clutches, why not ask yourself: what is the lesson in this? You might be surprised at what comes up.
This is day 4 of 30 consecutive days of blogging. I’m glad you’re along for the ride. If you liked this post, please share using the buttons below. If you have something to add, feel free to comment openly or anonymously.
These are Lessons from My Children, a new series on the blog. Everything we experience is temporary. Feelings are fleeting and newborns learn how to sit up. Sadness ebbs and flows. Happiness is a choice, a way. Like beauty, success exists in the eye of the beholder.
Children beg us for attention and this confuses us because we think our attention is nothing too special, nothing worth working hard or crying over. We don't always know what our children know. We tend to forget we're all babies, innocent to the mystery of existence. I'm not sure who has more to learn from the other--children or adults?
We call children innocent because they know so little of the world we've spent decades seeking to understand. Including their own cuteness, their own perfection. (Does anybody?) Skyla, now 12 weeks young, bobs around in our arms, her piercing black eyes looking at everything and nothing, taking it all in, this wild world of ours.
But I'm starting to think she knows things I don't. About God and angels and the intricacies of the human face. Things I'm too busy to notice.
Giovanna spotted a butterfly on the other side of the car window and she squealed like she'd seen a miracle.
And she did, didn't she? The caterpillar, who went to sleep and awoke with wings, thinks so.
She dragged me into the front yard because "something happened." Her face looked the way we think kids should look on Christmas morning. But she didn't need a truckload of presents.
I peered between the newly opened petals and what I saw turned my skin to gooseflesh. I felt like I'd become privy to a secret, a certain intimacy with nature. In blooming, the poppy showed us what she was made of. Not just pistil and stigma, but pattern and individuality, every flower exhibiting different interpretations of the same genes.
Not unlike people. Whether you like it or not, your DNA is 99.9% the same as your neighbor, your enemy and your best friend. In that 0.01%, our opinions reside like stubborn rocks and our passions begin and bloom and wilt and die.
There is no one who experiences pleasure as you do. There was no other baby who cried just like you and there will never be another adult who can offer the world what you have.
It doesn't matter what excites you, what makes you giddy, it only matters that you let yourself be giddy over the things that bring you happiness in the eternally fleeting moment, whether it's a flower or an ice cream cone or an unexpected smile. Let yourself memorize faces and stare at patterns until they become something else entirely. Look up. Follow the gaze of children. Just by noticing their enthusiasm I find my heart growing and my mind wandering into uncharted territories where words flow like waterfalls and beauty appears everywhere, as prolific as flowers in the month of May.
Depression. It's like cancer. Either you've had it or you love someone who's had it. And it comes in a huge variety. Like headaches. Benign and fleeting or heavy and serious and in rare cases, deadly.
Feeling depressed here and there is leaps and bounds from chronic debilitating depression that interferes with your relationships and passions and work and everything else...but mostly your natural state. Your birth right. Your happiness.
What is happiness anyways? I think it comes from the joy we find in the moment.
I'm sitting here in my bathrobe, nursing Skyla while Giovanna draws with a pen in Daddy's old notebook, pondering depression and happiness and joy. I've had a bad morning and I'm sad and I'm wondering when things will get easier and when I won't feel so bewildered by life.
The sun just broke through a few clouds, bringing with it an immense shining of gratitude. I want to climb out of the hole but I can't find the first step. So I ask myself, what's Good about this moment?
The sky. The lake. The abundance of trees. The sweet fuzzy head between my arms. The curly talking head to my right. The laptop beneath my fingers. The people on the other side of my phone.
If you stop enjoying that which you once loved, day after day and week after week, I hope you seek help in a professional or a loved one or both. This is the kind of depression that needs treatment, though I'm sure there are as many definitions of depression as there are people who experience it. Likewise, depression does not arise from an isolated reason but from a complex web of experiences, past and present; the tangles in your auric field.
And then there's the anxiety that either contributes to depression or is often a byproduct of depression. Suffice it to say that depressed people have a lot to worry about, and people who worry have a lot to be depressed about. The world is just so damn scary and evil and hard. Even white middle-class Americans like myself know that things can fall apart in a second, and nothing is guaranteed. When we have our basic needs met, we have everything to lose. What's more, we have expectations. We want to know deep satisfaction and purpose and maybe even a certain version of "success." Maybe we don't believe ordinary is enough; maybe we want more. We think happiness is something to find or have or keep or achieve.
A loved one recently shared with me a transcontinental conversation with a loved one of her own, an African man who is happy in spite of living in poverty. He makes $30 per month, most of which goes to his daughter's school fees and medical care. He lives with no running water, no electricity, but plenty of death. He said that because of the struggle to survive, Africans live only day to day and don't worry about tomorrow.
In other words, they live in the moment, and not because they're trying to be zen or mindful. If they get to eat today, then today is a good day.
He said: if you worry about tomorrow, you'll go mad.
Simple truths are often the most profound, the most important to digest and understand.
May we remember this when we find ourselves in billows of stress. May we take this to heart when we become paralyzed by anxiety. May we focus on enjoying the moment rather than preparing for the future. May we practice looking for the Good so our minds stay healthy. May we turn down the volume so we can live in peace.
Just do what you can, now.
There we were. It was a Friday evening. A beautiful bright Friday, somewhat rare in the bipolar month of March. In two days, my baby would be four weeks old and we were taking her with us out to dinner for the first time at one of those conveyor belt sushi places. I anticipated the sashimi after 9+ months of abstaining.
I should have been enjoying myself.
In the car, Skyla cried. We'd left the house to pick up James' car from the mechanic but then we'd ventured further so I could get my new iPhone. And I felt guilty. I didn't really need a new phone, I just wanted one. I didn't really need to stay out and about, I just wanted to. As my tiny baby flailed her arms and screamed her little heart out, growing sweaty and crimson and all out of sorts, I knew it was my fault. No longer did I want a new phone, no longer did I want to get out of the house after nearly 4 weeks of holing up, I just wanted to hold her in my arms and soothe her frayed nerves.
Alas. We were already there. The parking meter wouldn't work and James was parking his car on another street and my moby wrap touched the dirty sidewalk as I clumsily wrapped myself in it while my baby continued to believe she was being tortured. I felt like a drippy foolish mess.
I got her in the wrap and hooked her up to my breast. James showed up and found a parking meter that would actually spit out the sticker. Gigi entertained herself in the AT&T store. I got my shiny and sharp gold iPhone. It was dinner time and we decided we might as well eat somewhere nearby. The rain had come before the sun and so the light reflected off of the slick streets, shrinking puddles of sunshine.
We were in a pedestrian-heavy neighborhood of Seattle and everyone around us seemed to be smiling. (The sun will do that to us Pacific-Northwesterners.)
I was not smiling. I clutched Giovanna's hand, weary of the cars whizzing by, separated from my babies by just a curb. The world can be such a scary place when you have so many fingers and toes to lose. This was one of my first outings as a mother of two and I thought it to be pretty damn intimidating.
What if someone coughed on my baby? What if Giovanna caught salmonella from the sushi? (Not that she was eating the raw pieces.) What if she broke free and ran into the street? What if a car ran up onto the sidewalk? What if someone hit us on the way home? What if my baby cried again? Would there be sweat marks in the car seat? Would her brain be irrevocably damaged from the neglect? Did it count as neglect?
Why was I so stressed out? I felt jealous of everyone on the street who seemed relaxed, I felt jealous of my former childless self. So carefree and unencumbered. Never again will I be so free.
And this is what I love most about my life: my family. my children. So why can't I take refuge in my blessings and relax into them?
A crux of parenting: either I'm not with my kids and I'm worrying about them, or I'm with them and able to focus on little else. Either way, they're in the forefront of my mind. Unless they're sleeping. Right now Skyla is snoozing and I can see her on the video monitor. Giovanna and Emile are with James in the hammock and though I can see them through my window, I don't have to watch them.
Gigi has a baby doll and Emile is wearing sunglasses and I'm still worried that someone is going to fall out of the hammock and get hurt. But because they're with their daddy, I know he will catch them.
I daresay I am semi-relaxed. I love this feeling. Like I'm dipping my toes in the ocean. I want to be here more often.
I don't want to live my life in a state of anxiety. It's exhausting and draining and soul-sucking. I want more trust and less fear. I want to enjoy things like a sushi dinner on a pretty Friday evening, the sunset tinging the edges of the sky orange. Not the orange that means CAUTION but the orange that means FUN.
How do parents learn to let go of their worries? Is it possible? I know there are many mothers out there who struggle with this. I feel them. We are desperate to protect our babies from hardship, disease, injury and heartbreak even while knowing that our control is not powerful but powerfully limited.
All we can do is pray. And worry.
What I don't know is how many mothers out there have managed to siphon the stress away, channeling this nervous energy into something useful. Maybe even beautiful.
I would like to channel it into my stories, the fiction I write while everyone else is sleeping. My previous post here was part of a blog hop in which a group of writers made fun of our own paranoia by writing a story together through the eyes of an extremely anxious person. We had a grand ole time and we found some new friends in one another.
I'm tired. I want to relax. I want parenting to be lighter. Maybe it's not meant to be light, but surely I can learn to manage the stress when it starts to impede on my mental health and therefore my disposition.
I am going to practice. Perhaps the more I focus on relaxing, the more relaxed I will become. Perhaps the more I find my happy place, drinking herbal teas and getting massages and reading books, the better acquainted I will become with that happy place and the easier it will be to find when I need it.
I want to focus on being rather than doing. (Which includes thinking.)
I want to enjoy this fleeting and fragile time in my life with greater ferocity.
I want to embody love rather than fear.
I just want to stress less. About everything, from the rampant messes to the safety of the playground (see picture below) to the circulating illnesses to the state of their hearts.
Say it with me: don't worry, be happy.
Something kinda cool happened the other day. I was rifling through the folders on my hard-working laptop when I found an article that I'd written exactly one year earlier with a specific website in mind. When they didn't want it, I forgot about it. In the past year I've discovered a new website (is it just me or are websites as infinite as the stars in the sky?) that I love even more than that other one. And so I sent in this randomly-found piece and they claimed it just a few hours later.
It made me wonder...what else is hiding out in my computer, waiting patiently to be published? What else is possible?
The article explains 7 Ways to Get Unstuck. It occurred to me that the article itself had to get "unstuck," and paradoxically it took both #3 (Be still and wait) and #7 (Stop waiting) to get there.
image via ceitci.org
I wrote this post approximately 36 hours before my water broke in the comfort of my own home. Baby is here and healthy and my birth story will be posted in due time. In the meantime I'd like to share my thoughts on the end of pregnancy, and how it felt to go past my due date.
photo credit: Jessica May Photography
There's a reason so many women become batty towards the end of their pregnancy.
The waiting is hard. The waiting can siphon away your energy like a leech drinking blood, a leech you can't rip off until he's gotten enough. The waiting can keep you home all day and awake at night. The waiting can send you to google for every strange sensation. The waiting can consume you.
When you're waiting for a baby it's easy for the rest of the world to fall away. It could happen any minute. It could start today or in a week. Your universe hinges on the baby's arrival.
There you hang. By the thread that holds baby inside. Stretching thinner with every passing second.
For me, the waiting is harder the second time around. I am completely aware of all the ways my life is about to change. I know the pain and the power and the ultimate joy to be found in birth. I know how it feels for a baby to descend through the birth canal and widen my pelvic bones and latch onto my breast for the first time. I know the flood of oxytocin and the bliss of life with a newborn.
I can't wait and yet I must. I can't wait and yet I want to. Life in the womb is perfect and whole, fleeting and full. I am full of baby and I love it. Once she comes out, there's no going back. I will miss her being inside, submerged in the fluid of life, submerged in me.
Still, I can't help but feel like everything is on hold. It's like depression in that all of my usual interests do not hold the same appeal. In the mornings I don't want to work out. In the evenings I don't want to write. I stopped wearing makeup and (maternity) jeans. Come 3 AM you can find me in the kitchen eating yogurt or reading a novel. I go to the bathroom four or five times or more per night. In order to get a decent night's sleep I have to be in bed for at least 10 hours because I spend so much time awake, waiting for slumber, listening for the pop. Literally. Giovanna's arrival started with an early morning pop that woke me from my slumber, the breaking of my waters that brought the immediate onset of contractions.
And I'm most likely waiting for the wrong thing. Each birth is as unique as each person. There's no use in trying to predict when or how she will come. Just like birth will necessitate a profound letting go, enjoying these last few days (hours? weeks?) of pregnancy requires that I let go of my agenda, my predictions and especially my fears.
I've been told by more than one person close to me that I seem very calm about my pregnancy and birth. I took this sentiment as the utmost of compliments. Because this is how I want to bring my child into this world: peacefully. Upon a billow of faith.
Yes, I am calm. I trust my baby to choose the right moment and I trust my body to do the work.
As long as my water doesn't break in this Starbucks.