Too foggy to bloggy… (or Desperate Tales from a Duck Bath)

Tonight, sick with a fever and head cold,  I tried to cram my own “there’s no way this is going to fit in there” booty into my son’s toddler sized inflatable duck bath, making sure not to hit the beak which “quacks” at a ridiculous volume, crouched into the tightest Sasangasana rabbit pose I could muster, trying to keep all my body parts warm as I let the trickle of water from the shower head start at my neck and cover as much of me as it could before landing in the oh so tiny, oh so yellow, inflatable duck bath, wearing nothing but a ridiculous pink striped beanie attempting to keep my head warm in the cold bathroom during my worst attempt at a bath since my trip to India… and I thought, hmmm…

So this is Motherhood.

Let me back up.  My son, who came to us the first (and only) time we tried, just 12 days after our wedding day, is a delight.  I love being his mother.  I just didn’t know how hard it was going to be.   I assure you, there is not an ounce of me that would return to my “pre-motherhood” days.  Well, maybe that’s not true.  Maybe the ounce of me that was attempting to shove itself into a puddle of warm duck-bath water would want to go back.  Just for a day… or two… or thirty.  Do you remember those days?  I know you do.  When “sick day” actually meant lying around in PJs feeling sorry for yourself eating Haagen-Dazs Chocolate-Chocolate Chip ice cream, which would actually make you worse, but who cares?  There was no rush to get better.  You were enjoying your Stay-cation, complete with Season Two of Alias on DVD and a couple of warm cats to keep you company?  Oh, those were the days.

Now…  a sick day is “honey, if you could drop off our son at school, I could actually nap for 15 minutes before doing the laundry, cleaning up the toys, dumping the diaper pail, checking my emails for the business, sorting through the next box of hand-me-downs, preparing soup for the night, pureeing some of that soup for baby food, and then taking care of the baby the rest of the afternoon?”   There is no lounging in this sick day.  As a mama, you need to get better, and get better quick.

Hence the strange steam shower duck bath adventure.

Let me also back up to say that we are spending our last year of my husband’s law school living with my folks.  My mother made a generous offer to us, clearing out their entire lower level, to help us reduce debt and maybe actually be able to buy our own home someday.  This experiment in inter-generational living released many pressure valves for us, but created some new ones.  One, which I didn’t realize how big it would feel later, was no bathtub.  Of course there’s one I could use upstairs, but when you’re already feeling like a seven-year old, getting sickie-poo, the last thing you need to see is your own sweet mother’s smiling face.  I might just break into a million pieces.

My mother made this offer first just after our baby was born.  We weren’t ready, but after another year, and watching our finances, we decided to take them up on it.  We also figured we were better prepared to share space, now that we weren’t “new parents” anymore.  We’re a year and half into this, right? But frankly, I still feel like a new parent.  Actually, I feel like I’m in some sort of zone… not a seasoned parent for sure, and not that “Oh my god he hasn’t pooped for 8 hours, we have to take him to the ER” kind of new parent, but somewhere in the middle.  The Toddler Zone.  Where the sleep deprivation has just become a way of life, and the thoughts of ever returning to some kind of normal have gone the way of my skinny jeans and my “me time.”

I think nothing can prepare you for motherhood.

You can’t read a book about it, or listen to your friend’s stories. Like traveling to India, you have to see it for yourself, feel it, smell it and live it before you can really know.  You know you’ll be tired, but you don’t know that you’ll feel like you have an ever increasingly worse case of Mono that never lets up over a two-year period.  You know you’ll have some baby blues, but you don’t know that you’ll actually consider options like, “hmm, would it be easier to drive off this cliff? Or to actually go home and deal with my life?”  You know your life will never be the same.  But you don’t know that you’ll look back on your pre-motherhood life like it was a strange dream your old college buddy told you about.

You definitely don’t know that you’ll be crammed into a two foot by two foot shower stall, attempting to bathe in something made for someone who weighs less than 20 pounds, feeling like you are getting sick but talking to God in used-car salesman language “Okay, God, I know I’m supposed to be sick right now, but If I could just move it to next week, that’d be really great.  Or if I could be really sick tonight, but all better tomorrow? Could we work that out?”  You don’t know that all the while, you’ll be writing this David Sedaris style blog entry in your head to try to get you through one of the most bizarre moments of your life.  And knowing that if you don’t write it down, the next time you will have 10 minutes to yourself is probably in 2013.  Do blogs imitate life?  Or does life imitate blogs? I don’t know, but I do know these mommy blogs can truly save us.  To know that someone else, be it Annie Lamott, or Heather Armstrong, has walked up to the edge that you’ve walked up to, thought the same crazy thoughts, and turned around and went back to her life.  This saves us.

This is motherhood.  Or at least motherhood for me, tonight.  I know it will pass.  Tomorrow the sun will come up and I will see my smiling little angel’s face and smell his warm salty smell, and feel my heart break open once again, but right now…

I just want a bath.

And not one where my butt is getting a rubbed raw by rubber and one wrong move could send a screaming loud quacking sound into my son’s room on the other side of the wall.

But this is what mothers do.  There is nothing sustainable or balanced about it.  It comes from the deepest love we may ever feel.  It’s a crazy experiment in seeing just how much of our self-care is negotiable.  And how much isn’t.  Speaking of that, I better go to sleep.  Goodnight, to all the mothers out there.  Goodnight nobody.  Goodnight air.  Goodnight noises everywhere.

“QUACK!”

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I will Survive (thoughts on survivors giving birth)

 

 

note: This post was originally published by the Mother’s Advocate Blog.

 

There is a club that no one wants to join. Yet, more than half of all women will join this club at some point in their lives. There is no mark, no mascot, and no handshake. In fact, you could be standing next to another member and never know it. But every once in a while, in the right setting, a woman tells another woman her story. And then there is the knowing moment, the held eye contact, the smile to say, “I know, I’m a member too.” The members of this club are sexual abuse survivors. Every member’s story is different, but one thing is the same. You cannot turn in this membership card. This story is now part of your life.

Somewhere along the way, survivors miraculously open their hearts (and bodies) again —to love, to partnership, and sometimes to pregnancy. For many sexual abuse survivors, preparing to give birth is a moment of truth. Their healing is about to be put to the test. A full-grown newborn baby is going to come through their body, through their pelvis, and through their most sacred places, to make its way into the world. This shy, sexual place — with all its hurts, secrets and stories — is about to be turned inside out, opened to a profound, chosen violation. I use the word violation here for a reason. Our baby is not truly “violating” us, but I can think of few things in life that provide such an intense opening, tearing, out of control feeling as birth. And for members of the club, birth can easily trigger the feeling of violation.

I am a member of this club.

My story is unimportant here — better than some, worse than others — a story of being manipulated, being controlled, and having my body used by someone else without my permission. By the time I was pregnant, I felt I had done my due diligence on my story. I had packaged it up in some deep closet of my being — safe, sound, sleeping. I had supported other survivors giving birth as a doula, and knew all about the questions to ask them. I would make sure they had talked to their partner, their care provider, and anyone else who would be at the birth. I helped them identify potential triggers, and ways to cope if things came up. I, however, had done none of this for myself. During my own pregnancy, my story seemed far from my mind.

I did notice, however, that I was preoccupied with avoiding a cesarean birth. Having seen 130 births before having my own, I knew this was common. Most women feel strongly about avoiding a cesarean. I also knew this fear could be a barrier in my birth process. With a keen guide and the powerful tool of art therapy, I was able to dive deeper. Near the end of a session one day, we decided to tackle my fear of cesarean birth. Having supported other women, I knew the play-by-play and setting exactly. I carefully drew the details: the blue sterile drape, the medical instruments, my arms strapped to the table with restraints, doctors in masks. My therapist then gently pressed me to look closely.

“What about this image is the most scary for you?”

And there it was … the restraints. More than the incision, more than the blood, the anesthesia, the scalpel — it was the restraints. And like a time traveler, I was thrown back to another time and place — my wrists bound, my scared naked body, and the eyes of my perpetrator looking cold and devious. A flood of tears erupted, and suddenly I remembered: I was a survivor.

I needed to treat myself as I would my clients — with care, gentleness and awareness. In that moment, I was waking up to what it meant to be a survivor giving birth. This was a time for opening to the softness, the feminine, the mystery, and the hurt inside of my core as a woman. Needless to say, our session went a little over. When the tears subsided, we returned to the art, to the image — adding light, adding God, taking the masks off the doctors, and giving them humanity. Taking one hand out of the restraints, and adding last, but not least, the miracle of the day — the baby. My baby.

As I walked home that day, I knew that I was healing. By looking the dragon in the face, I felt my whole being soften. I knew I would no longer need a cesarean birth, or any other specific birth outcome to teach me something. Nor would my fears cause my body to shut down. And I knew if a cesarean birth was what my baby truly needed, that I could meet it with grace and consciousness.

I also knew I had a lot of work to do.

I needed to talk to my care providers and my husband about my past, and more specifically about how it might affect my present. Perhaps the most important thing we can do as survivors preparing to give birth is to tell our story. Working with a midwife or a very compassionate doctor who will take the time to listen is especially important for survivors. You may choose to have your partner join you for the conversation and focus on the facts: “I’d like you to know this about me. You don’t have to fix anything, but here are some things that I need you to do. Tell me before you do anything physically to my body, so I can be prepared for what to expect. Avoid the following words: ‘Trust me,’ ‘relax,’ etc.” If you are closer to your care provider, you might choose to really let them into your story, to open yourself to their healing words and experience.

If there are certain words that your perpetrator used, advise everyone who will be at your birth to avoid those words. If you’d like to avoid unnecessary vaginal exams, communicate that. If you need to have one hand free from the restraints in a cesarean birth, put that in your paperwork. With preparation, compassion and communication, your birth can be a profound place of finding your voice — and speaking up for that little girl or young woman inside of you.

Next, I explored the differences between abuse and birth.

If birth could feel like a violation, how would I tell my body that this was different — that there was a purpose? I looked at the differences.

Permission: I will be choosing to allow this baby to spread my pelvic bones wide, as I welcome him into my arms.

Love: This baby was created from an act of love, as is giving birth.

Protection: The people around me, as opposed to my perpetrator, are there to protect and support me.

Power: I will give birth. I will actively work with my baby to create a miracle. Very different, indeed.

I am happy to say that when I did give birth — although it was not easy — it was not violating. And although I felt forces much bigger than me at work, I never felt out of control. In contrast to what I feared, the moment of pushing and helping my baby navigate my pelvis was the most powerful moment of the whole experience. As my baby pressed into the walls of my being, pressing impossibly wider with every push, the old story seemed to be forced right out with him. There was no room for the story of a small, voiceless victim. A new story was being written, cell by glorious cell. This part of my body was a place of power, of divine strength. This was a place where miracles happened. This was a home, the beginning of another person’s life. This small, perfect boy was remapping the way for me, showing me what femininity was all about. He was teaching me about trust. He was showing me that I could be violated, could give way, could tear in two — all in a glorious celebration of life.

Through this act of love, I deepened my healing.

After the birth, the small tear healed, the bleeding stopped, and I was new. Something had shifted — so powerfully that I knew my membership status had changed. Of course, I was still a member. I always will be. But I could feel that the shame was gone, and in its place was a desire to help others find this “reset.” I wanted to help other survivors approach their births as more than just an ordeal to manage, more than the avoidance of their triggers. I wanted to help other survivors realize that birth is an opportunity to dismantle the entire trigger itself. And as I held my perfect little man in my arms — both of us tired and weeping — I wanted to thank him, over and over again, for showing me love, for showing me my strength, and for being part of my healing.

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Another beginning…

In the dawn of a new year, there is always a buzz about resolutions, intentions, and all the ways in which this year will be like no other before:  the weight we will lose, the wonderful person we will be, the yoga classes we will attend, the meditation we will do, the glowing patient presence we will offer to our families.  And then, come February, these resolutions have been tossed aside for the habits that are much stronger than the intentions that we set.

Five years ago, I traded this resolution setting from long unattainable lists to one single word.   Each year, I choose one word as a theme.  This theme is what I will root myself to for the year, the lens I will look at every situation with, the quality I will strive to be in relationship with, the conversation I will be having with my higher self for the year.  These themes are not forgotten in February, March or even at the end of the year.  They are a constant, a north star guiding me through each month, and each challenge. I can still remember each word of the last five years:

I started with Faith, then Loss, Grace, Service, and last year:  Sanity.

Of course these words are sneaky.  You could choose a word like Faith and expect a year of miracles, of quiet prayerful moments, walking serenely through the year with God’s hand in yours.  NO WAY.  Choose that word and immediately you are given opportunities to have faith.  Very different.   The year I chose faith I went through a terrible break-up, two moves in six months, and a change of business.  And conversely the year I chose the word Loss, (developing and deepening my relationship to and capacity for loss), was the year I traveled to India, fell deeply in love, got engaged to my husband, and enjoyed business success.  Choosing the word Sanity last year took me to the edges of my own sanity and had me question my relationship with depression and self-care.

This year’s word came as they often do, somewhere in December, upon reflection of my year before, and what was the most important intervention in my habits at the moment.  To go back to 2002 for a moment, I took a course with an amazing man, Breck Costin, called the Freedom Course. At the end of the course, you are given a mission. Mine was “to be satisfied with what I get.”  I hated it.  I wanted everyone else’s mission.  I even took a course again in 2008 and asked for a new mission.  I was given the same mission.

Satisfaction.

This is my word for 2011.  It goes beyond acceptance for me.  To actually be satisfied with what is there in front of me.  Whether it is with my child, who might be tantrum-ing in my arms, my business, which could be causing stress, my sleep (or lack thereof), or just my life as it is right now.  From tiny things like the dinner in front of me, to bigger things like the choices I have made in my life.  Satisfaction. With my life, my marriage, my path, my lessons, my self.

I know this will bring up it’s opposite, as I have seen before, and I look forward to the journey.

For now, I am going to go to bed.  Satisfied with this as my first post of 2011.

Wishing you all inspiration, clarity and satisfaction.

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