Saturday, August 23, 2014

Relinquishing Control

We can't ask
for what we know we want:
we have to ask to be led
someplace we never dreamed of going,
a place we don't want to be.

We'll find ourselves there
one morning,
opened like leaves,
and it will be all right.
- Kathleen Norris 

Eleanor Hardwick

This past year has brought more change into my life more quickly than I ever imagined possible. It's been a bittersweet mix of joy and loss, fear and empowerment, and many bright emotions that accompany such an intense transition from woman to mother-woman.

I was born to a 29-year old woman, and became the eldest of 8 children to the same parents. No, we are not Catholic or Mormon. (We get that question a LOT in my family). NO, my parents were not trying to repopulate the planet (my mother was actually asked this question by a total stranger in front of 5 of us children while running an errand in town one summer day).

My view of motherhood, as a girl-child, was one of complete and total devotion and sacrifice to your offspring. My mama was THERE there, always present, always available to us. The three oldest children were homeschooled all the way through to graduation, and most of the others were schooled at home for the majority. My mother accomplished this nearly single-handedly. There were field trips to farms and museums and other interesting, and sometimes obscure locations. We got our hands dirty, and we all learned how to properly clean a toilet. We worked hard, and we played hard. We took care of one another. I was never alone, with so many in our home.

But I came to a decision as a young teen that I did not want children of my own.

Perhaps that evolved out of the struggle we faced for so many years living below the poverty line. There were too many occasions I watched the discouragement on my mother's face in grocery stores as she tore out paper food stamp coupons for bread and milk.

Perhaps it was the difficulty I witnessed in my parents' marriage- my father has always, to my knowledge, struggled with mental illness and a seeming inability to  step up, take responsibility and be an adult who chose to have many children. Added to this, he was abusive. Though I (now) feel compassion and forgiveness toward him, he is not a part of my life.

Or maybe it was the deep need I was coming to understand inside myself; the need for freedom and solitude that I intuitively knew mothering children would inhibit for a good number of years.
Perhaps it was all of these things in combination.

Then I met Nino, and we married 15 months later - a huge commitment that I struggled with for several years after our wedding day, only settling into a profound sense of peace and joy in our 6th year of marriage (see this post). It was yet another form of self-relinquishment that I feared, just as I was coming to know myself as an individual, adult woman.

At 25 years old, I was in no hurry to get pregnant. I knew Nino wanted to be a father. It worried me, because I had moments of hunger for motherhood- a child of my own- a second chance at childhood, in a way. But I had seen so much of the responsibility part of things, and had watched my mother's 'mother life' with a keen eye- I hadn't missed a thing.

My sweet Nino, on the other hand, had come from a family of two children in the home, and he was the youngest, and the only son to boot. We had vastly different experiences when it came to growing up.

We spent years having "The Baby Conversation" :
The pros. The cons. The realities and the sacrifices. His longing. My fears.
And then we were in our thirties.

We decided to go for it. We were ready. We tried to get pregnant for nearly two years, without success, and I admit that a very deep part of me was relieved. At least, I didn't feel guilty for saying no to my love, who had wanted daddyhood so badly.

So we gave it up and decided that parenthood wasn't meant for us. We rented a tiny house out in the country- 45 minutes from our family and friends in the city, with one bedroom and no door to the bathroom.

I left my job at the spa I was managing, and after taking some much needed rest, opened my own private practice. We would save, pay off debt, try to convince the owners of our little rental to sell it to us, remodel it and live happily ever after in the country, quietly and contentedly childless (not counting our terrier princess, of course).

And then I was late.
At first I wasn't too worried. I just... noticed.
Then a week passed. Then another day. Then another.
Then I freaked out.

Nino went on a hunting trip with a friend (one he'd been planning and saving for all year).
He would be gone 10 days. He left from work on a Wednesday night.
That night I took a bath.
I lit candles, incense, and turned on some sacred music. The house was silent and all mine.
The steam from the water filled the bathroom- the bathroom I had spent an entire day scrubbing, and two days painting before moving in just months earlier.
I placed my hands on my belly.
'I can't have a baby', I pleaded quietly with my body and whatever being might be planning to take up residence there.
Just the day before, while showering, I was musing about how things have a way of working out- that I would never be pregnant, never be a mama- and I was basically okay with that.
Now here I was, faced with something that I knew deep inside my body but couldn't yet face with my heart or mind.
So I begged. And bargained. And cried. Please, no. Please. Please...

And then I heard... laughter.
Behind me, underneath my heart, from somewhere far away and yet so very close I couldn't hold it.
A giggling, a chuckle, a laugh that was delighted with my fear and my pleading.
And I knew. I wouldn't speak it, but I knew.
'You don't get to control this.' were the words.
And my heart began to race after it stutter-stopped in my chest.

I didn't sleep that night.
I called my mother as early as I dared- waiting until I knew for certain she would be awake.

"Mama, I think I might be pregnant."'

"Ok...... well, honey, why do you think that?"

"I'm pretty late, and my body feels weird, kinda soft everywhere, and my boobs feel mooshy."

"Uh-huh." I could here her facial expression over that phone, I swear to god.

" I don't know if I can do this, mom."

"Alright, honey, well you don't even know for sure yet, so you need to go buy a test and just find out."

"I don't want to!"
I could hear myself- the whiny 10-year old pleading with her mommy.

"Sarah, go buy a damn test. You need to know."
Thanks mom. Always the kick in the ass I need, at just the right moment, in just the right tone of voice.

So I drove to the damn store and bought the damn test. But I had a damn hair appointment, so I drove there after and used the bathroom beforehand.

I peed on a stick.

They say your life flashes before your eyes when you die. Well, the same thing happens when you're waiting to learn if your entire life is about to change....

The packaging on all these things says to wait 2 minutes to be sure that what you're seeing is genuinely the result.
Two minutes weren't necessary, apparently.
It came out with a plus sign IMMEDIATELY. So I peed on three more sticks.
All plus signs.

Oh Holy Shit.
My mind was doing somersaults, and my stomach was doing a pretty good job keeping up with that.
I felt the bottom fall right out of my plans, my life, my ... EVERYTHING.

The laughter again... it came to me quietly.

I was shaking.
I stared at my face in the bathroom mirror. I was going to be someone's mother.
Can I do this? How do I do this? We just decided NOT to do this! What the HELL?!

And then the immediate sense that I was absolutely NOT in control of this.
"You don't get to control this."
This baby had decided to come, despite birth "control".
I laughed in spite of my total terror.

True- I was out of control in the most real sense I had experienced to date.
My husband wouldn't be home for another 9 days.
And he didn't know he was going to be a daddy.


So, I went and sat down and had my hair done.
And I shook.
And I called my mama.
And I fell into another state of consciousness.
I re-thought and re- re-thought everything I knew about my mother, her life, her mothering, my relationship with her... it all became so different, so potent and so relevant.

And I held the secret from my love for 9 more days, in 9 phone calls at sunset checking up on me, even as my body began to be queasy and ill... I pretended I had a cold when Nino asked why I sounded strange.

Ok. I would have a baby. I would become a mama. Life as I knew it to be was over, but in a really gorgeous sense, and the life coming my way? Something unknown, something a little (no, a lot) scary, but something I knew was being sent my way, in spite of ME, to bless me, to teach me, to grow me, to fill me with a new joy.

Something in me swelled- something as yet unnamed, unknown, untouched. Something that would take nearly a year to understand, before this baby would appear. So, I would wait and watch and be brave.

One my most favorite lines in a movie, EVER, is from a romantic comedy. Here you go:

"You are everything I never knew I always wanted" 

yeah. that.

Friday, August 15, 2014

the Loss in Becoming Mother

 I was honored to contribute as a guest writer 
My first post published since the birth of my son,
 I offer this up with love and anticipation for the new
and beautiful chapter unfolding in my life.

Transition is about loss first. Maybe we don't like that, but there it is. If something is changing, something is being let go of and lost. Maybe that's good but it is still loss.

I could tell you about my transition from maiden to mother.
Or about the transition from pregnancy to parenthood.
Or the literal transition during my labor and the birth of my son.

Each one of those things embodied loss in a way I could not fathom until I experienced it.

Regardless of the joy, the delight, the glowing-ness of what has become my new normal, I have been working through a deep and painful sense of loss; loss of Self as I understood Her to be.

Who I am is the collection of years of choices and experiences I've accumulated. But before baby, this was entirely self-propelled and motivated: Who I Want to Be. Who I Choose to Be. Who I Need to Be for Me.

Becoming Mother is entirely about Who HE Is, and Who HE Needs Me to Be for HIM. This means my body is no longer mine, but his. Ditto for my time, my energy, and any other resource in my possession that he can make any use of.

Honestly? There have been times it feels damn insulting.
But we don't talk about those feelings, because mothers are supposed to love being mothers.
And I do. I adore my beautiful boy, and I would not trade him for anything this world has to offer.

But there is pain of loss with such a transition. Grief for the death of everything you are that came before to make room for a new, gloriously tired YOU.

I grieved the loss of my pregnancy after the birth- that private, intimate joy of relationship with this cosmic, magical being growing deep within that nobody could hold but me.

I grieved the change in my relationship with my husband- stronger than ever, more lovingly wound with the tether of CHILD between us, but... changed, nonetheless.

I grieved the lost hours to write- to sit before my altar and meditate, to sit quietly as inspiration flooded me, igniting my heart with the words to put down on paper, in my journal, to share with others.

I grieved the loss of solitude in my home. No longer MY home, but HIS- where he is ruler; walked and rocked and nursed and burped and changed and loved and adored and shushed for endless hours, day after day, month after month...

My books and altar spaces and decorations remain, but are covered over with a thick layer of dust, onesies, diapers and everywhere the faint smell of milk. It hardly feels like the home of a priestess these days.

And yet, that is precisely what it is.

Becoming Mother is to move, clumsily at times, with the ebb and flow of night tides - 3am feedings when your beloved is softly snoring and it seems the whole world is asleep but you and this wildly new creature you're still learning.
Becoming Mother is a purpose-filled transition from What I Need For Me to What I Must: give, do, say, and be for the good and growth of my child.
Becoming Mother is moving in Isis energy- lover/mother energy that gives of herself, her body and time, her whole heart and soul for another because it's Who She Is, yes, but also because it's What Is Needed. Period. You're here, you're Mama, so get it done.

For me, this is what being a priestess looks like right now- I am midwifing myself into motherhood, and my son into personhood with each kiss, each hour holding up aching arms and every minute of so much tiredness I want to cry. It is my sacrifice- and it's nothing in comparison to what others have given- unremarkable, without extremes- but it is mine, a worthy offering for my own life, and my own becoming.

My transition into motherhood has felt like many things.
Loss is only one of them.
But it is powerful, and it is real, and it isn't going away.

It's something that will evolve as I and my baby do- morphing with each passing year into something beautiful and strong that can be looked back on with pride. And I do, already, because it is the hardest work I have ever been asked to perform, and I am doing it without knowing how, really.
But therein lies my work and initiation into the Mother mysteries:
the priestess-ing of my new Self as Mama- acknowledging and accepting the loss as sacred.

Loss is one thing shaping me for something entirely new- something I am beginning to see as quite lovely, something beyond the maiden years of rebellion against limitation and independence of mind. I am bigger now, more spacious for the giving, surrounded by the beauty of loss. May it be blessed.

Cain Anthony, born April 28

Thursday, January 30, 2014

in the belly

When winter comes to a woman's soul, she withdraws
into her inner self, her deepest spaces. She refuses
all connection, refutes all arguments that she should
engage in the world. She may say she is resting,
but she is more than resting: She is creating
a new universe within herself, examining and breaking
old patterns, destroying what should not be revived,
feeding in secret what needs to thrive.
-Patricia Monaghan

Womb by Jen Otey

We yearn toward the light. 
It is the yearning that keeps our feet on the path when the dark threatens to overtake our hearts and we feel faint with dread and soul-numbing fatigue. But before the birth time, the greening, leafing of spring and warmth, there is the time in the belly of a thing. 
This is the nature of the word Imbolc - in Celtic culture literally meaning "in the belly".

For years, I have honored and marked Imbolc, lighting white candles in the black night, setting out the offerings of milk and honey on my altar to Brigid, calling forth the spring and honoring the germinative, productive dark in myself. I have celebrated Imbolc as a breaking forth energy, the fertility of the soil and soul, and all that writhes beneath. Imbolc always felt anticipatory to me, a time to observe the tiny, creeping signs of new life to come in the weeks ahead in the land, and creatively within me.

But there is another layer; another truth in this season that feels particularly bittersweet and profound for me this year. As I await the birth of my son in just a handful of weeks from now, I am shedding and dropping and clearing out to make space for this new life. I am emptying out  life-as-I know-it, even as my body fills and grows larger than it's ever been. 
It's a strange paradox. I am drifting in a reality that is completely foreign to me, destabilized and free-falling into the unknown, while simultaneously contained within a process entirely out of my control. At times this process is thrilling and warm. And there are moments where I feel a keen sense of loss. Of anxiety- around the great unknowns to come, the changes, the inevitable altering of me. 
This is more than cosmetic change at the surface. The very pattern of the weave of my life as I have understood it is moving through a transformation that will leave me forever marked .

This is initiation. The dirty work.
The scraping away of old flesh - my own - to make way for something new, larger, louder, brighter. Bleeding, opening, cracking ground to make way for new shoots to spring up. Surrendering to an unknown outcome because there is truly no going back. And because even if I could at this point, I wouldn't. 
So initiation is a door I willingly, if humbly and sometimes timidly, walk through of my own accord- I am not forced.

Initiation is intrinsically cleansing. it is the most basic of purifications played out in profound measure for the stretching of us. Can you feel the pulling at every end, beloved? It always begins in the belly.

I fidget, I squirm, I resist, I curse and finally... I collapse, surrendering to the process of this birth-before-birth.

Moving through that birth canal is a team effort. 
The child struggles toward the light, turning this way and that, compressing and bending limbs and even bone to fit. The familiar warmth of amniotic fluid filling the soon-to-be airway is pushed away in his labor toward the light. All this happening in the belly and below as mama pushes and bears down. 

This is initiation, moving in the belly. Together. We. Our mind and our soul. Our experience and our Self. We who are today, and our potential fighting for life and clawing toward breath.

It is as much a taking-away as it is a giving-in-to. The emptying that comes before the filling up, and the aching arms that were pleasantly full of the weight of all that was; now required to grow accustomed to air and possibility.

We can accumulate knowledge, practices and truths that serve us well. Until they don't. We outgrow them. They must move through us, out, onward and away from us to new hearts waiting for them, as others travel toward us, waiting for us to invite them in and choose the initiation that will allow us to understand their language. They arrive in the belly first. A clenching in the gut - of faint but definite recognition. "Oh, there you are," we eventually say. "I was wondering when you would arrive."

Our mind, our ego tricks us into believing that there is security in the known. If we know it, if it feels familiar, if we are used to its weight and heat, it must be truth and true for us, always. But this is false, and holds us back from the growth we are meant for. It stalls the birthing process, stopping it dead in its tracks. 

Refusing initiation in any form, when it appears to us in the secret moments, the pained silences, the raging grief or quiet loss of a thing, person, or idea - is certain death to our evolution at some point along the way.

There must be movement toward the light, from the belly place of a thing. Where life stirs in secret darkness before it can be born. Preparation looks as much like clearing out and cleaning up as it does adding to. 

This is more than a quaint decluttering. This is cleansing on a life-changing scale. It cuts to the bone.

And it's time. Time to let go of what used to serve us that we are past now. Time to hold ourselves accountable to the deeper truths that have been growing in strength in the belly for the past weeks and months. 

What is familiar, what is known, is not better where abundant life is the alternative. 

To cross that chasm, to leap that imposing divide into an abundant spring requires a brave initiate and the map only you can read. It was written for no one else.
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