Motherhood: Inception, Alchemy, and Option. Part Two of a Short Series

I believe, perhaps too strongly, in living a life with a plan. Not for me, the aimless floating in the Flow! Rigorous self examination is a constant. So, in an effort to keep my life, including relationships and work, on a productive trajectory, I ask myself: What is my goal? Who am I trying to reach? Why?

I’ve landed on this: I am hoping use the stories of my own life to connect women to each other, for I believe it’s in authentic connection with a medley of others that we create the sort of beautiful song that our lives are meant to be. Old and young. Faith-led and ambivalent. Married and single. Mother and not.

When a woman becomes a mother, there’s an alchemy at the soul level: love fuses with fear; self-awareness morphs to other-awareness. We are changed by becoming mothers. But as the mother of an adult daughter who is not sure she will ever choose motherhood as well as a daughter who embraced it at the by-modern-standards-young age of 24, I bear witness to the power of the life lived on either side of the coin. It is beautiful to watch a woman exercise choice over this profound condition called “Motherhood.”

Becoming a mother is, for many of us, a beloved experience. Not for all, I know. There are women for whom motherhood is a burden. Maybe for practical reasons like health dangers. Maybe because the partner is cruel. Perhaps because there is not enough money or danger lurks in surroundings. Becoming a mother is, for some of us, impossible. We all know a woman whose empty arms ache. Some are forced to make the bitter choice of whether to carry a terminally ill baby to term. My heart hurts for all of these women.

There are women who become moms through adoption or fostering. That’s its own damn miracle. And sometimes, men do all the parenting themselves and it’s pretty amazing.

Lots of babies are born by C-Section. Equally miraculous, and not one whit less blessed or authentic. My pregnancy and childbirth story just happens to be a bit more conventional. I love it, because it’s my story. I bet there are elements that all moms share, no matter the route to motherhood: the sweetness of holding a child, the agony of watching a child be ill or injured, the long nights of worry and wakefulness.

For me, becoming a mother was magical. Of course, many moms both cherish the experiences of pregnancy and childbirth, but shudder a bit, too. Let’s get real and honest: it hurts. Growing a baby is wonderful, but it also stretches your ligaments painfully. Feet swell. Rings get tight. Backs ache. Braxton-Hicks contractions twinge. Stuff leaks out your lady-plumbing. Hairs grow in previously smooth places. Comfortable sleep becomes quixotically impossible.

My first full term pregnancy was pretty easy- my body responded to growing a child with a lot of enthusiasm. I was a college student, so I did all my projects ahead of time, to be ready. I nested by waking up one night, just a few days before labor, and scrubbing the baseboards of our student housing apartment with a toothbrush.

The second pregnancy was less peaceful. We discovered I was pregnant while my husband was in the hospital, recovering from a near-fatal bout with viral spinal encephalitis. I had confided in his doctor that I suspected I might be pregnant, and worried that his disease might have gotten to the baby. He assured me that that would not be the case, but tested me anyway. I wore a pacifier tied around my neck when I went to visit Travis in his hospital room. and his face first showed confusion, then joy as he realized that he was alive, and he would be a father again. We were facing medical bills and unemployment, but those mountains seemed insignificant against the knowledge of just how close he’d come to dying. 

The third, though, her birth was my favorite. We had looked into a home birth for purely monetary reasons. My husband worked for a church that did not provide health insurance, we were living in a state where my teaching certificate was not valid,  and any part time job I could find didn’t pay enough to cover child care costs.

In 1994, home birth was definitely a fringe undertaking, more so than even now. We researched and met with a midwife named Ruth, she was very nurturing, but also pragmatic. She would not brook any argument on one issue, in fact, I had to sign a document on my first visit: if, at any time, she felt I or baby were at risk, I had to follow her directive to go to the hospital. This was the very assurance that was at the top of my wish list, I knew I did not want a midwife who was so committed to the global cause of home birth and natural medicine that she would put my baby’s life at risk to prove a point. I had one visit with an MD, then spent the rest of my pregnancy with Ruth overseeing my care.

Libby didn’t seem to want to be born. At church, our preacher took the pulpit after a rousing rendition of “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder,” looked over at me, and kindly (and laughingly) proclaimed that “When the roll is called up yonder, Kim will still be here.” Waiting for the baby, her meant. The congregation had a good chuckle- they were anxious for that baby to arrive, and a little worried about our unusual birthing plan.

On a September Sunday, I awoke to the sound of a popping cork; labor had begun. We called Ruth, then did what we had practiced: I walked the little house for hours, Travis following behind with a towel (thank God we had wood floors) and squatted deep at each contraction. Our other two kids awoke just at the moment I needed to start pushing, so , we bundled them off to church with neighbors, and then got to work.

On a bed covered with protective sheets, Travis leaned up against the headboard, I planted myself between his knees, and had the most primal and beautiful experience I can imagine. Sunlight was streaming in through the windows, and when Libby crowned, Ruth laid her hands on Libby’s head and prayed her into the world. Libby was born wrapped in blessings.

That blessed baby is a now a mother. I held her right knee and coached her during the births of both of her children, and watching my grandchildren enter the world has been a gift of immeasurable value. Libby is a woman who has fulfilled one aspect what womanhood means for her.

I have another daughter. She is walking a different path. She has, for now, chosen to build a life of independent creativity.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

She is a writer, a filmmaker, and an explorer who jokes that her projects are my grandbabies, for she labors intensely to bring them into the world. I love that. She digs deep into the heart of feminism, she stands strong at the intersection of activism and art. She, too, is fulfilling what womanhood means for her.

These women, these creators-of-art, pioneers-of-independence, activism-as-caregivers have always been among us.

We haven’t always appreciated them like we should, instead assuming them to lonely and unfulfilled, we’ve pressured them to conform.

I believe the act of creation is what changes us. Whether it’s a child or a book, a family or a film, magical alchemy occurs when it’s done with the intention of love. It may even be both: motherhood and art. May we embrace and bless the women who choose motherhood, and also those who walk a different path. Fulfillment is not, after all, found only in tradition; it can be found equally in divergence.

Tell Them a Story. Like Big Bird!

“Sunny day
Sweeping the clouds away
On my way to where the air is sweet
Can you tell me how to get
How to get to Sesame Street?”

This morning, my daughter suggested we turn Sesame Street on for her one-year-old. We did, and oh, the feelings that swept through me.

It’s the first week of a new decade. My holiday decorations are stored, the garage is impossible to use while we try to clear the house of clutter, I used New Year’s Eve to paint a bedroom. There’s a new baby, just twenty days old, living in my house and distracting me from my chores (I am joyous to oblige him). Lots of fresh starting going on.

There’s also a lot of nostalgic wishing and sighing. A little angst- I still haven’t had a book published or lost the ten pounds I need to, but those are little angsts. The big angst is over people I miss. When you’re very, very young, like my two grandchildren, time has no meaning. Days? Months? Years? Decades? Pfft. When you’re a teen or perhaps a young adult, every new year may feel like the beginning, like a fresh start full of promise. Onward!

img_3129

When you’re in the middle, like I am, you look forward and backward in equal measure. And this morning, with Big Bird on the screen, I didn’t just glance backward. My very soul seemed pulled right out of the now. The episode began with Elmo singing with friends on the stoop of the brownstone, the green doors opening to reveal Gordon, his father, and his son, Miles. They told a surprised Elmo and Miles, who couldn’t imagine that the two old guys might have been musicians, stories of their younger days as a singer and a guitarist. Gordon’s flashback included Luis and Bob, and my five-year-old spirit danced in recognition.

I have always loved Sesame Street. Its literacy lessons gave me reading, but its inclusive kindness gave me hope. I was a pretty lonely kid, and Big Bird’s gentle love for the invisible Snuffy was a source of great joy for me. When my own eldest was a toddler, I shared SS with her on the Lubbock PBS station; Ernie was her favorite. For her second Christmas, we got her an Ernie ornament for our tree. My father was with us that Christmas, and when we hung that Ernie, he told me that he remembered how I had loved the show as a small girl. I had never realized he’d noticed that. But I did, I really did love it. And my dad. He loved me, too.

Caroll Spinney, the operator and voice of both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, passed on my granddaughter’s first birthday, and as she stood at the TV screen this morning, I realized anew just how important it is that we pass along, to our children and grandchildren, all the things that Sesame Street holds dear: kindness, literacy, and story.

Story is power, it is magic, it is blessing and curse. Humans love stories. We draw them, film them, record them, write them, and tell them around campfires. My Grandma June used to tell the same family yarns over and over at gatherings, so often repeating herself that her kids and kids-in-law developed a hand signal: when Grandma started a story they’d all heard before, they would start flashing their fingers above their heads to indicate how many times they’d heard the tale. Then they’d all laugh, including Grandma, and she’d tell the story anyhow. Story is how the thread of a family can be woven in and around generations, creating a tapestry that is indestructible. It may become threadbare at times, perhaps worn or frayed, but the through-line will preserve a household. How can we share story?

Story can be long. My Grandmother Juanita was a seamstress; when I’d visit and she needed to sew for a client, she’d set me up near her machine with my own doll, fabric scraps, needle, and thread. I’d cut and stitch as she made beautiful dresses, while stories fell from between her pin-filled lips. Stories of raising children while picking cotton, stories of church. Stories about the women who came to her home for dress fittings. She shared an oral history with me that could not have been heard if we’d been in front of a screen. Those stories took hours of communication: her talking, me listening and asking questions.

But that’s not the only way to share story. There are ways to incorporate it into a daily life lived in such a way that our tales flow out of us, long and short, deeply profound or joyfully silly, memorable or not. Each story shared, no matter length or gravitas, builds a connection with each other: parent to child, roomie to roomie, teacher to student.

Though I usually shy away from creating a list, today I am giving it a try. Here are some ways to share story with your loved ones, whether family of blood or family of choice, friends treasured, or students respected.

  • The most obvious is to share meals around a table. Screens off. Though my hubby and I share our meals in front of a TV now, when we were raising kids, we gathered them around the table, television off, for dinner every night. Those thirty minutes allowed everyone to hear and be heard. It did get harder as they got older and began playing sports and taking dance lessons. But the foundation we laid in their younger years remains firm.
  • Leave the photo albums and scrapbooks out where everyone has quick and easy access. I used to spend hours poring over my parents’ wedding album and the albums of all the photos taken when they were young and my brother and I were small. Sometimes I asked my parents what was happening in a particular picture, but at other times I allowed these photos to be a jumping-off place for histories of my own creation. I personally have around twelve albums now of my own family.  And if some of the cute decorations in the albums that moms of my generation were creating so lovingly during the 90s and 00s get torn, so what?
  • Tiny moments call for short stories. Washing dishes, tucking in, not making the team…all opportunities for stories that are just a couple of sentences. When I was tightening the key on the expander in my kids’ mouths (they all inherited my narrow jaw, unfortunately), I’d tell them tales of my own orthodontic nightmares, including the time when my inner upper lip cut open then sealed shut over the arch of wire running along my upper gums. These old stories gave them hope that they’d survive the ordeal, it let them know that I really did understand their pain, and it helped them to understand that I am a person who lived and loved before they came along.
  • Write things down. It doesn’t have to be pretty or even grammatically flawless. One of my most treasured possessions is the file of letters that my grandfather wrote to my grandmother during their courtship. Sometimes, I sit and read a couple of those letters that are in his scrawled, slanting handwriting, and I feel him and remember him so closely. Keep a book in which you grab a pen and write short notes. Your loved ones will be glad to have it someday. And it’s just not quite the same if it’s all done exclusively digitally.
  • However, sometime technology really can be helpful! Call and leave voice texts-not voice mails, but actual voice texts. They can be longer, can be saved, and can be listened to at convenience and on repeat. Since we’re all carrying smart phones now, you can simply pop in your AirPods and listen to a saved message from the one you miss.
  • When I was a kid, there was a rack of record albums sitting by my parents’ stereo console, I could pull a record out of its sleeve, set it on the turntable, and have a sense of my family through the music they loved. When I was a young adult, we were making mix tapes and CDs, assembling the songs we loved to tell others about us. Now, we can make a playlist and share it. And if we listen to it together, we can share the stories that go along with the songs. At our house, anytime Amy Grant’s “Baby, Baby” comes on, I have to tell the story of my daughter pronouncing it “Maven, Maven” as I drove our used sedan to work, dropping her and her baby brother off at daycare at Ms. Sharina’s first.
  • Traditions and rituals make wonderful opportunities for sharing stories. It might be a cooking tradition, a travel tradition, a holiday tradition. At our house, the kids (now 30, 28, and 25) get a new ornament on the tree every year. They have to hunt for it on Christmas Eve after our traditional dinner of tortilla soup and tamales. Of course there is Ernie, but also a baseball player or two, caps and gowns, and a sparkly frog. And when I hang them, everyone there has to listen if I want to tell the story of any ornament. img_1449.jpgThere is one ornament we don’t hang now, it is the matched set of my daughter and her husband from the year they married, 2016. Custom made by an artist friend, they are perfect little replicas of my daughter and son-in-law on their wedding day. Their marriage crumbled after just one year, the weight of his opioid addiction simply too much to bear.

The stories will not be, should not be, exclusively happy. There are sad stories to tell: pets lost, marriages dissolved, arguments and deaths. But we should share them nonetheless. Our lives are the stories we live and leave behind. We have the power to create and share resonant truths. And from these stories of grief and struggle, we learn that resilience is possible.

More importantly, we have the privilege of authoring our own stories, living them daily in front and alongside the ones we love. May your story be heard and your life seen.

As the wonderful Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets and my sweet Sesame Street said, “Life’s like a movie, write your own ending. Keep believing, keep pretending.”

Interested in learning more about telling story in your family? I love this blog!

 

 

dandelion 2