Home Birth, Sweet Home Birth

After this, our third home birth, I wanted to tell everyone about my Mighty Mighty Vagina by hiring a messenger airplane, the kind you see flying over the ocean at the Jersey Shore, with a big banner declaring, “THREE UN-MEDICATED HOME BIRTHS!”

Birth has become a battle ground where the forces of money and control seem to be winning over a natural process.  Even among my friends there are hurt feelings and wildly different opinions. Despite all the conflict surrounding it, I’ve decided to advocate for home birth more openly. I know it is not for everyone, but I feel it should be presented as an option to all women.  This blog is not filled with medical facts and statistics, but rather my personal experience with the medical model, midwives, and home birth.  Here’s my story for the curious folks out there.

Across Melfa Lane, in our all pedestrian neighborhood on the campus of the University of British Columbia, lived Karine and Eric, my Quebecois neighbors.  The had two beautiful children, one who was just born in their townhouse.  The idea of home birth sounded absolutely bonkers to me! I had never heard of it and could not imagine the implications of pushing a baby out on our green Ikea futon.  Around the same time, my NYC cousin sent me a link to her friend’s blog describing home birth after I asked her about doulahs.  All of this was new to me.  It wasn’t mainstream and I was interested.

The Vancouver public library in West Point Gray displayed staff favorites on the shelf just before the kid’s section.  The book Misconceptions by Naomi Wolf grabbed my attention.  We were still thinking about getting pregnant that fall when I read about post-partum depression, motherhood, and alternative birthing options.  I was shocked by the number of things that could go wrong during a hospital birth mainly due to medical interventions. I had never considered another option!  I flew home to my BFFs wedding, revealed that I was thinking of a home birth and was met with the response, “But what about the NICU? You need the NICU there. Something could go wrong!”

Three months later I was pregnant and felt like crap.  I went to a family doctor that a colleague recommended. (In Canada, you don’t use an OBGYN unless there are complications.  You either use a midwife or a family doc.)  At the end of the appointment I told her I was thinking about home birth.  She frowned, shook her blond bobbed hair and said quite sharply, “I think that is irresponsible.  My child needed oxygen when he was born.”

American and Canadian opinions seemed to agree. I was already a selfish, bad mother.

Three weeks later I miscarried for reasons I’ll never know. I was eight weeks pregnant.  Two months later I was pregnant again and even more curious about home birth as I swore off docs and decided to find a midwife.

I found a midwifery practice that I felt good about. We carefully sidestepped our relatives questions about which hospital we would have the baby in, saying we would “labor at home as long as possible.” My midwives were caring, supportive, firm, and calm. They had a level one emergency room with them and a hospital room waiting if needed.

Despite my crazy anxiety after miscarrying, I had my daughter at home in our bed. I was in active labor for 14 hours and pushed for three. Renza’s head seemed to move out and in and her heart beat slowed.  This was all fairly typical.  After nearly three hours of pushing, I was told I needed to get her out in the next five pushes. The cord was wrapped around her neck when she finally arrived, quietly and beautifully. She stayed on my chest while the umbilical cord pumped its last bits of blood into her body and out of mine.

My 9.5 lb son was born in the same bed in Vancouver.  His fat little torso got stuck on the way out (body dystotia). I credit the calm environment with my body’s ability to stretch to its full capacity, tearing less than an 1/8 of a centimeter.

Last winter, our little American Beauty surprised us with her presence. As we adjusted and rejoiced at the idea of having a third, I became fearful about our medical care. It was one thing to give birth on the west coast of Canada where midwifery care is accepted, paid for, regulated, and ubiquitous. It is quite another to give birth in the US where my friends talk about the security on the maternity ward just in case your baby gets switched or kidnapped.

With the state insurance card in hand, we interviewed our first midwife. She was pulsing with nervous energy, angry at the hospital system in our area who booted her out for doing home births. We were totally turned off. Weren’t midwives supposed to be earthy, practical and calm? We found a birthing center near our new home in Kutztown.  What a relief.  They did home births as well as hospital and birth center births. Their waiting room had a wooden kid’s play kitchen and there were pictures of babies all over the walls.  I felt at home until I met the midwives.

My friend Lindsey jokes about “Med Wives.” They are nurse  midwives, educated in the typical medical model.  Though they are trained to help women give birth, they still see the male dominated medical model as the authority and defer to it regularly.  What they project is that “birth is a medical event, not a natural occurrence,” similar to the vibe I felt from the first family doc I saw in Vancouver.

When they asked me to take the gestational diabetes test, I tried to decline. I didn’t need to take it in Vancouver. When I said I hoped not to take it, the “medwife” said, “Your baby can die from this.”  What a thing to say to a pregnant mom! I went home, did a bit of internet research and got even more pissed off. She was trying to scare me.  (As my research stated and another midwife in the practice later confirmed, babies are not typically at risk of dying due to GDB unless the mother has a history of diabetes not related to gestation).

The practice gave me an ultimatem, telling me I could not birth at home unless I took the test. In the interest of my goal of a happy home birth, I took the test. It came back negative but my feelings about the center changed.  I am thankful I lived in a prevention focused medical system in Canada, rather than what I consider the fear based system in the US. My experiences in Canada gave me the confidence to trust myself and my body.

I week or so later I tuned into an episode of Up All Night, with Christina Applegate. Family members kept telling me about the show and how funny it was.   I watched a segment where the main couple is viewing a natural birth video.  “It’s like hair coming out of hair! Ewww…turn it off, turn it off!” shrieked Christina Applegates’ character. A friend emailed me a link to Tina Fey’s Saturday Night Live skit about natural birth. If you haven’t seen it, it is once again all about hair (obsessed, people?) and the strangeness of a natural birth. And yes, I did laugh, but underneath I wondered what our media was doing to promote healthy natural births.

At 36 weeks, I decided to take a risk.  We recently sold our VW golf and got a used mini-van. We hoped to convert our garage to an office space that I could use for a private counseling/coaching practice and Waldorfy kids space.  Instead of spending the extra money on our renovations, we decided to find a lay midwife (a non-medical model midwife) and pay her out of pocket.  Once I made that decision, my whole body relaxed. I felt confident again in my ability to birth naturally.

I met with our midwife three times before I gave birth to our sweet 6 lb 10 oz girl.  I used a birthing stool, relaxed my jaw (and therefore my cervix) and pushed our baby out in just less than an hour. I ate some Cream of Wheat with maple syrup, walked to the bathroom, and hung out in our house with my husband and three kids.  My baby was in my arms.

When I called my BFF to tell her about the birth, she said, “It seems like the pain is always pretty bad for you.”  I laughed saying, “Well, I have done it three times un-medicated. I think I just remember all the pain!”

We giggled when I told her it would be nice to have someone take care of me for a few days, rather than feeling like I had to do the dishes. She suggested I go to the hospital, tell them I gave birth, and ask if I could check in for a few days to relax.

When people ask my why I did it this way, I tell them that I am more afraid of the hospital than being at home. Some hospitals are doing a GREAT job and I am awed by them, but others have actual goals set for increased C-sections rates to prevent litigation, minimize the time they spend with birthing women, and increase profit.

Though there are things I don’t like about Ricki Lake’s movie, The Business of Being Born, she does do a good job describing the cycle that occurs when pitocin, the induction drug is given. Women come into the hospital in labor, they stop progressing (their cervix does not dilate further), then they are induced because the medical system often has a time line for birth.  Once they are induced the pain is more intense then it is with natural birth, so they are offered an epidural.  The epidural slows down labor again, and then, due to stress on the fetus, as indicated by fetal heart monitors, a c-section is seen as the next option. (Check out this scary link on “pit to distress,” an actual term used in hospitals to get women to the OR by distressing the fetus through induction: http://www.theunnecesarean.com/blog/2009/7/6/pit-to-distress-your-ticket-to-an-emergency-cesarean.html)

I am all for the miracle of cesarean births.  Without them, a few little tikes I know wouldn’t be here, but the rising rate of them indicates a separation of women from their bodies and their choices. I knew my body and I knew that if I were in the hospital my cervix would close right the hell up.

Just as I had never heard of cervical fluid as part of reproduction, (the egg white looking stuff in your undies when you are ovulating that they failed to mention in 10th grade health class), I had never heard of home birth until another woman told me about it.  I am amazed at what the human body does each day as women all over the world give birth.  The disconnection that happens in a medicalized birth process seems to me to be a metaphor for our disconnection with our mother earth and our power.  Women everyday, as a my cousin Jen once said, “growl our babies out,” if we are allowed to feel in charge of our bodies and the process.  Pass the secret on.

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Jump on the Jesus Train

My best friend and I had a rendezvous in Ithaca, New York this weekend.  A whole 28 hours to ourselves without kiddos or husbands or anyone else.  We ate vegan orange chocolate cake, splurged on some curried tofu at a Thai restaurant, and spent hours in a baby boutique called Jillian’s Drawers.

When she pulled into the hotel parking lot I hopped up and down like a bunny and she jumped out of the car to hug me, checking out my big pregnant belly.  As soon as we checked in and checked our mattresses for bed bugs, she started talking about God.

This is not really unusual for us, though it is quite funny each time it happens.  Neither of us are very religious. She is happy to be Catholic, went to Catholic school her whole life, and goes to church when she can. I was baptized in the Syrian Orthodox church, with its blue onion shaped roof, and that was the end of the spiritual education given to me by my parents.

The conversation began with her talking about sleep deprivation. Her four month old has been doing his thing with night time wakings and she could not get back to sleep at 3 am the night before our meeting.  She said she started praying a continuous prayer about sleep and was thinking of trying to bargain with God, though she knew she wouldn’t be able to keep up her end of the agreement. A very realistic perspective, as she is a mom of two young kids!

She joked that she would be talking about God and prayer our whole trip, and though this was a little poke at me and my non-believer status, our conversations over the next day were indeed about the spiritual side of life. We talked about Jesus and his existence or non-existence, his mental health status (we are both college counselors), the mental health of the saints. I told her about a meditation I recently did at a Waldorf education meeting and confessed that I listen to Christian radio stations when there is static during my long drives to and from work.  At the Ithaca farmer’s market, when my friend and the guy at the blueberry stand accidentally exchanged two long glances into each other’s blue eyes, she said, “Who knows about all that soul stuff flying around, right?”

As we walked by a few churches she showed me the American sign language sign for Episcopalian.  You form a cross on your forehead with your thumb and follow that with the sign for “lite.” As we walked past hippie mamas and long haired two year olds, I told her that nearly every mom I know is trying to get more in touch with their spiritual self.  This ache is deep and leaves many of us wondering how to cope with the daily demands of life, our own anxieties, and the absurdity of existence.

While we talked, I recognized that my quest for more Waldorf in my life is not just about education and my kids, but rather a quest for more spirituality infused into my life.  My wise friend reflected that she fits everything else in (really?) like exercise, work, reading, and wondered why she couldn’t figure out how to fit in the spiritual side of things.

We guessed that people like her sisters and my colleague from work keep their spiritual side lit by going to church on Sunday, but what about those of us who aren’t church or temple goers?

My best ideas about how to integrate the spiritual into the earthly have come from my friends.  They pass along their spiritual wisdom quietly.  Read this book, listen to this podcast, try this meditation, check out the eclipse, change your perspective, celebrate this pagan holiday.

I remembered a moment, driving to class in grad school, when I came up over a hill and saw the green fields out my windshield while singing loudly from a mixed tape my brother made me. That moment still feels connected and spiritual to me.  That was pre-children.  Since then, I try to notice the trees on my long drive home from work. I try to turn off NPR and turn on classical music. I try to listen to Tara Brach and read Anne Lamott. But none of it seems to permeate my life in the deep and pervasive way I would like it to.  I want it to be the thought I go to first any time I am conflicted or in awe or saddened.  The first place for my brain and heart to rest, not the afterthought.

My brother, an anthroposophist, recently told me that instead of asking, “How are you?” he now asks, “What have you been thinking about lately?” and with that question he gets much more interesting answers.  For me the answer is typically related to my spiritual life, or my need to get one. What I’d like to ask is, “How’s your spiritual self?”

I yearn for sangha, a spiritual community, to have these discussions with weekly.  But when, I wonder? Do I have to pay a babysitter so I can talk about this? I might. We Mamas, Papas, Humans, could all use a little peek at the Jesus Buddha Mohammad Universal Love Train as it roars by,  silent and invisible to so many of us.

My suspicion is that it is right here, across the street in my neighbor’s kitchen, at our Friday potlucks, embedded in my emails with friends.  Right under the surface, just waiting for me to say hello, ask questions, and open up.

If you’d like to tell me where, when, how or from whom you get your spiritual fix, reply here and share. Links, books, blogs all welcome. Much love, my friends.

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Love me or leave me.

I have a new mantra.  It came to me one day while I was driving in the car thinking about all the amazing goddesses in my life. I was trying to measure myself against their greatness, and as usual I was falling short.  “Lindsey is so smart…Shel is insightful…Pana, where to even start with that super human being…” And then I decided to stop the whining and comparing.  Stop the freaking self-doubt.  Radically accept myself and move on to something kinder, like planting the zinnias that have been wilting on my front steps.

My mantra has been helpful.  I’ve avoided a few unnecessary apologies, a bunch of lingering doubts and some black moods.  I say it to myself when a bit of fear about my path creeps in and closes up my chest.  I force myself to say it when people ask me what I do, when they ask me about Mamas Make It Happen.  When I meet other hip mamas and I start to think, “Oh shit. They will see right through me. They are way cool and I’m, well just look at this outfit!” I chant it to myself.

Perhaps this seems like a lot of time spent wondering about my worth and power and place in the world. It is way too much time.  And all this bullshit makes my heart race and my hair turn gray. And this mama does not need anything that makes me look or feel badly.

I’ll share it with you, but you must promise not to laugh. Or laugh. Go ahead.  Because I’m so over caring.

The mantra is, “I’m the real deal.” And what it means is love me or leave me.  This is it.

I have been quite sick of the lovely Canadian “Sorry,” (Sounds like “surrey” if you say it properly) that I’ve been spouting for the past, well, three decades or so.  This “sorry” reflex comes right along with frivolous guilt. Not guilt about hurting someone or stealing something, not REAL and useful guilt, but guilt about ridiculous things.

This guilt pops up when I can’t keep chatting on Facebook with a buddy, when I don’t call my friends or aunts for a week or two, when I forget to send the thank you note or call on a birthday.  I tell myself I should be more attentive, like my lovely and amazing sister-in-law.  I tell myself it FEELS better to make little gifts, to bring homemade food to the potluck instead of the ever delicious spinach pies from Somaya’s Middle Eastern bakery.

I beat myself up the most (with no apology to my poor psyche) for being the yelling mommy, the impatient mommy, the mommy who puts on a DVD for the kids at 10 am just so I can read three pages of a novel while munching on pita bread.

Here’s the thing about me, world. I’m late to work. Late for friends. My period is even late. (Oh, wait. I’m pregnant. Hah!) I start jobs. I leave jobs. I createideas. I abandon ideas.  I love something.  Shortly thereafter I decide I shouldn’t have loved it so fiercely and told everyone about it.  I’m pushy. I’m gentle. I’m fun. I’m a grinch. I’m inconsiderate, grouchy, selfish, on-time, excited, sincere, and generous.

And you know what, those characteristics are probably, most likely, in fact, let’s just say definitely, going to be part of me FOREVER, and if you (meaning ME, really, because who needs to accept this person? I DO…), can’t deal with it, then that’s fine.

I love you. And I’m the real deal. Now that’s that.

Posted in Confidence, Fear, Happiness | 3 Comments

A Higher Call from The Mall

I’d like to tell you that I had a realization out in the woods on Hawk Mountain or next to the English Bay.  It would have been better had it happened at a sweat lodge or during sangha.  Alas, it occurred one week before Christmas while walking buy Buckle  (love their tank tops), passing the escalators, and heading towards the Gap.

I think I was in shock when we entered the mall.  Initially, I was able to hold my spiritual self intact as the young guy with the lovely accent tried to sell my four-year-old a hummingbird wind chime.  I was able to believe that the hummingbird was beautiful, though plastic, and a gift to us upon stepping into this multi-level hell. But the lights, busyness, and scowling patrons got to me.  I rebelled as quietly as I could, trying not to harm my husband’s shopping joy. (He loves to browse.  You can borrow him if you’d like.) But at the 15 minute mark, on my way out of BonTon’s crowded aisles I loudly exclaimed, “I am NEVER EVER DOING THIS AGAIN! I am making you miserable, making the kids miserable. I am TOTALLY miserable.” He sweetly began rubbing my back.  This human contact amidst the florescent craziness brought me back into my feet for about ten minutes.  And then I flew away again, out of my body into the rafters.

One week later my Waldorf Goddess friend visited.  She entered our home carrying her needle-felted fairies, her homemade bread, wearing her beautiful vintage peasant shirt. We were changing her little guy’s diaper, when I noticed a Littlest Pet Shop figure sticking out from under my daughter’s bed.  I asked my friend, “So, what do you think when you see plastic toys?”   She said, so beautifully, with Rudolf Steiner  gentleness, “I’m just not attracted to that type of toy. I never have been, really.”

And there it was. I was trying to figure myself out a bit more before the New Year began, and I was “attracted” to what she said. Her words had no judgment. They spoke of her own likes and dislikes, not values that separate people.  She was attracted to something different, and how can you judge attraction?

I am NOT attracted to the mall. Ever.  In the end, I was able to comfort myself with a cup of sorbet from Cold Stone as we exited, and I made a vow to never shop again without a treat, like an Orange Julius shake. Yet I believe my first instinct was right. Do Not Enter.

Where would I rather be shopping?

1. In my kitchen cupboard. A friend recently told me his family hand-made all their gifts for each other this year. This sounds heavenly to me.

2. In nature.  Pine cones are my current obsession and I think they make lovely presents.

3. In my craft box.  Let me watercolor you a bookmark with a quote on it.

4. In my heart. Let’s do a ritual together. Stand in a circle, hold hands, bring in the energy of love this season carries.

As I flew out of my body, taking comfort somewhere in my psyche while my children tried to glimpse Santa, I knew this was part of a greater problem.

Where did I lose my “attraction” radar and how could I get it back? I think it may have disappeared sometime between all the belly dancing I did on the living room table at age four and all the social rejection in middle school.  By grade ten I was figuring out how to make friends and it had nothing to do with being myself.

I remember the first decision that showed me something was amiss with my own ability to move towards things I love.  I was in 11th grade, hanging out with all those gorgeous skateboarder boys.  I bought a bathing suit I planned to wear all summer on the half-pipe skate ramp in one of their backyards. It was a shiny metallic thing that I thought would finally gain me a kiss from the skater I adored most.  (Side note: At one point or another I adored each and every one of these skater gods and tried my best to “date” them. Another symptom of all of this? I’m sure.)

When I got to the half-pipe, Niki, the beautiful girl, pulled off her shirt to reveal the cutest yellow beaded hippie bikini top I’d ever seen.  The shame I felt at my shiny choice began creeping about like millions of beetles under my skin.  I chose my bikini because I thought a certain boy would be attracted to it, not because I was. If I had any inner compass left, I would have chosen something sweet, not sexy.

And there was the problem. What I dug, thought was beautiful, was covered by an idea that what others liked was better, truer.

There is a gift in this.  I can usually tune in to any vibe anywhere with any number of people. In minutes, I figure out how to flow with the emotional energy around me.  But I’m realizing now my new task is to see and feel the flow, but to do my own thing.  To understand that my truth is the best and most beautiful thing I can do for myself and others.  If I look like a dork doing it, so be it.  Doing so gives others permission to be their best and highest dork selves as well.

I think this is especially true with spirituality.  My friend Pana just finished writing an 800 page novel.  The entire book is about the power of love over fear.  On each page she tunes in to her intuition as she hitchhikes with no money in Europe and has adventures in the Middle East.  Her book (I must do a whole blog on it!), gave me permission to talk about my spiritual side again.  It allowed me to say, “Today, I rolled through two stop signs and got pulled over and guess what? I think that was a SIGN from the universe that I should slow down, stop, think things through.”

If you see me quit my job, start dancing spontaneously, or mention anthroposophy in every breath, I’m just taking a little truthful risk to say that this is who I am.  One inspired action begets another inspired action.  And the more we all vibrate on that level, the better this place is going to be.

]Our new more honest conversations might go like this.

You: “Do you like tomatoes?”

Me: “Um, wait…let me think. (Three second pause.)  In the past I would have said, yes, but here’s the truth. Little tiny summer ones off the vine? Yes! Old imported ones from Giant? No! Not an easy answer to come up with when I just want to find out what YOU think about tomatoes.”

Here I am New Year, trying to stay true to my crunchy, spiritual highest self.  I’m saying hello to 2011 while my eyes watch the outlines of winter trees, while my heart opens to angels and the beauty of the earth. Listen to my prayer of thanks to my friends and the Lehigh Valley mall.

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Family Traditions: Tell Me More Mama Wants to Know

As I walked into work the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I asked my colleague where he was headed for the holiday.  New York City, he said. Expecting fifteen people or so. He then politely asked me what I was up to.  “Tacky Thanksgiving,” I replied, knowing this would get a reaction.

I can’t remember when Tacky began, but I know it came from the deep well of humor that my mother’s family holds.  Each year we descend on a little town outside of Gettysburg in our finest tacky outfits. Each year we try to top each other.  Funky and obnoxious hats (think bright purple with plastic flowers and netting), polyester jump suits in sea foam green, ties with horrendous decorations (think condoms of every color.)

Tacky means different things to each member of our tribe. For some it is about mismatching, for others it is about 80s wear. About five years ago, my cousin Marni wore her wedding dress just after separating from her now ex-husband. Beautifully tacky.

The day before the drive down, I wondered what to dress my kids in this year, our first year at Tacky since they were born.  We ended up with a family Christmas theme. Matching white Christmas turtlenecks for Christopher and I, a shirt with a big plastic Rudolph on it that used to light up for Ren, and some horrible Christmas leggings and a Mickey Mouse Christmas sweatshirt a size too small for Marcello. Whether any of our relatives thought we were tacky is questionable.

Seeing my family in their finest pants, ties, snake skin pattern dresses with American flag print (yes this dress exists) takes all day to absorb.  Hours after our 3 pm meal, I might notice the socks or the necklace my cousin-in law is wearing.  I might see the tiny hand scribbled note attached to the ill-fitting nearly plastic fabric my cousin is wearing that says, “Alterations by Gail. Cheap.”  I might realize what comment they are making by wearing doctor’s scrubs. My Aunt Elaine’s outfit showed two inches of cleavage created with much pushing and taping. For me this was the winner on many many levels.

As I put the kids to sleep next door at my cousin’s house (they are growing a family compound!), I forced myself to walk back to the main house and play the post-dinner game that is mandatory for all Lynches. I walked in to see a game of Oh Hell, and was shocked.

My husband’s family has a serious Pinochle addiction that I avoid (at my own social and familial expense), but cards were never played in my family.  Any game the Lynch clan plays must involve drawing or acting or serious self-disclosure. Oh Hell was not that. As I picked at the pecan pie, I saw Marni fidgeting.  Waiting anxiously, I would discover, to introduce”Existentialist Pictionary.” This game is sort of like Whisper Down the Alley or Telephone, but with writing and drawing.

A deck of paper and a pen were distributed to all. Each person wrote a catchy phrase like “Love is all we need,” or “A stitch in time saves nine.”  The deck of paper was then passed to the next person who DREW the saying.  It was then passed again to the next person who wrote what they thought the drawing was depicting. By then end the phrase and the picture were as disparate as the north and south poles.  What started out on my paper as, “Can I buy a vowel?” transformed to my Aunt Gail’s written interpretation, “If you are a high-fisted money grabber, then go to hell” into, “Money is the devil’s work.”  I CRIED and CRIED in laughter, taking at least a full 30 seconds to return to an appropriate affect for speaking as I showed the eleven family members around the table the results.

Traditions are what anchor us to the rhythm of the year. Decorating the tree, eating latkes, Easter egg hunts in the ‘hood. These are the things we count on.  If they are let go of or never established, our families, our cultures, begin to drift out into space, disconnected from the rhythm of the earth, the seasons.

Tell me about your traditions, friends, so that I might share with others. Do you decorate your tree with sanitary pads and tampons as my friends in college did two years in a row? Do you make cookies that turn out badly? Do you go caroling? Do you snuggle together in bed on Valentine’s Day morning?  Or are you trying to create traditions of your own?

Click here and share: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/CXVYC5J

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Love, Gratitude, and the Wicked Witch. Tell Me More Mama Survey Results.

I remember being with my daughter when she was little and playing on the floor, making little animal figurines jump into a blueberry container that I called a pool.  I recall taking walks with her that would begin and end 20 feet from the house at a flower pot filled with pansies.

Once on a car ride she requested a song and we could not figure out what she was saying.  She cried and cried as she tried to form the title with her little two year old mouth.  I finally figured it out one morning, after days of trying to decipher what she said.  “Sunny days! Sweeping the clouds away!” I ran to her and asked her to forgive me. “I’m so sorry, Ren! Now I understand!” She smiled back at the tears in my eyes, delighted that I had figured it out.

Since having two, my joy in being with my kids has changed.These lovely days of focus on one person are seldom seen, as is their peaceful contentment.

Marcello throws himself on the floor in a tantrum as he struggles to communicate.  It seems I don’t have a minute to slow down and focus on the syllables and sounds he is making.  We scoop him up and move on  to the next thing, or pop his “babu” (pacifier) in his mouth to stop the sobs and tears. These days I seem to rush the kids out and nod at their observations about the moon or the trees without noticing they are beautiful.

Yesterday at 4:45 am I felt something different than my normal fatigue and aggravation. I heard my son calling for me and I wanted to be with him. I wanted to play with some figures on the floor, recreate the pool I made with Ren all those years ago.  I wasn’t playing with him as an obligation, I was playing with him for fun.  It wasn’t about trying to enrich his little brain or get him occupied so I could do the dishes. It was about the two of us, a little wooden doll and a container.

This is the Goddess. The one who becomes less self-absorbed. Who plays for fun, not to teach or occupy or fulfill an obligation. Who does not hurry.  Who allows her daughter to finish her sentence as she talks about asteroids and milk weed wishies. Who breathes love.

I think we all have these struggles, but opening up about them is time consuming and embarrassing. One mom told me she avoided answering this survey because it was too much to think about, too much to feel. I definitely get that.  I avoided it myself until I wrote this blog! Thank you to those of you who did write, and much love to those of you who didn’t.  We are all helping each other out on this journey, through our candor and reflection, whether it is face to face or on the page.

Here are our answers to Goddess vs. Witch.

What brings the evil monkeys to your house? What turns you into the Wicked Witch of the West?

Poor sleep topped the list, with too many demands being right next to it. These two came together as one of you observed, “Too many competing demands….mixed with fatigue and low blood sugar= that chick from The Exorcist.”

With lack of sleep (please let me go to bed at 9:30 tonight!), comes increased anxiety, comes self-absorption, comes guilt for not being “present”, comes self-loathing, comes flagellation. My witch has whip reserved just me for me when I am over-tired.

One of you wrote, “The Evil Monkeys usually descend around the time I realize that everything I want to get done is not going to get done….Um, in short, guilt and unmet expectations do the trick.”

Here’s the cycle. You have a list of things to get done.  You ignore (just a little) your children for bits of time to get it done. Because of this they get nutty.  Then you get overwhelmed because you can’t finish what you are doing and you have to attend to them. Then you feel guilty for feeling this way about them and you have to attend to the guilt. How’s that for an infinite circle of witchyness?

Daily demands like paying the bills (student loans-ugh!), breaking up arguments between the babes, small kitchens and noisy neighbors were cited. The “Spilling cold water down my shirt” comment seems to have happened just as that mama was typing her response! Spilling beer pisses me off even further.

A messy house is enough to bring out talons and fangs.  This one in particular makes us feel overwhelmed, ineffective, and guilty.  And if you are the only one cleaning the bathrooms, floors, and fridge, someone will definitely get turned into a toad.

When it comes to our bodies, “a string of unhealthy eating choices paired with lack of exercise” and a change in numbers on the scale makes the witch warts pop out. Health concerns whether real or imagined, stress us out.  Finally, PMS. Need I say more? (I do need to say more. I think an entire blog entry would suffice.)

Problems with the good ol’ MIL and siblings make the witch hop on her broom.  To me, this one is particularly sneaky and draining. It usually begins with good intentions of openness and happy times and ends with aggravation, resentment, and yes, fatigue.  Which goes back to the sleep issue.

What do you do, say and think when you are overpowered by the monkeys or the witch?

I know that I like to yell. Some of us curse, throw empty tupperware, and emotionally beat ourselves up.  We beat up on our partners, too.

I’ve definitely threatened to leave my children behind in the house, and some of us have said, “I. HAVE. HAD. IT!” or “If you hurt your brother one more time, I will hurt you!” (Ooh…I like that one. Gonna try it tomorrow.)

There’s a bit of shame attached to each of these, a wish for water to melt us. But instead, let us focus on transformation.

What turns you back into your God or Goddess self? A person? An action? A reminder? A belief?

A Goddess mantra, in fact.  “The days are long, but the years are short.” A thought from a nice mother-in-law about not beating oneself up, trying to be kinder to oneself.

A deep belief in god, a heartfelt belief in our love for our children.

Listening to Buddhist podcasts, and deep breaths help, as well as walking away.  Dinner, laughs, and phone calls with friends (not to be underestimated, Goddesses) are a cure all. Talking with an open-hearted partner helps, especially when they talk about their monkeys, too.

Do you have, or have you ever had an hourly, daily, weekly, monthly practice that keeps you on track?

It’s back to the body for us. Yoga yoga yoga connects us to the Goddess within.  Nia does it for me. Walking for others. We pray, chat with friends, take “mom timeouts.”

Nature cures.  I talk to trees and I’m proud of it.  I’m trying to figure out how to work it into my career.

We’d like to have more daily practices in place, but it seems that other things feel more urgent.

What helps you sustain this practice?

We’re not sure, but it seems that experience helps, as does self respect and love. A supportive partner makes it easier.  Conjuring the Goddess inside, with some white magic in the form of positive self talk helps. As one of you wrote so beautifully, “My Goddess gives me the benefit of the doubt and is a lot easier on me than those damn monkeys.  I try to pay attention to her quiet reassurance- listening for that helps me block out the noise of the monkeys.”

My daily practice as of late is to turn to love and gratitude.  This is thanks to a Goddess Guide whom I’ve recently met. I say the words in my mind and look for what to love, who to send love to, what to be grateful for. Though it was harder this week with day 14 of my cycle being my PEAK anxiety time (who knew?), I am working on getting back on track.  I was able to wake this morning and be grateful for early light and a walk in the isolated development we live in that I typically curse.  “We have a home! My children crack me up! I might be able to help someone!” I though.  Gratitude gratitude gratitude.

For one whole week I woke up hearing my inner voice, it firmly and quietly said the following:

“Enjoy the Day.”

“Open your heart.”

“Be grateful.”

“Be kind.”

Mercy me.  These messages were so clear.  It made it much harder to turn to anxiety, yell at the kids, be judgmental.

Every morning it tells me something new. In those few moments before getting out of bed, while Marcello calls, “Mama! Poo poo!” from his bed, I hear my guide telling me,”Forgive.” “Be peace.” “Relax.” “Enjoy your body.”

Listen and comply, I tell myself. Listen and comply and be the Goddess within.

Watch for another Tell Me More Mama Survey on Family Traditions….

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The Runaway, The Good Friend, and the Sacred Whore

In Italian, the name Scappaticci means Little Runaway. These are some of the things I have run away from in my life.

Soccer. I think I was about six years old.  I wanted to play because my brother, ten years older whom I told everyone I was going to marry, played in high school.  I cried to my parents after the first practice. “You have to stick with things, Laura!” they said on the ride home. Maybe they saw the pattern beginning to unfold.

Cheering. In 11th grade, I  started and quit cheering within three months. I loved the skirts, but the practices? What a drag!

My potato picking job.  Are you imagining a cute organic farm? No no no. I thought I would be down on the earth, peasant style, with my little shovel. Instead I drove out to the farm and encountered some weathered men wearing dusty sweatshirts. They led me to an enormous tractor with wheels the size of a wood shed where I was jostled about for six hours sorting rocks from potatoes as quickly as a I could. We did break for lunch where I ate my turkey sandwich on wheat while no one spoke. I didn’t come back the next day.

The highest paid job I ever had and may ever have.  I was pregnant and tired.  My midwife said, “I don’t think pregnant women should have to work.” I agreed and promptly left.

I leave all my jars open just a bit unless I bring full attention to the lid I am shutting.  I rarely put my clothing fully in the hamper.  I fill my cups, and everyone’s, halfway. I can’t seem to find a city and stay in it, or an apartment, or a job. Commitment issues, perhaps?

Maybe I am a “trier” not a “doer.” Or I’m the spark, but not the fire.  And yes, I guess it could be a fear of failure. But does potato picking fall into that category?

As we went around the Goddess circle, naming our children and our current balancing acts, I was happy to hear of the many career shifts the goddesses had experienced.  Stay at home moms for ten years re-entering the work world, historic preservation majors running  human resource offices, writers who are painters who are writers.

Just as I would make lists of lovers, trying to count them up, forgetting a name or two, I ran through my list of endeavors and had to settle on just one to talk about. I mentioned Mamas Make It Happen, but felt strange leaving my other lovers behind. My deep affection for many people, many ideas, many place and those four crazy years of college, make me a bit of a whore.

The things I choose to stick with, the things I am faithful to in my life have become my good friends, as my maiden name, Khalil, refers to. My marriage. My children. My love of writing. My friendships. Books. Waldorf. Trees. Gardening. Connection. Growth. Dance. Beauty. My love of nature and absolute need to be outside experiencing it everyday.

Too much? A Sacred Whore, then.  A Whore on High.  Submerging her body quickly, her whole self into her desires, stepping out wet and shining to submerge herself once again.

To my critics, to the cynics, to the picky voice in my head, I say, “See you on the street corner, if you’re lucky.”

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