art, artist, communication, creativity, dialogue, exposure, identity, listening, mother, new mother, newborn, open heart, open letter, postpartum, postpartum depression, postpartum muse, self, truth, vulnerability, woman, womanhood
I am looking at you and I see you each need a hug. Dear Mother, you are tired. Dear Artist, you are homesick. Dear Woman, you are lost.
In the mirror, when I go to brush my teeth, I catch your eyes and sometimes I see you are weeping. Your tears are not as lonely as they would have you to believe. At that point when you all said yes to having a baby, it was deeply rooted in love. But you couldn’t have imagined all that would come undone in the process. Mourning only means you are a whole being, sensitive to the frequencies of your transformation. Oh Mother. Oh Artist. Oh Woman. You have indeed given birth to an awesome life. And yes. There is still room to grieve change.
The stress of being you is shaped less by your longing to exist fully at all times as Mother, as Artist, as Woman, and more by the consequences of not listening to your very distinct and interdependent selves. I am not here to pass judgment; we have become unfortunate experts in that practice. But rather, I think it will do more good to initiate a conversation on behalf of the whole of you. An ever-expanding dialogue that honors the complex and dynamic parts of be(come)ing who you are in this one body…
Dear Artist, the Mother is tired because her days and nights do not belong to her. It is not just a physical exhaustion, but a mental, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion that comes from pouring her whole self into a life that will still spread itself too thin by nightfall. And even when she sleeps, it is time borrowed from other essentials like eating and bathing. Every choice she makes bears the weight of the choices she did not make. And so more often than not, she goes to sleep with an irrational sense of debt that nonetheless makes even her rest seem weary.
If then, dear Artist, you could find it in your heart to not chip away at the Mother’s sanity when she does choose that this moment belongs to her baby, that would be revolutionary. In fact, it would be awesome if you instead channeled all your creative genius into helping the Mother recognize the artistic process inherent in her mothering. There is such creative methodology present in the subtlest of Mother’s gestures: the choreography of positioning a sturdy latch; the evolving rituals of cleaning poop off of her child; the clever maneuver to deputize her feet as the third and fourth hands; her freestyle, go-go remix of the alphabet song during diaper changes; the vivid stories she weaves into infant ears, a burgeoning genre of modern-mama folklore. You see, Artist, you hold the key to helping the Mother feel purpose, and beauty, and innovation in tasks that would be easy to dismiss as mundane, tedious, and mindless. Through your eyes, Mother experiences her creativity as something vital, tangible, and active. She can find peace in knowing that while caring so closely for her baby is a privilege, she has still extracted more from this day than sore nipples, aching back muscles, and the stark absence of a shower she hopes to retrieve tomorrow.
Dear Woman, the Artist is homesick for the center of your world. All those hours that used to be disturbed by nothing more than an occasional writer’s block or calloused toe. The late nights that bled into dawn without so much as a blink toward unclaimed sleep. The random assortment of chips and crackers that could double as meals when the Artist was deep into creation mode. The freedom to just play inside the pulse of what was being imagined, without the need to format her process around the specific and urgent needs of a whole new being. Now, the Artist is in crisis about who she can authentically be. She is starving for the time it takes to flesh out one, clean metaphor. If only she would breathe into the newborn rhythm of these days, the Artist would see she never has to go hungry.
Now Woman, the Artist is quite gifted at appealing to your senses as a being in flux, but she still has to learn to share you with Mother. This shifting relationship with self is understandably going to be hard for her. She has crafted so much of her work around your processes of unraveling, the way you dismantle and assemble the phenomena of womanhood, constructing language to reinterpret the work of this be(come)ing. The Artist has had you all to herself and is longing to return to the experimental home she was making in you. The sanctuary where she mused on the possibilities of everything, from wearing bald heads, chattering bangles, and layers of vibrant colors, to activating spaces with bare feet on streets in faraway places and finding love between dancing strangers who would never know her name. But Woman, you are the critical element that can sustain the Artist’s growth through this prickly birth of the Mother self. In you, the Artist has authored an identity she believes in. You can help her appreciate that she has not moved away from herself, rather her creative process has expanded (however temporarily unrecognizable) in depth and power. Now she can explore her artmaking through the lenses of Woman and Mother. But be gentle with the Artist, Woman. She is yet new and born herself.
Dear Mother, the Woman is lost in her own woods. In a genuine effort to make space for your blooms within, she did not consider what provisions she would need to feel beautiful again. Here in the postpartum haze of birthing a child, she struggles to connect to a body, to a self, that she willingly surrendered to your process. Whole parts of her appear distorted in the mirrors she avoids. She goes looking for herself, finding it difficult to interpret beauty in this new mother’s body. A face, full but bare, eyes smeared only in shades of sleep interrupted. Breasts swollen and leaking, dense with the time it takes to nurse on demand. A belly remains, somehow unable to shed the last remnants of your work, opting instead to position its bulk as an awkward, asymmetrical collection of skin that has stretched and gathered over abdominal muscles that are in no rush to rejoin themselves. Her legs, a wide means to an end, a bouncer for burping, a cradle for rocking. The feet, weathered and half a shoe size greater than when she gave them to you. And the skin, so dry and dull, stubborn with an ash commencing from head to toe. You use all the water to make breastmilk.
You see Mother, the Woman is searching her reflection for something familiar. Something that can safely anchor her to the illusion that what was can be again. She does not see the glow they say the mothers get, and is not yet ready to abandon notions of her old self. The Woman is reaching back for what she cannot have because she is uncomfortable in her present experience as Woman. At best be(come)ing a woman is already abstract, perplexing, and unstable—which is exhausting in and of itself. But at worst, the Woman’s reluctance to face her motherself during such newborn days stimulates a suffocating anxiety that she is, after all, not enough of who she wants to be. This, Mother, is where your tenacity saves lives. You can motivate the Woman to listen to her intuitive voice, affirm that her existence is still plausible, even with a core self that spins through states of perpetual emergence. Moment by moment, Mother, you set the example by trusting that you have everything your baby needs to survive. Even when you are afraid or unsure, you know you don’t have the luxury of standing still inside of what scares you. You know the learning is in the doing. The becoming is in the being. Perhaps then, Mother, you can extend that nurturing spirit. Hold this Woman’s hand as she stumbles into some greater collaboration with her selves.
Now Mother, now Artist, now Woman, keep sharing. Your whole self is here.
This piece is a part of a collection of essays, stories, and art exploring Motherhood. The crafting of open letters is an ongoing, experimental healing process chronicled in the Transparencies series. Also, discover more conversations around identity in the Of Roots & Rivers: Mapping Mutable Identities series.