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53 weeks | I hope you know I love you | no. 0047
A year into mothering on this side of visibility, and I am starting to piece together a language that can house the multitude of nuances in my process as a mother, as an artist, as a woman. Each time I publish a post to this blog, or share reflections or pictures on facebook or instagram, I am praying that my words and the stories they tell serve the many mothers, and mothering-bodied people, that I have committed to holding the space for with this precious life of mine.
When I was late in my third trimester with the munchkin, I realized that the labor I was eagerly anticipating had already begun. The whole pregnancy was a labor for me. The litany of hopes, and disappointments, and losses, and restored faiths leading up to the pregnancy, was a labor too. One day, a few weeks before the munchkin was born, I wrote this down: “Labor begins long before labor.” Now that my son has just celebrated his first birthday, I can add to that: “Labor lasts long after labor.”
What is labor, really? A series of contractions growing increasingly stronger and closer together over a period of time. A divine urgency culminating in the spectacular emergence of someone’s life when it first takes shape in a way that can now be known beyond a mother’s womb.
It seems that labor is also the stage in the development of something where extreme change becomes, not only imminent, but vital to the thing itself. It often signals its arrival in a way that brings severe discomfort and disturbance to what may have been a smooth progression. Labor forces us out of our patterns and hurls us headfirst into an unknown we cannot escape. The heart-pounding momentum and pressure of being on the verge of revealing a work they have poured their whole soul into creating is a type of labor for artists. A family goes through many contractions on the path to discover who they are now in the wake of the passing of a loved one who was an anchor for multiple generations. A woman recovering from an abusive relationship vacillates through intense cycles of strength and weakness, the abrupt rise and fall of tangled emotions much like the rhythmic tightening and releasing of the uterus as the mother prepares to bring a baby into the world. Labor takes on many forms throughout our lives.
I am in a sort of labor now, I realize. The New Mommy Writers’ Workshop is evolving. The expansion is exciting; the changes are partly scary. I am laying the foundation for partnerships, and I am still learning what this whole thing is that I am trying to do. One of the beautiful things about being in labor is that it gives you an opportunity to become really clear with how you spend your time. Each breath, each exertion of energy is more acutely felt. Everything must matter, and so your choices become more naturally aligned with your vision. So far I have had the opportunity to meditate deeply on who I have created this space for. Today, I wrote a brief explanation of who this workshop space is meant to serve:
The New Mommy Writers’ Workshop is open to all mothers, pregnant women, and to women who identify as mothers, and/or are engaged in any form of mothering work. Mothering work includes, but is not limited to, being a mother, caring for children, being an auntie or godmother, wanting or trying to get pregnant or adopt, healing from the loss of a child or trauma in the womb, working to heal your relationship with your mother, sister, aunt, or grandmother, providing care for a mother or parent figure, being a midwife, doula, or birth worker, and working in service to women, mothers and children.
Throughout these essays I have been introducing and defining, or redefining terms that are central to my process. Mothering work is such a phrase. I intend to devote an entire post or series of posts to explaining what I mean by this. But in the context of the New Mommy Writers’ Workshop, it is important to me that those who are mothering within invisible, silenced, or unnamed spaces–dreaming of being a mother, waiting on a phone call that the baby you are adopting has been born, negotiating complicated insurance clauses to get coverage for costly fertility treatments, grieving a miscarriage alone for a baby your boyfriend didn’t even want– know that they are just as welcome as those mothering inside of visible, recognized, validated spaces– being pregnant with a round belly, breastfeeding a child, wearing a baby on the hip, being called “Grandmother” by the whole community.
As much heart, time, and energy as I pour into designing, facilitating, and producing the New Mommy Writers’ Workshop, I need the people I have created it for to know that they are welcome! I need all the mothers, and those active in their mothering, to feel the love that goes into every consciously implemented aspect of this workshop. The hand-written prompts sprinkled around the space, the chairs arranged into a circle where we greet each other, the largest room reserved to accommodate the many modes of mothering that might show up, the deliberate placement of the word “mommy” in the title of the workshop even though you don’t have to already be a mommy to participate. Yes, I will always wish for a packed room when the doors open, but even more than bodies in seats, I find it infinitely valuable to simply share the good news with other moms– who may be nowhere near Washington, DC– that such a space exists for them.
At first I thought that once I had my munchkin, I would never again revisit the challenges and heartbreak of the invisible mother who is perpetually unseen by her community. But I have discovered that giving birth to a baby, and finally being identified by the world as a mother, has not guaranteed that my fullness will always be seen. There are all these new spaces in which I am at risk of being invisible, of my thoughts being decided for me, of my voice not being missed. Black mother. Black mother breastfeeding, exclusively. Black mother breastfeeding exclusively at home. Black mother breastfeeding exclusively at home, and bed-sharing because we nurse through the night. If you google, “mother,” you won’t find me, and yet, here I am.
The truth is that being seen takes work, telling your story takes courage, holding the space for others, especially mothers, takes prayer. Too many of us grow weary navigating through and around the narrow definitions and imposed silences we’ve been told not to question in our mothering. But a major part of my work is to ask the questions. And then to answer those questions honestly in my writing. This is why I am forever searching these hours, these minutes, these seconds for the most accurate language to tell you who I am, and why I am, and how I am– even though I’m not always entirely sure. Still, I do my best. This is a labor of love; this is a labor of hope.
The munchkin, my first born, was born on a Wednesday. Wednesday’s Bloom: Textual Portraits of a New Mommy is an ongoing multi-media documentary project about my process as a mother. Today’s story is a part of Volume 1, 73 consecutive weeks of posts, spanning about the first year and a half of the munchkin’s life. Each episode explores my weekly discoveries, challenges, questions, and hopes as a mother. I also facilitate the New Mommy Writers’ Workshop for all mothers and women active in their mothering work who are excited about cultivating their own writing practices.