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64 weeks | I don’t feel like a first-time mom | no. 0058
I am pulling these words out of some need to be consistent. It’s Wednesday; this is the ritual. I really could just fold myself into the pillows and finish crying. This week has been an hourly roller coaster of hopes and fears. For the better part of 24 of those hours, I fretted that the munchkin’s health scare would wind us up in the hospital. Fortunately, it never got that severe and he’s on the mend.
Mommy, on the other hand, is a wreck. The mental work it takes to brace for the worst, and, at the same time, pray for the best is exhausting. I look at the munchkin bumbling around, knocking books down, smearing avocado on my sheets, bending the fragile blades of my poor blinds, and I do feel relief. But still my soul is weary from all the what ifs, the almosts, the could haves.
My partner says to me, “Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re a first-time mom.” Oddly, my initial response to him being supportive is to correct his language. I say, “I don’t identify as a first-time mom.” To which he replies incredulously, questioning have I ever had a toddler before now. No, I haven’t had to mother anyone exclusively like the munchkin. But still, I insist that I didn’t feel like a first-timer. It is a profound articulation for me, one I’ve never said aloud.
It’s the “first” part that brings me pause. What of all my other stories, I wonder. Who was I then? I had a chance to explore this question a little bit this past weekend when I hosted a dinner party for moms in my community to share our birth stories. It was a really beautiful and powerful gathering. In preparing for it, I wrestled with whether or not to contextualize the munchkin’s birth story within my whole mothering journey and its multiple invisible seasons of pregnancies that came undone as early losses. But these experiences, it seemed, did not make me a real mother.
That was my devastating secret for so long. To live through those gestures of life, the expanding and contracting uterus, the tender and then deflated breasts, the coming and going of embryonic heartbeats. The pleasant dreams of who this child would be. And then the abrupt conclusion of its life before it could even emerge.
But after the blood had dried, there was never any baby to show for all my labor. This was the unseen grief of miscarriage. That there I was, a survivor surely of something, but there was no name to call me. If you are not a mother, and you’re not the same person you were before– then who, then what are you?
I was reading the book Birthing From Within when I first got the idea to host the dinner party. In one chapter they talk about the importance of women sharing our birth stories with each other, because we each have a special wisdom to share that can be healing and transformational for ourselves and others. The following passage jumped out at me and sparked a deeper reflection of all of my experiences for me:
Why does this thought of dying come up in a healthy labor, often just before giving birth? The mounting intensity of labor forces complete surrender of our body and will, dissolving our egos, ideas, and familiar sense of self. We’re not afraid of dying because there is no “self” left to resist and fear. At that transcendent moment we have become birth itself. This is the spiritual birth of woman into mother.
I knew this exact moment very well. In fact I had lived it years before I was even pregnant with the munchkin. When I would tell the story of my first miscarriage, I used very similar words, especially the part about not being afraid to die. I remember vividly feeling like I was slipping away, surrendering to death. I was not alone; I wasn’t fighting it. And then in a moment, as if a jolt of electricity surged up my spine, I was yanked from the brink of finality. I lurched forward and gasped. Instantly I felt myself coming back towards life.
I have never forgotten that sensation of being born again. When I read the words in that passage, I realized that I had long ago embraced that same transcendency and felt myself birthed into the mothering. Even though no one could see that part of me, I strongly identified, in the safety of my own thoughts, as a mother. It was frustrating and painful to not have a space in the vocabulary of the world for my journey. Looking back, I understand that much of my dance and movement exploration was a way to compensate for being a mothering body without an official title, a “home” identity where my feelings and needs would be valid and allowed.
This is a major part of why I work so hard to be inclusive of all the mothering paths in my New Mommy Writers’ Workshop. When I was going through my challenging times before the munchkin’s birth, I was very alone, my struggles silent, my journey hidden. Now that I live openly in the mothering, I feel a strong responsibility to make sure that all I do in my work also serves that invisible community of mothers that I used to be a part of for so long.
It’s an awkward thing to try to explain nowadays. It was during preparation of the birth stories event that I finally realized how to communicate the fullness of my mothering evolution. I was texting back and forth with a friend who was very supportive of the gathering. She asked me to clarify something I’d sent regarding the many forms of birth, seen and unseen, that a mothering body could experience. After elaborating, I closed the message with: “The munchkin is my first baby, but he is not my first story.”
It was in writing these words, adding them to the complete narrative of who I am, that I finally felt like I had honored my wholeness. The reason “first-time mom” always felts so inadequate is because it doesn’t give me room to acknowledge all the mothering work before the munchkin. If nothing else, I have learned over and over again that this is a vital part accepting all of me, and all of the stories that live through me.
I know that every mother isn’t like me, and that some don’t wrestle with what to do with the invisible parts of their path. But for those who do, I am here. Carving out spaces for our complex and layered stories, keeping the light on for those dark and turbulent be(come)ings of the mothering soul. That necessary work we all do when we are being born into some greater understanding of ourself. When the thing we need the most is just a welcoming home, a sense of belonging, in our heart in which to grow.
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.