The Mother of All Transitions Part Three: Opening Up to Feeling it All
The first time I held our little son in my arms my heart expanded to ten times its previous size. It might be a cliche but it is also true; there is nothing as powerful as a mother's love. Before having Sam (who's name means "God has heard" in Hebrew) I didn't know that I was capable of feeling a love that deep and that wide.
The first days and weeks after Sam's birth were like a second honeymoon of sorts for my husband and me. There wasn't tons of intense lovemaking (hahaha) but there was a feeling of deep connection, joy and gratitude that permeated our lives and got us through the tough moments.
And of course there were many tough moments! I don't mean to make it sound as though having a newborn is easy. We definitely had our challenges between lack of sleep and trouble breastfeeding. But the overall mood was dream like. I had wanted a baby for SO long and he was finally here. I was floating on a cloud of maternal joy.
The feeling I can liken it to most is the honeymoon phase of a relationship. I was gaga over Sam and so was my husband. Every coo, smile, and gurgle filled me up with waves of joy which saw me through the tough moments of overwhelm and lack of sleep. For the most part, I was riding on a wave of love and I didn't feel the tiredness and overwhelm that some people feel in the days and even months after giving birth.
I can credit this to the help I had from my husband who was able to take a couple of weeks off from work and who has had a natural gift from the beginning for being a great "Dad." Sam and he had an immediate bond and it has been wonderful to watch their relationship grow and evolve. I was also fortunate enough to have support from my mother who came to stay with us for a couple of weeks in the first month of Sam's life.
I also continued bi-monthly meetings with my therapist, which helped to ease and reframe any fears that were coming up. Furthermore, I had years of inner work to help guide me through this motherhood transition. Having this strong foundation helped me to remain present to the gift that Sam was (and is) and not get sucked down the rabbit hole of worry and anxiety.
However there was a shadow that nipped at my heels, even during this time of whole-hearted loving. In the cocoon of our home, everything felt picture perfect. But when I tore myself away from the gaze of our little one and opened myself up to what was going on in the country and world, my chest started to tighten and I felt myself retreat from my heartspace up to my head.
Sam was born just after Trump was elected president and it is no exaggeration to say that I was devastated. Between the extreme right-wing immigration policies, the destructive environmental policies, and the lack of any meaningful action on gun control, it seemed as though bad news was everywhere. And slowly and steadily, this bad news started to worm its way into my consciousness.
Fear and love are close neighbors in the heart. It seemed as though the more I loved my son, the more fear I felt about the world we humans were leaving for him and all the children of the world. The grief, anxiety and powerlessness I felt around this was sometimes overwhelming. I could be sitting next to Sam reading him a story and feeling his soft body curled into mine and suddenly be overtaken by guilt and terror for the world that he could one day inherit.
It was often the case that when my heart would open up to the vulnerability of loving Sam and our family, that fear would slip through the opening that I had created and steal my joy.
Cognitively I knew this was no way to live, but emotionally I couldn't seem to break through the cycle of fear, anxiety, sadness, numbness-- wash, rinse, repeat. As much as I wanted to find answers and comfort "out there" from my husband, therapist, books, friends and community, deep down I also knew that the only answer that I'd ever truly be satisfied with would have to come from within.
After the birth of Sam, my consistent inner work practices had largely fallen away. I was simply too tired and expending too much time and energy taking care of this little baby that I had forgotten about taking care of myself. I had forgotten that taking care of myself was also taking care of Sam. And that I would be a much better mommy if I invested in self-care.
It took falling into a pretty dark hole to realize that I needed to do some deep re-investment in myself. But where was I going to find the time? I was teaching, coaching and "momming" all the time. By the time I got done with work, I was exausted and "inner-work" was the last thing I wanted to do!
What I have come to realize is that inner work and self-care can take many forms. Resting and napping when Sam is sleeping has been a key piece of the puzzle for me. I have taken the advice that I heard from many mothers to "sleep when the baby sleeps" to heart. Fewer things affect my mood more deeply than a lack of sleep. And there are few things sweeter than curling up with my now three year old to rest-- even when a pile of dishes or a client's email beckons.
I've also had to remind myself that I can show up for myself in small ways. At the moment it feels impossible to commit to a daily 20 minutes meditation practice, but can I pause and take one deep breath before getting out of bed in the morning or when I hear Sam calling for me? Of course I can. Inherent in that one mindful breath is the opportunity to reset and to come back to myself.
Throughout my adult life journaling has been a touchstone for me that has allowed me to express my pain and bring me back to center again and again. Since Sam has been born, it's been harder to find the inner discipline to write. However, when I do make the time, I feel the difference-- big time! When stuck in resistance (which shows up for me mostly as a feeling of tiredness) it is helpful to make and keep small promises to yourself. Maybe it's that I promise to do one minute of journaling or that I just write a simple gratitude list.
Any time that you carve out for stillness and inner work is a plus and it is normal for that to look very different than it did before you had a child.
Sam just celebrated his third birthday and I am profoundly aware that becoming a mom has absolutely transformed me. I have little doubt that motherhood will continue to transform and break me open again and again. What has shifted is that I know see this breaking open as a gift. When my heart is broken open by fear or worry and I drop below the story of the fear, I see that there is an enormous opportunity in suffering. Suffering is an opportunity to heal at a deeper level. Suffering is an opportunity to release and transform old stories and beliefs. Suffering is ultimately a part of the deal of being a human being born on this planet. The key for me has been to meet this suffering, get curious about it, and even welcome it with compassion and acceptance.
How has being a mother changed you? What practices have served you in the motherhood transition? As always, I would love to hear from you!