Letters from the road

Posts tagged “motherhood

Feminists Don’t Do This.

Originally featured on elephant journal August 21, 2017

When I run into former colleagues, I dread the inevitable question, “So where are you working these days?”

I take a deep breath, lengthen my spine, and with defiance and a touch of embarrassment, I respond that I’m currently staying at home with our little one—and that I unabashedly love it.

Their eyes always widen and I imagine the internal judgment. The same judgement that I used to give, unsolicited, to those I knew who gave up their jobs when a little one came along.

To begin, let me apologize to all the women I judged for not being working moms. And the ones I judged for working too hard. Being a parent is a radical choice. We try to make decisions that benefit not only our children, but ourselves.

We’re all just trying to get along in this messy, imperfect life. 

People who know me well are unsurprised to hear how judgmental I can be. Until recently, my Myers-Briggs personality rated incredibly high on the judge-y scale. I grew up with a very clear sense of right and wrong, and little tolerance for what I perceived as wrong.

This translated into my personal expectation of feminism.

Of course I’ll be a working mom. Of course I’ll juggle all the things and be all the people. Of course. Of course. Of course.

Parenthood kicks ass—both in the “yay I totally dig being a parent” and the “my ass is being kicked” varieties.

Becoming a parent not only reaffirmed my commitment to reproductive justice, equality, and access for all, it forced me to re-evaluate my assumptions about what it means to be a feminist.

And the conclusion I came to?

Choice.

Feminism is choice. It’s the choice to be the best that we can be in the circumstances we find ourselves. It’s the choice to determine our own destiny. To be, to do, to create a life that is authentic and true. When we are able to make the decisions that are best for us, everyone wins.

How often do we judge those walking through our lives? Be honest. I’m completely guilty. Assumptions tear our relationships apart—what keeps them from tearing apart our communities, and the very fabric of our society?

I spent a month sleeping on the floor of our son’s nursery. A month. My hips hurt every morning until my less sleep-deprived husband blew up a camp mat for me to sleep on.

Sleep has been our biggest parenting challenge. No one sees that when I post smiley happy photos of my family on Facebook. No one witnessed the moment I cried myself to sleep after discovering my little one had gnawed his way across his crib railing at 3 a.m. 

Judgement. It’s a silent killer of souls.

I’m a stay-at-home mom and a feminist. These aren’t mutually exclusive. They aren’t anachronistic. They are the truth. I can say these words because I am privileged. Because I had choices.

I was scared to lose my identity when I became a mother. We don’t prepare each other for navigating the outside world’s expectations of what motherhood should look like. We take classes for childbirth, for gardening, for accountancy. But being both a parent and an involved citizen? A feminist who chooses to stay home? There are no classes for those.

About five months into my pregnancy, I told my manager that being pregnant was like being on a moving sidewalk. Sometimes I just wanted a moment to pause and take it all in. To realize that a great change was about to happen, that it already was happening. To absorb that my body would change and grow and create life without any input from me.

This was the first time I felt that loss of control. The second was definitely not when I could no longer see my feet—that moment is a terrible cliché. Who cares if we can see our feet while pregnant? Bend a little forward, lift your feet, and there they are, past the bump. Not being able to see our vulvas past that mountain of belly is another matter altogether—that really is a valid reason to panic.

Everyone—well-meaning loved ones and every mommy blog—says that when we become mothers, we are no longer the same. We miraculously transform into these new and alien people, so different that we hardly recognize our former selves.

We become a mother: a radical, self-sacrificing person with no independent identity, resentful of the metamorphosis.

I’m happy to report that this didn’t happen. I’m still me. Maybe—definitely—a more exhausted version, but still, irrevocably, me.

Not long after my son was born, I hesitantly looked around and took stock of my life.

Do I still have the same desires? Yes. Do I still have the same hopes? Yes. Do I still want to curl up with a good book and cup of tea? Yes. Do I love my little one beyond all reason and measure? Absolutely.

When I left my position as a fierce reproductive justice activist—I was a political field organizer with Planned Parenthood—to stay at home with our son, I moped around for weeks. I felt like I intentionally and painfully torched my identity, my sense of self, my idea of feminism.

Feminists don’t stay home.

I feared the outside world’s judgement. The judgement of the working women I admired. My mom. My grandmothers. The feminists in my Facebook feed doing the hard, backbreaking work of making this country a better place for everyone.

But what I feared the most was the judgement of my young self. The girl who knew she could be whoever she wanted to be and would not back down in the face of an unjust world. I feared her disappointed eyes.

What I didn’t expect was to not love being mother, but to fall madly in love with being our little one’smother.

I still don’t know what to think of motherhood. It’s not a sacrosanct state of being. We harm ourselves and society by perpetuating the belief that mothers should be martyrs with no sense of self.

I love our son. I love being his momma. And I love working toward my own dreams. I like to think that I radiate through the cloak of motherhood. With the limited time that I have of my own, it has forced me to reflect and focus on what really matters. Only do what really feeds my soul.

Motherhood should amplify our beings. Rather than an ominous thou shalt not do list, it should be the flint that hones us into finer, sharper, more precise versions of ourselves.

Staying at home isn’t forever for me. I am relishing the time I have with our son. I am able to do this because I am privileged. I have a supportive partner. I’m not a single mother without the choice to stay home. Not everyone has the privilege to stay home. Not everyone wants to. For those who do, we have an obligation as society to support the needs of mothers as they support their families.

Paid maternity leave, anyone?

Our family is in that catch-22 space where, when I do go back to work, it will essentially be for health insurance and my salary will mostly pay for childcare. Should that be a reason to be employed? Why do we value the work of those we pay to watch our children, but not the mothers who do so without financial compensation?

Feminism is equity. Feminism is inclusive. Feminism is choice. And there is still so much work to do.

I’m a feminist and a stay-at-home mom. Hear me roar.


How the Deepest Massage of my Life Brought me Back to my Body.

Originally featured on elephant journal March 28, 2017

A month ago in Dubai, I had the deepest massage of my life.

As the massage therapist stretched, pulled, and pressed on my sore exhausted flesh, I immediately knew this massage was different.

Like so many of us, I often walk around somewhere up in my head and barely notice my feet meeting the earth. This tendency to live in my mind is what compelled me to play competitive sports as a child, then find yoga and dance as an adult.

Although my habit is to live up in my comfy cerebral space, my body craves being lived in. Sometimes vigorously, but mostly just actively, even if it happens in fits and spurts. I’ll spend days not doing much intentional movement and then I’ll get the itch and dream of running—sprinting down my street. Or I’ll get the taste of cobwebs on my skin and I need to move. Now. Jump. Stretch. Shimmy. Climb something until my chest heaves and sweat makes dusty rivulets down my legs.

I love massage and I’ve had my fair share of them—in seven different countries. I adore the ritual. I crave the therapeutic benefits. I need the relaxation. I cherish the self-care.

My mother introduced me to the magic of massage when I was a teenager. After getting professional massages together as a birthday treat, my mom decided on a whim to buy a massage table. Her intention was to give me and my brothers all the benefits of massage from the comforts and ease of home.

I can remember one sunny summer day she set the table up in the grass of our backyard and gave each of us a sugar scrub rub that ended with a run through the sprinkler. Unfortunately her dream was short lived. She had no real idea how to give massage and no intention to learn, but her passion for giving us positive loving touch was the most important gift.

While cocooned in the plush sheets on the heated massage table in Dubai, I realized the difference between this massage and every other massage I’ve ever had. This time, I was being physically crammed back into my body. In the midst of creaking ribs and touch that felt like it could reach my spleen, my mind finally migrated down into my neglected skin.

And it was glorious.

We often take our bodies for granted. Especially with the advent of digital everything. They’re good at getting us from A to B, sitting at desks, sitting in cars, and sitting in front of the television. It’s easy to forget what wellness and wholeness actually feel like.

Five months ago I gave birth to a happy, healthy, beautiful baby. My labor and birth were natural, quick, and I hate to say it—easy. It was the most embodying moment of my life.

And then parenting set in.

Exhaustion. The kind that steals names of life-long friends and days of the week.

In the midst of breastfeeding around the clock and slowly easing into my postpartum body, I retreated back up into my familiar head space. The sleepless nights—and days—led to blurry cuddle-filled weeks where the most active thing I did was walk up and down the stairs with baskets filled with baby laundry.

It wasn’t until the massage therapist was successfully chasing down each knot and achy muscle in my tender back did I realize I had been on body autopilot for months.

We can all benefit from positive loving touch as a way to bring ourselves back into our bodies. Sometimes we need a gentle reminder and sometimes like me, we need deep pressure to reboot and wake up the parasympathetic nervous system.

Deep pressure massage has been used beneficially for those on the Autism spectrum with sensory needs and is important in early childhood development.

Learning the physical boundaries and limitations of our bodies through physical pressure helps us define who we are and create our sense of self. Practices of embodying bodily process like Authentic Movement  and Contact Improvisation are great ways to step out of the mind and into the body and experience self through physical movement with others.

After my massage in Dubai, I can feel my feet more firmly underneath me, and I find myself breathing deeper. I feel like I once again inhabit my body—I’m not just hitching a ride anymore.

I know I’ll inevitably retreat back up into my head again, but when I do—I’ll happily be making a massage appointment with one of my favorite therapists to help ease me back into my body.

The universal joke that we all eventually become our parents is eerily true sometimes. Although I’m not going to go out and buy a massage table anytime soon, I do give my little one baby massages after each bath time. My hope is that he’ll learn and grow with the benefits of positive loving touch and will love the myriad benefits of massage as much as I do.


Why Does My Baby Smell Like Tapas? And Other Absurd Questions of Motherhood.

“So how’s being a mother?”

To be fair, I’m guilty of it too. Making small talk is awkward and it seems like a harmless question. I know I’ve asked it without any real idea what I was asking.

It’s really an absurd question. Each time I see someone for the first time since having little one, it’s been close to the first thing out of each person’s lips. I don’t blame them. Maybe it’s me. I never know how to answer. I get a goofy smile on my face and say “I love being his momma!”

Which is completely true. I don’t know how I feel about being a mother in general yet, but I love being my little one’s.

After that, I don’t know what to say. I kind of wrap my arms around myself in an imaginary hug of our son, or if I’m actually holding him when they ask, I look down, smile, and give him a squeeze.

Then I sort of wait. Because how do you explain motherhood in a handful of sentences in the same manner as discussing the weather? Most of the time, I get a smile and a “oh that’s wonderful!” Sometimes I get a quick peek into someone else’s crazy postpartum experience. Raw authentic words that cut quick to the heart of the transition from being Not A Mother to being A Mother. Then the moment is gone and we’re back to discussing the actual weather.

It’s absurd.

It feels like a quick dip into the swift underground river passing under all of our feet. Motherhood. We don’t like to get too deep and be whisked away-just enough to feel the force of the river and then back to solid ground. Now that I know it’s there, it’s hard to ignore.

I’m extremely fortunate. I had the dream labor and birth that we planned. A quick, safe, transformative experience. We have a happy healthy (barring colds-damn you colds) little boy. I haven’t experienced any trauma postpartum or PPD. I know a lot of women do. I’d like to find a better way of honoring their experiences with a better question. And the time to actually hear their answers.

So far, motherhood is full of absurd questions. Like, “is the milk stain surrounding my entire nipple area and half my boob super noticeable?” Or “why doesn’t this outfit come in my size?” Or “did you pee on me again?” Or “why does my baby smell like tapas?”

I found myself saying this last one out loud a few weeks ago. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why little one smelled like a hummus platter. I hadn’t eaten anything nearly so delicious for longer than I could remember. So it wasn’t from breast milk. That also means I couldn’t have accidentally spilt anything on him.

The smell slowly dissipated and I forgot all about it. A few hours later the smell came back while little one was practicing jumps and kicks in my lap. He was warm and I was starting to crave flatbread and small plates.

It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize what was causing the smell. Little one loves bath time. Sometimes I almost think he purposely has poo explosions to get back in the bath. After each bath, I make a nest of towels and give little one a baby massage. With olive oil.

Each time he was getting warm, the olive oil was too. Mystery solved. Go figure. If it’s good enough to eat, it’s good enough to put on the skin.

I blame the delayed realization on the absurdest question of all:

“Is your baby sleeping through the night?”

Bwahahahahahahahaha.