Becoming a mother... it can be beautiful and magical and fulfilling and lovely and life changing in all the best ways. We have been surrounded for centuries by carefully curated images that show us this perspective of motherhood. What many of us don’t see, is that birth is also an ending; a forging in the fire; a death and a rebirth.
Motherhood burns your former self in a funeral pyre, and we don't all emerge from that gracefully. Whether you are moving along the first journey from maiden to mother, or from mother of one/some to mother of more, I believe we each go through this process to varying degrees, with every attempted pregnancy (including those that do not end as we desire, by choice or by circumstance; and those which are being carried on our behalf through avenues like surrogacy and adoption).
Some mothers rise like a Phoenix from the ashes into their fourth trimester and beyond, supported and nurtured and reborn into a new wholeness. More often than not though we claw our way out alone; bloodied and bruised; spitting the ash from our mouth that chokes and silences us.
Instead of a Phoenix risen from the ashes standing in our full power we find ourselves scrambling to hold our shit together, covered in scrapes, scars and dirt. And our culture tells us we're supposed to be okay with it! We're supposed to just exist in the shadows, the ash keeping us camouflaged and grey. We're supposed to live for others. Children, spouse, employer, coworkers, clients, family of origin, in-laws, religious community… you name it. If a mother exists within an interpersonal dynamic she's supposed to make it all tick along for everyone without a second thought for herself. But also? Do self-care. Because you're worth it. And because you don’t want to inconvenience anyone else with your own neediness. Nobody wants to think about a mother who might be struggling so make sure you remain politely unnoticeable… AND keep a smile on your face like you enjoy it.
I sometimes wonder if the whole notion of ‘self-care’ is a scam, a ruse to keep us isolated and in servitude. It feels to me like self-care (which CAN be a good thing) is sometimes a solitary confinement cell with pretty wallpaper - it looks nice but we’re locked away from the community we so desperately need, trying to do for ourselves that which was never meant to be done alone. We humans weren’t made to live alone. Humans are communal creatures and our brains are wired for togetherness. Self-care is better than no-care but is no substitute for community care.
Pouring From an Empty Cup
You know that popular phrase about how you can't pour from an empty cup? While technically true, I still have to call bullshit. We shouldn't have to constantly balance how much of ourselves we pour out to whom, against how much we are allowed to keep, against how exactly we'll manage to refill in time (self-care!) because we're both 'not supposed to pour from an empty cup’’ AND ‘supposed to pour’. It's exhausting.
If we're gonna talk about pouring from a cup, our service to others should ooze lusciously and with ease from the overflow, not get scraped from the grainy dredges at the bottom. But that's not reality for many, and the last thing I want is for that to read as one more expectation. Even women with primo self care habits who keep their cups as full as possible routinely find that someone else has grabbed their cup and siphoned out what they need from it - usually without either permission or compensation and without anyone else even noticing. Every time our cup gets used and its NOT by choice - be it from trauma, emergent or chronic health issues, family members with additional needs etc, holes and cracks will emerge in our cup. Holes and cracks which leak - sometimes faster than we can fill them.
So what are we to do? How do we take control of our cup? How do we fix our cup? How do we fill our cup? How do we stop others from siphoning out of our cup or dumping us out? How do we rise from the ashes stronger than before? How do we discover, create, claim… our new identity as a mother?
Step One? Smash the damn cup. We are not empty vessels. Our existence is not solely for the sustenance of others. We are each whole unto ourselves. We are valuable simply because we ARE. Our worth is not determined by much we pour out to others or how much we keep for ourselves. We are so much more than an empty cup. We are each the divine mother, the divine feminine, embodied in exactly the way that is needed for the child(ren) in our life, for ourselves, and for the world.
Grieving What Is Lost
We are not who we were before we began the journey into motherhood. We will never be THAT person again. Acknowledging this is huge. And so hard. It is normal and healthy to grieve the death of who we were even as we celebrate who we are and who we are becoming and who we might yet be.
We are not who we were before, and we can’t control all the circumstances that will make up our journey into motherhood. We don't choose our family history. We don’t choose the unforeseen complications. We don’t choose our privileges or lack of. But we do get to make choices about who we become. The things we focus on multiply. Our thoughts become our reality.
I don’t mean the ‘magically manifesting your way out of poverty’ kind of privilege-fueled spiritual whitewashing bullshit. I mean that our experiences, our memories, our beliefs, our thoughts create the filter through which we view the world.
When I was struggling with a second-born who was up to nurse every 60-90 minutes for days, then weeks, then months, and yes - actually more than two years…. The thing that saved me was changing my own thoughts. If I focused on how little time had passed since I last looked at the clock, before I knew it I was FURIOUS and overwhelmed and sobbing silently into my pillow. If I put away the clock and said to myself “This is hard but it won’t last forever. My child needs me at 4am just as much as he does at 4pm. I meet my child’s needs with love and compassion…” I was less tired. I was conserving my emotional energy which in turn allowed additional moments of sleep. I managed through those two plus years because my thoughts changed my reality.
If mental health issues, significant history of trauma, or divergent neurotypes are at play as well though, then our thoughts can quickly become our worst enemy. The reality that our thoughts create can be a dark one that skews everything towards shadow. If this is you, please know that there is still hope. <3 It will take more work than it does for your average person but if mothers are anything we are resilient and resourceful.
I fully believe that the knowledge of what we each need to be healthy and happy and whole is within us now. The seed of our truest self is growing in the soil of our soul and just waiting to burst forth when it gets the water and the sunlight and the nutrients it needs. Maybe its traditional counselling and/or pharmaceutical medications. Maybe its nutraceuticals. Maybe its homeopathy. Maybe its plant medicine and whole foods. Maybe its EFT/tapping. Maybe its movement. Maybe its meditation. There is no universal right answer - only the answer that is right for you.
No Easy Answers
Truthfully though, there are no easy answers. We live in a culture that expects us to work invisibly and silently. The mental load that mothers carry is real and it is heavy. Any choices that make us visible or powerful are going to be met with resistance from both the patriarchial and misogynistic voices we’ve internalized and from all the external voices who would rather we stay hidden in ash so as not to disrupt the status quo. Life can be tough and we don’t always have the time, the resources, the energy to tackle the status quo head on. That’s ok. Only you know how you want to feel, who you want to be, and what the right path is for you to get there. Only you know what the best use of your energy and resources is. Maybe you have to focus on keeping food on the table and a roof over your heads. That’s okay. Maybe you have to change one small thing and that will set major change into motion. Also okay. Maybe you have to do a 180 and walk in a totally new direction than you have before. That’s okay too.
I have big dreams for Hedgecraft Herbals, Birthkeeping & Mothering. But I also have the reality of being neurodivergent myself and having two kids who learn at home with me full-time, one of whom has PDA-Autism. A business that might take your average mom seven years to build is probably going to take me many more than seven. And I have to be okay with that. I can’t force a flower to bloom before its time. I would love to attend Kundalini yoga classes weekly but it doesn't work for our family right now so instead I hit repeat on my playlist of fav kundalini mantras. I sit in the sunshine and I breathe. I make small choices when I can that help me be the person I want to be. My first born is nearly 8 years old and I’m still figuring out who that is. Lol.
All I Know For Sure
All I know for sure is that I believe in you. I believe that who you are Now matters. I believe that the knowledge of what you need to live with purpose is wired into your very DNA in the form of your unique strengths, gifts, goals, dreams and desires. I believe that its harder than our culture lets on to work through the identity crisis of modern motherhood. I believe giving ourselves permission to grieve our past life is crucial. I believe you can be a great mother even when you don’t feel like you know what you’re doing and when you don’t know who you want to be.
I believe in you.
Recommended Reading & Resources
Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth & Beyond
by Nancy Bardacke
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
by Brene Brown
Ancient Map For Modern Birth: Preparation, Passage and Personal Growth During Your Childbearing Year
by Pam England
Like A Mother: A Feminist Journey Through the Science & Culture of Pregnancy
by Angela Garbes
The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear & Take Life to the Next Level
by Gay Hendricks
The Fourth Trimester: A Postpartum Guide to Healing Your Body, Balancing Your Emotions, & Restoring Your Vitality
by Kimberly Ann Johnson
Mothering From Your Center: Tapping Your Body’s Natural Energy for Pregnancy, Birth, & Parenting
by Tami Kent
The Desire Map: A Guide To Creating Goals With Soul
by Danielle LaPorte
The Mask of Motherhood: How Becoming A Mother Changes Everything & Why We Pretend it Doesn’t
by Susan Maushart
Do Less: A Revolutionary Approach To Time Management For Busy Moms
by Kate Northrup
The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother
by Heng Ou
You Are A Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness & Start Living An Awesome Life
by Jen Sincero
Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood
by Naomi Wolf
It Didn’t Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle
by Mark Wolynn
Graeme Seabrook - Community Creator for Mothers
Adi Shakti - The Divine Mother meditation by 3H0 Foundation
Nirinjan Kaur teaches the Adi Shakti meditation
Why It's Crucial For Women To Heal The Mother Wound - Bethany Webster