lean in

earlier this week, my daughter and i were in our bedroom. i was getting ready to go downstairs to meet with a client (i work from home, via skype/phone). as we were walking toward the door, i let her know that mommy would be going downstairs soon to work. she said something like, “no, no, no” and came closer to me, clearly not wanting to separate. what i did in the next moment nearly astounded me, because so often i want to pretend i don’t hear her pleas for connection, at least, or especially, when i have something to do or somewhere to be. i bent down, embraced her, and told her, “mommy will be back. i’ll always come back.” and with that we left the room and she easily went to her dad, waving bye to me.

admittedly, these lines were inspired by blog posts i’ve read about how to support the transition of separating. to remind my daughter that i will, indeed, return after being away seems so obvious, but i needed support in getting to that place. this was, however, really the first time i’ve successfully, fully implemented it. the first time i really met her emotion, took it in, allowed it to be there without trying to minimize (even if only to myself), and offered reassurance from a sincere place inside me. i slowed down to hear her. i leaned in toward her and her feelings.

this experience seems so simple, yet it’s struck and stayed with me as being quite profound. i have a history of not listening to my inner children when they’ve been calling out to me, screaming at me, tugging on me in some shape or form. it’s so easy to ignore, although that nagging anxiety in the background never really goes away when we’re ‘ignoring,’ does it?

what if, instead, we stopped to meet that voice? to crouch down to that two-feet-off-the-ground level and look ourselves in the eye and say, “i hear you.” we don’t have to talk ourselves out of feeling the way we do. or offer candy-coated reassurance that lacks any nutritive substance and only contributes and perpetuates the emptiness we feel inside (think, “everything’s okay” or “you’re fine”). to really listen. simply listen. to set aside our own agendas and acknowledge what’s happening in real time.

when we can truly lean in, listen, make space for what’s actually happening and needing to happen, many times we can find a simple solution, or genuinely reassuring word. just a moment of presence, of connection, is all that’s needed.

the risk of trusting

two stories : one moral

#1. lately, i’ve been thinking about trust and how hard it can be, especially after we’ve been hurt. i’m currently breastfeeding my almost 14 month old daughter, who now has some teeth. and teeth, you know, are good for biting. she hasn’t bitten me much, or too hard. thankfully. but, in one of the most sensitive of spots, and during an act that is quite a vulnerable experience for me, it hurts. it hurts when it’s unexpected. and it hurts because i’m feeding her and it’s a real shock to the system to be bitten when offering so much love.

i began to think about this experience, and how it’s now tinged with the slightest veil of fear because i don’t know if she’s going to bite me again. even though she rarely bites, and only does so playfully, there’s still fear on my part because i don’t want to get hurt. so, i’m on guard more. a little more tense. a little more weary and on edge. i’ve been hurt a couple times now during breastfeeding…could i be hurt again?

i went to a mom’s group for a little while when my daughter was younger and ran into one of the moms in a restaurant a while back. i chatted with her and her husband, and she was telling me how her son was growing some teeth and how nervous this made her feel as it related to breastfeeding. her husband chimed in and said that his mom stopped breastfeeding the first time he bit her.

just like that.

it’s so easy to give up on something after we’ve been hurt, isn’t it? it’s safer, feels like we’re in more control. as least we have the guarantee that it won’t ever happen again. right? to go back after being hurt puts us at greater risk. at least ego would have us believe that. yes, we’ve been hurt before. but really, it doesn’t spell doom for our future. every time i breastfeed i could be bitten, but i’m not bitten more than i am. and still, it would be easy for me to want to run with the fear.

i’ll admit that i don’t really fear being bitten every single time. but i will say that it has changed the experience. i’m aware of the “danger” yet choose to risk it. i have to choose to trust that my daughter isn’t going to make a meal out of me (well, i guess she is, but i’m assuming you know what i mean) every time she nurses. i choose to trust because the alternative is constricted fear, an avoidance of something so special because of the what if lurking in the recesses of my mind.

*****

#2. today my husband and i took our daughter to the library to play. it’s an easy play area. and free. win win. at the library was a 15 month old little boy who became an instant friend. at least friend in the sense of sharing space together and interacting as toddlers do: staring at each other, babbling at each other, getting a little curious about each other’s faces and clothes. they parallel played for a bit, each doing their own thing. coming together and moving apart fluidly. then out of nowhere this kid just walked up and pushed my daughter in the chest, knocking her over.

she cried a bit. my heart ached and wanted to lash out i’m sure. and then again, it got me thinking. thinking about a lot of things, actually. it made me think about how little control i have over bad things happening to my daughter. there was nothing i could do to prevent this, aside from never letting her interact with other children. i didn’t see it coming. nor did my husband, or the kid’s mom. it was impulsive, toddler behavior. he probably felt like pushing, so he did.

after a short cry and time spent with me, she was ready to get back in the play. she went back to playing with him. back to looking at him, open to engage. perhaps it was resiliency in the making. i thought about her willingness to risk again, despite this kid having just pushed her.

*****

the moral:

life hurts, and there’s not a whole lot we can do to prevent it. in order to love and live fully we have to risk getting bumps and bruises, heartaches and heartbreaks. we can choose trust over fear, even if fear tells us to run or hide or bury because we can’t bear to feel that pain again.

and that’s the lesson: just because we’ve been hurt before doesn’t mean we’ll be hurt again. it’s the heart of vulnerability. to open despite the scar. to wakefully walk into the fire, knowing our heart is on the line. to trust that we’ll be loved, that we can risk the pain to live fully, openly.

lessons from labor

near the end of September 2016 i gave birth to a little girl. a baby. a child. and on that day, through the hours of pushing and screaming and crying and sleeping, i was born with her.

we birthed each other on that day. she wouldn’t be born without me, nor i without her. it’s a relationship like i’ve never experienced. this symbiotic, perfect, little relationship that has been growing from seed to bud to blossom. the roots are deepening each day, each hour. each smile as we meet eyes across the room. each little chuckle and gurgle as we communicate through spit and sounds. through words that us adults have forgotten. when will google translate tackle baby talk? oh, but the magic would be lost then. i prefer the mystery of the wonder. when we don’t get lost in the meaning of words….

only recently have i started to sink into the reality that yes, we birthed each other on that day. we did this, together. through giving birth to her something was born in me, too. and i don’t mean me as mother was born. no. while yes, i technically became a mother on that day, the mother in me wasn’t hatched overnight. or over 3 nights, for that matter. it’s been a slow awakening, an even slower deepening and revealing.

what i write about now are the most poignant details of my labor and delivery. because, true to form, everything is metaphor.

push. then push some more.

when my water finally broke, i suddenly felt the intense urge to start pushing. it happened unexpectedly and quickly and there was no questioning what i was experiencing. my doula, Sierra, encouraged me to go with what my body was telling me to do. so i pushed. for 3.5 hours. at one point, my midwife, Sarah, told me that i would have to keep pushing after my body stopped giving me the signal to push. that was hard to hear. i thought my eyes were literally going to explode. but i did it.

this was important to me, especially upon reflection, because we often talk about listening to our bodies and only doing what our bodies want to do. to a certain degree, and in certain cases, yes, that’s true. but sometimes we do have to push ourselves beyond our perceived limitations, beyond the signal to stop. this is true whether we’re laboring a real or metaphorical baby. it’s the ego that uses this “only do what your body is saying yes to” as fuel for resistance. because i can tell you i was not eagerly wanting to force myself to push, probably because i didn’t think i could do it. and there’s the gold: the “i don’t want to” or “i don’t feel like it” is really, “i’m scared and doubtful in my ability.” that glorious soft underbelly known as vulnerability.

waiting and doing: a dance

so, while Sarah was encouraging me to push, and then push some more, she was also patient as my body revved up to push again. i would push, and then push some more, and then wait. there was nothing i could do, and sometimes i wondered if the urge to push would even come back. but, we all waited. sometimes i fell asleep (Sarah and Sierra were full supporters of this, the body being the strange wonder that it is). sometimes i just laid there, wondering, waiting. and sure enough, i could feel it as one can watch a wave rolling in to shore. the slow build up, that little inkling of something on the horizon. and i was fully in it again. this dance continued: push and wait. push and wait. it was one of the biggest lessons from labor – there’s a time to push and a time to wait.

in the waiting is the trusting. it’s a total surrender. to not know when the next urge will come. or the next heart opening. or the next cry. if i had pushed when i didn’t feel the urge to push, i may have done more damage. or worn myself out completely. or who knows what. it could have gone just fine. but, that wasn’t my way. i had to wait for my body to give me something to work with, but once that ball was rolling, only then could i push it a few feet further. it was the most beautiful dance of masculine and feminine. doing and being.

it’s all about choice. even when you think there isn’t one.

after it was all said and done, one of the nurses said, “you were so in control.” to which i responded, “i’m glad i have experience with meditation.” really, i think meditation got me through with most of my sanity intact. (thank you Susan Piver!) i was able to direct my attention on to something that helped my mind not go completely bonkers. sometimes it was on my breath, mostly it was on counting through the contractions. but, the ability to focus attention truly is a superpower. when i could have shut down completely out of fear i was able (though not each time, not going for perfection here) to choose to lean in.

i talk about meditation here because in these moments i could have easily chosen to focus on how scared i was (meditation has taught me otherwise, hence the connection between meditation and choice). how much i didn’t want to feel the pain. how i wanted to run from it. how doubtful i was i could even go through it. of course i voiced all of this, somewhat reluctantly (my own issues were surely present with me, too – didn’t want to scare anyone else by saying i was doubtful about going through labor while in labor), but at various moments i clearly remember stepping into my strength when most of me wanted to shrink into the bed.

and so, i say this to myself and to anyone else terrified about change: it’s okay to be scared. it’s okay to not know if you can do it. because you’ve never done it before. you don’t have to know how it’s going to play out (this was another big lesson from labor). in fact, there is no way to know how it’s going to play out.

life is a beautiful evolution. the future is something we live into one day, one minute, one breath at a time. we are stronger than we think and softer than we acknowledge….all worthy of love just the same.