We had a lovely gathering for Motherhood: seen, heard, moved on October 4, 2015 at Kavarna in Oakhurst where participants read their poetry and prose. Everyone who attended read her own work, which allowed room for courage, honesty, healing, laughter and lots of tears. As co-founder of the project and writing guide/editor, I knew I was committed to letting the art steer the majority of the ship, I knew I wanted to let it birth itself; yet, I didn’t realize what a moving, heartfelt, influential project it would turn out to be. I think we all pushed ourselves to show up for the project and the gathering not for the sake of crossing something off our list, but as an applause for showing up not only in a candid, naked way for photos to be taken and viewed but also and especially for the reflective writing process despite some resistance, tenderness and exhaustion. As I wrote in my own poem you can read below, I believe the consensus of the readings and photography show that We are continuous cycles of pregnancy, labor and birth, that Our depth surpasses simple titles, superficial images, that We birth ourselves throughout motherhood, We raise our children As we raise ourselves.
Birthing the Mother Within by Caroline Gebhardt
Tonight I sang
Twinkle twinkle little star
Knees tucked into my belly
As he gazed, eyes lazy
That is what I thought
Motherhood would be.
Sing-song lullabies and cuddles
Cotton blankets and sweet drool
Maybe a red bottom to round it out.
But my reality:
Less smooth gliding and soft cooing
More edgy straining and choppy repeating
Perhaps that’s what two will do –
Stretch you thinner, shorten your breathing.
I slammed into motherhood with my first
Flailing anxiously and desperately
Crying for my own steady mother
Seeking answers, guidance, softness, a home –
Like the book Are You My Mother?
I needed that deep round nest
To hold my shock and validate my awe
To soothe my cracked nipples
To feed me steadiness and tenderness
To carry us through the dark crying nights.
I tiptoed into motherhood with my second
Knowing the hardships of breastfeeding, chronic cries
But I found someone eager to easily eat
Sound on my body
Mirroring what I quietly held within.
My First teaches me to dive, to fly
He guides me to root down, pull inward, reach
He pushes me into handstands
And twists me into dryness
So when I exhale, I have no choice but to soften.
We walk and bike and play with sticks at the park
Chase, and bad guys, and monsters
At home, he cries that he doesn’t like me
For messing with his pizza
Then asks for a hug through kicks and tears.
My Second babbles and grunts and coos
Nibbles, pinches, squeezes, grins
Happiest climbing on my body, hugging me
For what I like to take as love I deserve
Can accept and keep giving back.
I think if I had another
I’d see a midwife who pushes yoga
Not pills, liability and epidurals.
She’d hold my hand thru the waves
Less numbing – drip, drip, drip.
I imagine another baby
Me more relaxed
Before, during and after birth
“This time I got it!” But –
Mothering is never a magazine spread.
Whether she subscribes to
Downward dogs and breastfeeding,
Running and formula,
Staying at home or 9 to 5,
The interior details are what define us.
Details like how we react
To a carton of sticky raisins scattering all over the floor
To the tightness we feel, our reactions to tantrums
To being able to just Be with a sleeping child (no device, no light)
These things birth us.
I dream of another round belly
And connection through breastfeeding
And fat fingers smelling of strawberries
Those are things I’ve mastered
The places of delight.
But I’m still pregnant with wonder
At how I am doing
Am I Good Enough?
I’m still bleeding with anxiety when I feel rage
In my throat when my First topples my Second.
I’m still trying to plan and cook a decent meal
And stop what I’m doing when he says, “look, mama!”
While trying to feed my own hungers
Of dancing, dreaming, writing.
And, oh yeah, my husband, let’s not forget.
I birthed my newborns imperfectly, anxiously
And hindsight tells me “I wish”
I wish I’d slowed down, asked for more privacy
Begged that nurse who held my hand to stay
Told my own mother to leave.
But the real birth keeps happening:
Foresight tells me the Bigger Truth
Of all the labor and pain and blood and release ahead.
Contractions urge us to push, stillness urges opening –
We are continuous cycles of pregnancy, labor and birth.
So when I hear stories of
Her natural homebirth
Her four kids and rocking career
Her one child and regrets;
I know the truth.
Those are all just titles of books
Lacking chapter content
Our depth surpasses simple titles, superficial images.
We birth ourselves throughout motherhood
We raise our children
As we raise ourselves.
We finally become mothers to ourselves,
Looking within, not without or elsewhere, backward, down.
Realizing she was there all along.