When our eldest was born I was the ripe, not so old, age of 37. I had spent my adult life until then predominately pursing my passions and my dreams. I felt fortunate to be in this position, this privilege, and too was aware of how much of what I had created was of my own making. I hadn’t received a golden spoon to enable my path. I was working from my heart and, to actualise my imaginings, I knew I simply had to listen to my truth.
From my early twenties my purpose had been clear: to work with people in the water. I knew it’s power and it’s ability to reveal, nourish and heal. I’d had a vision and it stayed fresh in my mind, in my body and soul, until one day I stood in the water and, behold, my arms were extended with someone lying, resting in my hands. My vision was manifest and, not only this, I was standing amongst a group of others doing exactly the same. There were others that spoke my language and I felt, at the time, I had begun to arrive home.
Part of this privilege before our son was born was being able to meet my physical needs. I was self-employed, earning enough to get by and free to work my hours largely around me, which felt enormously indulgent. I LOVED being in the water, I craved it and spent as much time, when not working in it, just being in it. Playing, swimming, lying at the bottom, floating… I loved too dancing, yoga, Capoeira…. I knew how much physical-ness harnessed me. It fed me. I learned so much about myself through it. I met my breath through it. It caressed my nervous system. I could discourse with my energetic body. And I felt strong, bound and empowered through it. But I also knew within my connection to it, in part was addiction. As greatly as it gave to me positively, my sense of self also depended on it.
A few weeks before our son was born, poignantly I remember standing in the shower at the pool after a swim and play, wondering; How will I be not being able to come to water whenever I want? Throughout all my adult life, every window I could create, in every country, city, land I visited, I would find water to go find myself in. I was curious how, with the very soon to be prospect of motherhood, I could create these opportunities with a young baby in tow? And part of me wanted to experiment with life without my frequent go-to friend, to discover who I was without her.
My first swim, after our son was born, was when he was six weeks. My husband sat on the side whilst I nipped into the lido, swam a handful of lengths and jumped out. Our son wanted a feed. He wanted them frequently, hourly, throughout day and night. I had an overabundant supply of milk and, with so much fore-milk, he wasn’t receiving the sustenance he needed. He and I were also trying to fill a hole. He had been in neo-natal shortly after birth and we spent the following year calling out for each other, both needing to arrive deep in connection and heal those first few nerve-wrecking days.
At the time, I met other new mothers, keen to get their ‘bodies back’, their ‘lives back’. But I found less I needed, wanted to swim. I wanted less my old life. I didn’t want to go backwards. I wanted to be in here and now and, then, my here and now, was learning and responding to our son. I dived instead into him. And despite the increasing sleep deprivation, I felt full, confident and buoyant, perhaps because of the years prior feeding and nourishing myself. Despite too my upbringing, it’s cold brutality and the scars it had left within me, I felt daring. The imprint of my past left no desire to repeat and I dared to trust my instincts, my gut, and parent how I felt true.
And then, somewhere along my path into motherhood, I lost my cord. Twenty-four months of sleepless nights, ongoing health problems, years of financial stress, several broken friendships, minimal familial support and engagement…. Things heavily took their toll. In retrospect, it’s easy for me to say I wasn’t looking after myself enough, but in the windows I took, I intently tried to nourish and meet myself. It felt like miniscule drops in a mighty ocean but I knew I needed to start somewhere. Yet I spent years angry. With myself and others around. Aggrieved with family for their lack of support. Frustrated with my husband for not feeling held sufficiently. Furious at myself for not being what or who I used to be. I was too depleted and exhausted to start working again and, because of my own childhood, wanted to be present for our children in their early years.
I started to feel formless. My identity shifted from something greatly affirming to something non. Part of me knew this was the very essence of my journey but in the currency in which we live; of supposed ‘certainty’, fixed points of reference, of the crippling definitions of career, home, family, body, holidays, I felt voiceless. I saw engagement evaporate from people’s eyes when I said I was a stay at home mother. I didn’t want to talk of what I had previously done. I wanted to talk of now but suddenly I found myself fighting internally, following my heart and this unknown territory on one hand and wanting to find connection and resonance in my day to day on the other.
Oh what a tricky land to negotiate within, this morphing, evolving identity. That is at once so personal and so unique yet is sold to us as a one-set, fits all, perfect shape. (Just like our physiques). Our cultural journey into motherhood regrettably thrives on nursing our insecurities. Heralded as a must do, an apparent right of passage for women, yet simultaneously wholly undermined and devalued. Our instincts, so valid and integral as mothers, are thrown around a bull-ring, chewed, spat out and ‘re-packaged’ from not voices of ourselves but the seemingly ‘correct’ do’s and don’ts and how to ‘fit’ in, for us a mothers as well our children. And whilst we fret about the should’s and should not’s, competing with our sisters rather than supporting, the source of our power, so magnificent in our being, time and again is extinguished. It’s incessant and deeply tragic.
Personally I don’t want to fit in but I do want to connect and find kinship. My village. And my power. I have been slowly making inroads into the oceans that lie within me. I have torn myself to pieces over the years for not being super. Not being able to be an all-singing, all-dancing mum. I blamed myself for falling apart and realise now, with gentleness and generosity, I was sinking because my resources were low. We moved when our son was 18 months old. I felt like an incoherent, sleep-deprived mess making new friends. Our son started biting and scratching other kids and I stayed on full alert trying to prevent bloody spillages and harsh words and glares from the new parents I met. We were living hand to mouth financially whilst neighbours around donned three storey townhouses, with playrooms, guest rooms, attic rooms and summer holidays in chateaus in France that spanned months not weeks. We stayed with our stay-cations, we had no choice for other. I could have gone back to work. Maybe then we could heed a lifestyle of similar degrees but my underlying choice was to stay and create healthy roots for our children. My unstable health underpinned this too. And I wanted to learn and re-shape what had been handed to me as a child and, despite myths, I’m none too great at juggling.
Then to cap a giant snowball, I departed from myself after our daughter was born. Radically. The panic of being hospitalised so soon after she was born and being separated, triggered deep wounds of trauma I had experienced as a child. Yet ironically, in all my soul-searching, pre-motherhood, trying to crack the tightly held nut inside me, the internal blind-spot that refuted connection, even a little conversation, I began to converse with. Ironically, in all my ‘awakening’ in seeking to meet this dark truth inside prior to children, it had been met with resistance all the way. But, putting what I now recognise as my coping mechanisms aside – my water work, the yoga, mediation, healing work…. I was able to reveal some more innate, older mechanisms, that were so uncomfortable, so painful, they necessitated me inwards in a way in which I wasn’t able to access before. In my un-anchoring, from the things that had fed and sustained me to a certain level, I was called to meet the terror of my past. Breaking down, filled to the brim on anxiety and nervous energy, petrified within, desperately wanting to find my ‘strong’ self again, wanting, like my teenage self, to clean the shitty feelings out, with support, I started to touch upon the abuse that I had disassociated with for as long as I have known. Given a choice, I still pull back from going there. But in finding the courage to name it and speak it aloud, I feel more assured, more comfortable in my acknowledgement and more able to tenderly meet what arises. And too, I enjoy the freedom from the fear that had pervaded me for so long.
And so this crazy, contradictory journey of motherhood. Wanting to move forward, I left behind what had kept me afloat for so long. In distress, I even abandoned myself for a while. But yes, I still tried to make inroads. Maybe it’s because it’s seven years since I was pregnant and a new cycle is beginning. Maybe it’s because I have listened to whispers. Maybe it’s just because. But I have begun to swim and play enough in the water that once more I’m starting to experience my energetic body. Yes! I’m starting to re-claim my physicality, although this time, with less dependency but more lightness and curiosity instead. I know now part of this dependency before had been entwined with the abuse I experienced and a need to feel physically strong enough to push away what I didn’t want. I didn’t know this before having kids. And I’m so grateful I do now. I have too begun to practice some yoga and enough to re-connect with my core-power, which I’m quietly reveling in.
Yes. I am feeling an arrival in my body that feels at once familiar yet, magically, new. I have aged. I turned forty when our daughter was born. I grew curvier, heavier, less lithe, less bendy. I mentally resisted and fought for a while gravity pulling my flesh and skin downwards. As we all do. But a new language is becoming my body as I re-engage. I feel as if I have traveled to foreign lands and returned home, full of new and old wisdom. Redefined. Newly formed. Newly, wonderfully, informed. It has taken me years to fully embrace the amorphous province of motherhood, the one in which communication resides so significantly in the non-verbal. The one we so often grab a parachute to jump out of and fall back into life where we are less challenged by small folk. It’s challenged me more than I could have ever imagined and unwittingly, despite intently wanting to move forward, made me yearn at times for my old younger self. But I am starting to feel less alien. I’m starting to understand how I can exist within this realm and, feel, sense, an umbilical cord of my own making, looping in and around itself. It is it bounding me immensely. And it is a wonderful feeling; to feel once more I can face the world knowing I’m working in the unknown but feeling strong enough to worry and care far less about the definitions, constraints and constrictions.
I know coming into my body, for me personally, still carries weight to enable this. And energetically this is vital. I know well the work I have done as a mother, inspired, invited by my children, excavating one of the loudest blind spots from my past has brought me to the place also. As well as the love of beautiful souls who have met me in my pain. And perhaps too, this new verve and inward swagger, comes with the grace and beauty of being 44.
Image: Oliver O’Brien