On Friday we stopped breastfeeding.
31 months and 1 day.
2 years and 7 months and 1 day.
One of the longest, most rewarding, and most fulfilling jobs I have ever had. Yes : I said “jobs” – because whilst it was wonderful and tender and wrought with hormones and body doubt and body gratitude and self doubt and self care and self neglect and ideological ambition and realistic set backs and unwaivering perseverance and effortless ease and sublime miraculous grace : it was work. Holy work. I do see it as me having chosen to take on a job to nourish you, my child. A job commissioned by nature to fulfill as long as we both enjoyed the process and relationship of nourishing and nurturing / drinking and receiving. It was nourishment and nurturing of a complex and multifaceted nature. A journey and a relationship shrouded in blissful connection and sometimes underpinned by deep struggle. A journey that has naturally ended at the perfect moment; for both of us.
I still can’t quite believe that it is over; and to be honest it isn’t quite “over” as we are still talking about it between us: still touching Ninnie and feeling together how Ninnie is changing, laughing together at the incredulity of there being no more milk drinking. Ninnie is your name for my milky breasts – you know the word “breasts” but refer to my breasts (still now a few days later) as Ninnie.
If anyone would have told me when I was a few weeks pregnant that I would breastfeed you for this long I would have laughed in their face(!!!) I thought I would breastfeed for 9-12 months until you transitioned into food, and didn’t need the calories anymore….but then there you were, and my natural instincts blossomed and my rational mind was convinced after doing the research….and there you were: relishing the milk. Loving your safe haven from the exciting world, your body growing and flourishing so powerfully, your immunity and your health so strong – your desire to continue so palpable as each and every time you arrived at the breast your body relaxed and your nervous system reset.
We breastfed through a lot. We breastfed through our mutual recovery from a Caesarean birth after a long labour; for a few days we supplemented here and there as my milk supply came through – and despite the gruelling pumping schedule we breastfed through it. We breastfed through your Upper Lip Tie and for 9 weeks we breastfed with a nipple shield. We breastfed through the protracted death of my granny; your great grandmother. We breastfed through your first teeth, and your first mild fever. We breastfed through the arrival of each and every tooth that arrived – and at 12 months you had 14 teeth…each one bringing fresh chafing for my resilient nipples. we breastfed through the second level three day doula training I attended when you were 12 weeks old – your loving aunty bringing you at breaks and lunchtime. We breastfed through the flashbacks I started to have as part of the PTSD that was triggered in those first few months post partum; we breastfed through the ensuing migraines. We breastfed through a move to the UK for a few months; through the emotional rollercoasted that turned out to be. We breastfed through our happy return to Amsterdam. We breastfed through the first student births I attended, we breastfed through the “interuption to service” that the births and the hospital internships brought. You even had the privilege of breastfeeding from a friend whilst I was at the first full overnight birth. We breastfed through your first virus and your salmonella. We breastfed through your learning to walk and your increased sleep talking – thankfully no sleepwalking yet. We breastfed through the uncertain months of the beginning of self employment; me often reassured that whilst I wasn’t able to afford to put organic food and line caught salmon on our table as I had wanted – at least I could still offer you the breast -and that was as close to organic as it gets right?! We breastfed through your start at nursery, we breastfed through your decision to use the potty and the toilet. We breastfed though 2 years and 7 months of single parenting; and whilst a lot of parents in partnerships may not understand that there is a difference…that is no mean feat!
So how did it all come to an end?
On Friday night as we went about settling down for sleep after stories and tooth brushing; you said “Big Ninnie first” and out of nowhere I heard myself say “It is almost time to stop breastfeeding Jasper. You are a really big boy now, you can do so much for yourself, and Ninnie’s job is done – you don’t need to drink Ninnie anymore.” Your concern was initially mainly if you could drink from Ninnie tonight – naturally – your primary concern at 2y 7m is the present and immediate moment and the moment playing out in such a way that pleases you!!!
I cherished you as much as you would let me whilst you drank. I stroked your toddler head, your long blonde hair – totally different from the dark dark brown head of hair you were born with. I felt the size of your head; the solidity of it. I reminisced back to the first days of our journey when despite weighing 4.448kg at birth; you felt so tiny and fragile in my arms next to my blossoming bouncing balloon like breasts. I felt the full length of your little but solid toddler body next to mine and realised happily that you too will probably remember our breastfeeding journey in the longer term. This makes me so happy.
I have whispered into your ears at various points in the days since with tears in my eyes and my throat choked; “Ninnie will always love you – even though there is no more milk for you to drink; you can still put your head on the soft roundness and remember all the lovely milk you have enjoyed.”
The next night as we turned out the light after stories I invited you into my arm for a cuddle and you said; “Can I have Ninnie?” I smile in the half light (expecting the worst) and say “Oh no – we have stopped drinking Ninnie remember?” Tired after a lovely long day you say; “Oh yeah!” and lie back in your sheepskin.
Falling asleep the next afternoon; you are fidgetty and can’t get comfortable. You lie vertically on my body, your head over my heart, your arm outstretched over “Big Ninnie” (my right one) and fall asleep like that. I cherish the closeness; my heart hurting for you a little. Is it my projection or is this you searching for reassurance?
Last night you tried again – with a knowing and cheeky grin as you ask; “Can I have a little drink?” I laugh and say “Noooooo – the milk is gone now….”
“A tiny drink? A really really short drink?” you venture.
I reply with a clear voice defying my mental uncertainty; “Oh that would be so nice wouldn’t it; but Ninnie doesn’t have milk anymore – feel how wobbly they are now! They are very different now….” I’m half wondering if I should actually offer you some but the dread of the feeling of the dwindling milk being drawn up through the already very different feeling ducts persuades me not to(!)
I am so PROUD of you that you seem able to navigate this change with such confidence. Seeking out affirmations of our love and attachment, yes, but in what seems to be a secure manner. Our relationship is changing again – again! Oh how the wonderous journey of parenthood embodies the only certainhood we have in life: that nothing is certain – that nothing lasts forever.
In these last days of our breastfeeding journey (is it appropriate to say “The Wrap Up”?!?! Too soon maybe?!?!) I have laughed, I have cried, I have massaged and soothed my breasts in deep loving gratitude, I have reflected a lot on what the breastfeeding journey has meant for me, what I hope it has meant for you, and what it has meant for us as a mother and son. There are so many memories – some fleeting and funny, some raw and intense, some euphoric, some I have shared with others, some that will simply remain between you and I; and some that I hold close in my own heart just for me. It is also incredibly beautiful; that on the day that our journey stopped – the breastfeeding journey of a dear dear friend and her absolutely scrumptious newborn daughter began. The cycle continues!
I want to end with gratitude. Gratitude for you and your unwaivering determination from just minutes old, gratitude for your grunting and sucking and stroking and patting and burping and slurping, gratitude for my breasts and my body, gratitude for the healing nature of our “successful” breastfeeding journey after a birth journey that wasn’t what I had hoped for us, and last but not least – deep gratitude for all the people around us. The women, the dearest friends and family, the birthworkers and teachers, and the supporters who made our journey possible with their glasses of water, the delicious nibbles and snacks, the warming tea, the hand on the shoulder, the gentle reminders about techniques in those early days. Gratitude for their understanding when everything stopped so that I could sit down and nourish you; the knowing loving glances in cafes; the spoken words of tenderness, encouragement and support on the days when I was hollow eyed and “over it”; and everybody and every act of support in little and big ways since: THANK YOU.
image credit: chainimage.com
As I mentioned in a blog post on my professional Facebook page a couple of months ago; I heard myself referred to as “The Trauma Doula”. This is not because I inflict trauma upon my clients you understand (!) but more because I have chosen to specialise in supporting women (& their partners) in unravelling traumatic experiences and their impact on the journey of pregnancy, childbirth and the post partum period. So around and about Amsterdam I speak a lot about Birth Trauma, about VBAC, about Caesarean Birth, about sexual abuse, about domestic abuse and about the ways and means we have at our finger tips to support our hearts, bodies and minds in unpicking the thread that these types of trauma can weave through our experiences of these special moments in our lives.
Anyhow, I digress! Never having really had a “nickname” because Ilena doesn’t really rhyme so easily with other words; (someone did unsuccessfully attempt to spread “Ilena the Painer” some 22 years ago) I decided that “The Trauma Doula” was also not really one I was keen to perpetuate within the Amsterdam Birth Network or the wider network of families and parents-to-be.
So it got me thinking….what would I like to have as my nickname or “trademark”? To mention but a few fabulous doulas in Amsterdam with nicknames; the wonderful Maartje de Bruijn-Bruning from MotherMe is referred to as “The Duracell Doula” due to her unwavering high energy support, my beloved and multi-talented mentor Jennifer Walker has recently become “The Spinning Babies Doula” due to being one of seven approved Spinning Babies trainers, and the lovely Wendy van der Zijden IS “Holistic Doula”,due to her passion for all things natural and holistic, so what would I (or others) coin as a nickname for myself?
Well after waiting a few months for an answer, earlier this evening it struck me:
Am I “The Chameleon Doula”???
Now in other contexts of life, the notion of being a chameleon might not work so well: who would want a dentist come gynaecologist come antiques dealer to fill in a root canal? Who would trust a baker come plasterer come politician? What about a chemist come footballer come gardener? Maybe not….(!)
In the world of birth keeping however, I believe passionately in the value and significance of this ability to camouflage into the surroundings, and shape shift as appropriate. For me it is important that as a doula I can support you in a homebirth setting, in a hospital induction, in a water birth at a birth centre, or in a planned caesarean birth – all equally.
Now what does that actually translate into in terms of what I actually do during birth support? Let me be clear and tangible :
- I love space clearing with sage, palo santo or incense
- I love to offer insight into herbal teas and mineral supplements
- I love to sit with you as you learn about the physiology and chemistry of birth
- I love to use yoga principles to help you stretch out the body
- I love to hear your feedback after having reviewed the lastest scientific research on Vitamin K
- I love to sit with your midwife as you present your preferences for your care
- I love to help you pack your birth centre bag
- I love the curious and sometimes intense taxi ride to the hospital
- I love to coach you through the fears and doubts that arise as you navigate those final cms in your living room
- I love to bust out the essential oils for you as you’re hooked up to the CTG
- I love brushing your hair and applying make up as you enjoy the relief of the epidural
- I love to heat up your body with my warm hands as I channel the healing and rejuvenating energy of Reiki through your body
- I love to talk you through what I can see as you lie back on the operating table ready to meet your baby
- I love chanting with you as you prepare to bear down and push
- I love to coach you through the mental blocks like a hockey coach as you continue to push like you never did before
- I love to capture your incredulous awestruck face as you take in the face of your baby in person
- …and I love everything in between! I have to shape shift pretty dramatically in one birth between all of these tasks.
My clients reflect this chameleon like appearance; I serve artists and corporate lawyers, recruitment consultants and managing directors, performance coaches and stay at home parents….and every professional and non professional parent in between. Religious parents, atheists; trilingual expat parents, parents fluent in the local dialect; parents who prefer allopathic medicine to parents who utilise holistic medicine; etcetera. All of these individuals have sought support in pregnancy, birth and postpartum parenting….none of them can be labelled in any one way – and here their “job titles” and some “parenting choices” are just a couple of reflections of who they are or what is important to them.
Surely I have to be a chameleon then?!
I was incredibly lucky to have experienced a shape shifting or chameleon like birth story for my first child…it was like a four part story: through a home birth, an undisturbed hospital water birth, a full working day of the full casacade of interventions, culminating in a beautiful if unexpected Caesarean birth. Being a chameleon as a professional doula in Amsterdam means that I can support you in any birth setting, through any change of plan, through any and every choice you make, and through any outcome – always unconditionally and non-judgementally.
I realised through my own personal experience the true value of having birth support who can comfortably switch birth settings, who can effortlessly adjust to the mood and atmosphere as birth unfolds and everything shifts dynamically. For me the ability to be a chameleon seems intrinsic to the nature of a birth keeper…to be a professional who can shape shift easily and effortlessly and yet hold true to the core essence of their values and beliefs.
What does the core essence of my professional pledge look like?
Unconditional and continuous support
Non-judgemental support; I have no agenda
An open mind, an open heart and open hands
Respect and reverence for the uncertainty and miracle of the journey of birth
Positive and empowering communication
No protocol or prescription for care; on the proviso that it is clear that my support is non medical by definition
Whatever my personal choices might be in my pregnancy, during the unfolding of my birth stories, and as a parent I hope they don’t influence whether or not you decide to hire me…I would like to think that I have a successful and demonstrable track record in providing support as outlined above to all families who hire me; whatever their choices.
If you would like to enquire about the flexible and interchangeable services of The Chamelon Doula (!!!) then please email me to organise an introductory meeting where we can explore what doula support could look like for your family.
Two days ago I downloaded the series of podcasts from one of my top five most inspiring sheroes/heroines Elizabeth Gilbert who I was so privileged and inspired to meet in November 2013 at High Tea at the De Hortus Botanicus here in Amsterdam as a celebration and promotion of the release of her then latest book The Signature of All Things.(It’s a really wonderful read btw!!!)
Last night I started to listen to them, this morning I was aching to hear the rest, so the Teletubbies were put on the iPad for the little person and I indulged. Creativity explosions! Ideas galore! Gratitude beating through my body! Thankful faithful heart.
The two quotes in the Instagram picture which literally made me catch my breath when I heard them came from Episode 4 of Magic Lessons where Liz speaks to Rob Bell, had to be written on my fridge immediately. I recently discovered (thanks to my tenants who were living here for the first half of this year) that you can write on my cupboard surfaces with dry wipe marker – anyone who knows about my sheer love of both stationary and playing teacher(!) will atest to the fact that this is wonderful news.
Later this morning as I was walking The Pig and was still reverberating with the thankfulness, creativity and gratitude I decided to share one of my daily practices with you.
My “3 Things”
- 3 things I am grateful for today.
- 3 things I am hoping for today.
- 3 things I am trusting today
- 3 things I am releasing today
So here is today’s list – even though it’s a little earlier than I usually put them together:
Today I am grateful for:
- My friend Liz and all that she is; her work, her generosity, her spirit and her laugh!
- The incredible late summer weather that Amsterdam is bathed in
- Amsterdam Oosterpark – where The Boy, The Pig and I walk every day and enjoy the daily changes where we really notice “It is a new universe every second!”
Three things I hope for today:
- That the forecast is right and that we can enjoy this late summer bliss for three whole days
- That my client is enjoying being 9 days postpartum and that breastfeeding is establishing well
- That my next client is ready to contact me and move forward with our work together
Three things that I trust today:
- That I will be divinely guided to take the next perfect step toward helping my clients to find me
- That the universe in all it’s glorious abundance is taking care of my finances
- That I will start “The Book” when the time is right
Three things I release today:
- The need for perceived originality in my writing – surely if I write from my heart and soul voice then that in itself is unique?!
- Worry – it takes so much energy and focus away from the areas I wish to direct my energy and focus like The Boy, The Pig, my desires and my dreams.
- Guilt about the iPad and Teletubbies: listen to Magic Lessons Podcast episode number 1 for the justification
A) as much as I say “daily practice” I confess it doesnt happen every. single. day.
B) sometimes the same thing will take up space on the list for days/weeks at a time
C) sometimes I don’t manage 3 – but I still write 1 or 2
“Every orchestra has specific instruments and musicians, but you, the mother, are the conductor. You are writing your own symphony, you choose the music and the notes. If something is out of tune, you can change the music. You create the harmony. You are the maestro.”
excerpt from The Greatest Pregnancy Ever: The Keys to the MotherBaby Bond Tracy Wilson Peters, CCCE, CLD, and Laurel Wilson, IBCLC, CCCE
As a doula in Amsterdam, I hear many confessions from pregnant women or women who have recently given birth. I say confessions because often it’s as if they hear the word “Doula” and then decide to offload the thoughts they haven’t dared to share with anyone else about pregnancy, or childbirth or the postpartum period. This isnt a new experience for me – I often wonder if I have a sign on my forehead that reads “Please share your most taboo thinking/intense life experiences/painful loss/heartfelt desire/dirty secrets with me”?!?!?! It’s all good – I love hearing these untold pregnancy and birth stories!
A very common pregnancy confession (that sometimes women feel so guilty about that they don’t dare to vocalise it) is that they don’t or didn’t feel very connected to baby.
Fortunately we are now very mindful of the fact that babies’ consiousness does indeed develop in the uterus. Annie Murphy Paul gave an excellent TEDTalk on the matter, and the documentary What Babies Want explores this in a very convincing and heartfelt way – both great watches if you find you do want to explore the subject of babies’ inutero consciousness (see also the links at the end of this blog).
As with much of our developing awareness though – this knowledge can be a double edged sword. Many pregnant mothers upon hearing that indeed baby’s consciousness is there from almost the moment you see the extra line on the stick or hear the words “You’re pregnant” become very concerned with making sure their unborn baby has only positive experiences within the uterus, and that she experiences as much love, connection and nurturing as possible before birth. Great! As long as it doesn’t become a means to tell yourself that you are anything less than absolutely incredible for carrying a baby inside your womb.
“People keep asking if I’m enjoying the mother-baby connection and honestly I just don’t know what that is supposed to feel like?”
“How do I connect with a baby that I can’t see?”
“It’s hard for me to feel loved up and connected to baby when I just feel like crap 82% of the time due to pregnancy tiredness!”
Other confessions along the same lines go
“I felt so sad so often during my first pregnancy – I was worried that when she was born she would be depressed”,
“I just don’t have time for this pregnancy – I’m running around after an eighteen month old who has just started running – I can’t keep up with him let alone focus on this unborn baby”
You get the picture. Why are parents so hard on themselves?!?!
Here are six suggestions as a quick “How To Connect With Baby During Pregnancy”
- First thing in the morning or last thing at night. That lovely only half awake time when your eyes are probably closed, you feel way less self conscious and either the thought bubble (The Mind) is just about to switch on or off. As you’re adjusting your body to rest or wakefulness take a moment to place your hands on your beautiful bump and maybe just begin by saying “Morning Baby” (or Goodnight!) No need to say it aloud – though no harm in doing so. Once you feel comfortable doing this – you may even like to spoon in to your partner and invite them to say a few words.
- Whilst doing something mundane or mind numbing. You’re washing the dishes or brushing your teeth, dare i say it – maybe you’re driving on a route you know like the back of your hand. This is also a great moment to decide to check in with how baby is feeling. Chances are you’re relaxed and just in the moment – baby may already respond to this energy and have a little wriggle around – focus your attention on your womb, perhaps this feels more comfortable if you touch your belly with one hand to make contact. Tell baby what you’re doing. Tell her it’s boring! Tell her it’s really not your favourite thing to do but that somehow it’s quite relaxing anyway. Tell her what you did today. Tell her what you’re doing later.
- Guided visualisation or meditation. As a coach and doula in Amsterdam I often suggest to clients who are looking to build meditation into their practice but who find it difficult to switch off that they have a look on Youtube for guided meditations to listen to on headphones. That would be a great place to start, there are lots of guided meditations out there to try, and many women report finding a lot of peace and relaxation from the Natal Hypotherapy and Hypnobirthing CDs. It is also important to say that it is very very common for you to go “to sleep” whilst listening to a guided meditation, especially whilst pregnant(!) forgive yourself for this – and be reassured that it is all going in anyway! EDIT: I have also since recorded a few prenatal/pregnancy visualisations and meditations here and here!
- Singing to baby. Something wonderful happens to us when we sing! We breathe differently, we breath deeper, our lungs expand more fully and our diaghpram needs to get to work to help us project our voices. If you are a power ballad singer in the car, if you are a musical star in the shower or if you’re an arena filling singing chef in the kitchen – keep on singing – and just set the intention that the song is for baby. Having a song or two that you sing repetitively for baby during pregnancy can be a wonderful calming and reassuring tool for helping baby to feel safe and calm in the fourth trimester – and beyond. There is a truly beautiful anecdote from Penny Simkin (doula and doula educator extraordinaire) to be found here – enjoy!
- Going within: asking questions and listening. After having adopted a couple of the practices above – once you are able to recognise that you are connecting with baby in a deep and a meaningful way; then you may be ready to really take the contact with baby to the next level. Usually to really be able to pose questions and hear the answers it helps to be still and quiet. To be comfortable and feel safe. To know that time is stretching out ahead and you can really enjoy taking time to communicate with baby. Sitting down comfortably; if you are comfortable in the lotus position with your back straight and your spine aligned – great! Perhaps you’re more comfortable sat on a chair – a straight and well supported spine, both feet on the ground, perhaps you’ve been really using the birthing ball and are able to sit with a straight well aligned spine, knees wide and below hips, feet stable and supportive in full contact with the ground. Begin by placing your right hand on your belly to make contact with baby, and your left hand on your heart centre (on your chest).Take three deep breaths and focus on dropping your consciousness from your head into your heart. Take another three breaths and set the intention to connect with baby. Notice the warmth of each hand, notice baby; is she still, does she move? Invite the heart to ask baby how she is feeling. Notice. Breathe. Notice. Allow the feelings/instincts and thoughts to come up and take shape. Try not to judge. The ego will get busy telling you this is crazy, telling you that you’re imagining things. Just allow those thoughts; they too have their place. Ask again; ‘what can I do to help you feel better’? Notice. Breathe. Notice. Allow. Ask if there is anything else that baby needs to communicate to you. Notice. Breathe. Notice. Allow. And finally, what do you want to communicate to baby? Share. Notice. Feel. Breathe. Notice. Allow. Before you open your eyes, move around and get back to your day – take some time, take space together, feel the gratitude, feel the peace, feel the calm. Then >slowly< come back to your body, open your eyes, stretch and pick up your day.
- You’re always connected anyway….Remember this. Go about your day. Just be reassured that baby is listening, baby is feeling, baby is sentient, baby is connected to you; you are connected to baby – baby is within you. Baby is coming to earth, and earthside there is a whole range of emotion, of feelings, of experiences, of connection, of disconnection. Baby will get to taste it all. You are unequivocally connected to baby every second – waking or sleeping. And maybe that is enough for you to remember; actually you dont have to make a conscious effort to “connect with baby” because baby is connected. Let me say it again: you. dont. have. to. “DO”. anything. Be aware of the connection. Don’t scaremonger yourself about any “negative” experiences being “bad” for baby. By all means – focus as much as you can on the positives – beautiful if you can mainly be in this state, but if there are things going on in your life that are stressful, that are out of your control – let it go, try not to get hung up on it.
Here are a couple of other links for you to look into on the notion of mother-baby connection and evidence for it’s positive impact on pregnancy, child bearing and the immeditate post partum period, if you have any to add or if you have any heart warming anecdotes to share on the topic: please comment below!
Lastly: image credit unknown – I would love to attribute this beautiful image to it’s rightful creator so please make contact if you know the artist.
Not completely. Let’s say my façade fell apart. My mother and baby group tribe got to see the real messy, emotional, vulnerable, snotty, sweaty and mascara melting side of me which I strive to keep so well hidden….
Yesterday was day two of my back flaring up. No baby wearing – the stroller was out (oh how my self judgements raged about being disconnected from Jasper/how I’m failing at the attatchment parenting model/gremlin grumbling ad infinitum). I lost my tram pass (grrrrrrrrrr) so bought a single ticket (cue bigger GRRRRRRRR) and found some redemption in the pleasure of giving a free pass to the first person waiting at the tram stop I debarked from. Then I remembered I was 35 minutes late…rush in to the building as fast as possible – never mind the back twinges!
I came upon my new mummy friends and their bubbas sat around in an oxytocin filled room, sheepskins, blankets, fleeces, big innocent eyes, new teeth to speak of, bare bouncing bottoms, warm sudden wet fountains(!)….for the first time that day I felt like I could really breathe. I was greeted by a big kiss and “You’re looking hot today!” Indeed I’d highlighted my eyes with a stripe or two of liner, somehow hoping that a little jet black mascara and Mac serpent green would galvanise me and prevent me from losing my marbles.
My little man was excited to be in the building, which he already associates with joy, connection, laughter, song and development. He greeted everyone with big flirty Gemini smiles, more than happy for that moment to be centre of attention in a room full of love. He was a useful distraction for me; an extension of my facade. I brushed off my wince of pain as I sat down with a brief comment acknowledging it wasn’t anything physical, just some emotional turbulence manifesting physically. And our mother and baby Shiatsu massage session started. Monika was magnificent – connecting with everyone in our group individually and collectively. We all learnt a lot. We breathed deeply. We let go. We watched our bubbas let go and love us even more in our spacious open selves.
And the session ended. Monika graciously, generously went to one of our mums – a true warrior goddess recovering from major surgery on her intestines but eager to see us at her earliest opportunity. We busied ourselves chatting and beginning to clothe our naked mini beings.
I felt Monika’s hand before she said “And you Mama….lets work out whats happening with your back”.
The touch of a human. The touch of a mother. The touch of a balanced centred and well intentioned woman, a nurturer. Wow; always a pleasure – but as a solo parent and a single person one of the things we can miss the most is the loving touch of another. Already I felt relief. What ensued was Monika inviting me to lay face down on a yoga mat – my little man was quickly tended to by a loving mother with spare hands(!) – and Monika set to work on my spine…. Pretty quickly there was a big build up and release of heat, the tension seemed to vibrate underneath my skin, my spine tingling with the targeted manipulations. The tears fell, fortunately my hair covered the side of my face, but then the heat and the sweat took over, the thoughts tumbling –
“Oh jeeeeez….how will I manage to spring up and surreptiously wipe up this pool of tears, snot and sweat as I head off to the bathroom once she’s done?”
“What is wrong with me that a massage does this to me time after time?”
“Breathe…ouch that hurts….breathe….ouch that hurts….breathe”
“Oh my god I’m supposed to be leading a session with these ladies next week – who the hell will respect me enough to participate NOW?”
…..you get the picture!
Monika’s magic hands sensed it was time to stop kneading. She advised me to stay still for a few moments, reassuring me that Jaspie was just fine. I thought “Jump up, drag your sleeve over the wet patch, look at the floor and make a dart for the door – no one will see your mascara streaked panda face- go go go!”
My body had other plans. It threatened to spasm. The fear came. I froze. I eased myself back on the floor.
Darling Esther arrived at my side with loving arms and gentle cooing tender words. Reassuring and distracting, encouraging me to take some time. The rest of the thoughtful, considerate group of women held the space, gave me space, took their space and led by example: they allowed the experience to just be what it was, in that space, on that day, and loved me anyway. No sideways glances. No whispering. No knowing looks. No false comments about “everyone falling apart sometimes” or “hormones eh?!” No single mother pitied projections, no meaningless “I don’t know HOW you DO this on your OWN”.
Once I’d manoeuvred my sobbing damp self off the floor, I was held. They mothered me. They continued to hold the space around me. Judgement free, hurry free, question free.
So I had fallen apart. Not completely but not far from. My façade had fallen completely away. My sisters got to see the real messy, emotional, vulnerable, snotty, sweaty and mascara melting side of me which I strive to keep so well hidden.
My aching back still grating. The fear of a spasm lock down still playing out in my head. My mascara still tracing an interesting angle vertically on my cheek. But feeling seen. Feeling valid. Feeling cherished.
And the falling apart; it was OK. Really. It was more than ok – it was a huge relief. It was an opening. It was authentic. And we connected even more deeply than before. We bonded; our hearts wide open and non-judging. We “saw” each other. Me through my lens of tears; they through lenses of empathy and compassion. My falling apart represents progress for me. Letting go and letting people in. And through letting it all hang out and being totally accepted even in that snotty messy version of me, I get the added bonus of feeling SO much healing gratitude that my life is blessed with 150 minutes, once a week, with a sisterhood that does what our ancestors and our tribal counterparts know heals the spirit of a woman more than any drug or any therapy session could ever do.
With heartfelt gratitude to my sisters and their beautiful bouncing gurus from ‘Tiny & Mighty’, and wishing all who read this post a bare minimum of 150 minutes of utter and complete acceptance and authentic connection, this week and every week.
It seems befitting that my first post be my goodbye to this woman who meant to much to me, and inspired so much in me, particularly through her death this year.
“I confess I’d started to jot down some memories of Granny before she passed away. Partly because it was clear from the first doctor’s call in July that we were approaching the end, and mostly because in spending these beautiful last weeks with her and recalling happy times together, one memory sparked another, that in turn another, and I became anxious to make sure I got all these precious gems down on paper.
It was difficult however to know where to start in writing these words to say to you today, as knowing where to start; what best depicts the very best of our magnificent Granny is a tough job as there is such a wealth of memories to choose from. Such profound love, such generosity of spirit, so many valuable lessons taught, so much laughter, such delicious recipes, so many skills, so many gifts (and I mean both gifts of character as well as material, and we all know she loved to shop!); she brought so much to our family and no doubt to you her many friends.
I decided to share one of my first memories of Granny by way of a beginning. Being sat alone as a little girl of three on the stairs at Windsor Road watching a terrific storm brewing. The sky darkened and I ventured out in my thick Yorkshire accent which tickled Granny no end, “Granny?” No reply. No doubt she was busying about the garden or garage in her usual whirlwind way. The lightning struck, the thunder growled. I burst into tears. Seconds later Granny swooped in, her lovely face soft with concern, her wide open arms my very own port in a storm. She encompassed me in a tight cuddle, reassuring me that she would never be far away, and certainly would never leave me alone. My heroine. Unbeknownst to me at that moment she continued to be my unwavering port throughout various childhood and adolescent storms.
During one of these evenings we spent supporting eachother as a family recently, we laughed at the memory of an eight year old me flinging myself on my bed wailing “Granny! I want my Granny – she’s the only one who understands me….” Only two years before I had been the only one who could understand her in her hospital bed following her stroke. Perhaps the lack of fear and projection and the curiosity of a six year old meant that I was simply able to focus on the sounds she was making and was able to work it out, but it felt like, and I still believe it was mostly to do with our strong connection and bond we shared.
She made an incredible recovery from her stroke. Relearning almost all of that which had been lost or impaired in order to continue to pass it on; a teacher through and through. She taught me SO much. I remember getting to reception class and being confused why not everyone could recite the alphabet and write their name already. She taught me how to draw, how to paint, how to formulate perspective in a piece of artwork. She taught me the pleasure of playing a musical instrument, fondly encouraging my sometimes rather tortuous practicing of the violin, the piano and the flute. She taught me how to press tongue(!!!), how to make lemon cheese as soft as butter. She taught me that as women we must nurture ourselves, with good food on the inside and with luxurious products on the outside! She taught me the pleasure of having beautiful things in my home environment, the pleasure in buying, wrapping and giving gifts – she always so kindly poured over our gifts and their wrapping as we gave them to her; she was beyond question my favourite person to buy a present for. Thoughtfully she always wore one of the presents we’d bought her whenever we visited – some I even forgot I’d bought once or twice, she obviously never did.
In recent years her brain was affected by dementia. Sometimes this was difficult to see, and painfully was very difficult for her in her more lucid moments as she knew she wasn’t “quite right”. To be honest though we had some terrific laughs at the expense of dementia, like the Christmas day when I went in to give her a good morning cuddle and a cup of tea and sang “Happy Christmas Granny!!!” to which she replied not skipping a beat “Happy New Year!!!” Another beautiful gift of dementia was that it slowed her down. On my fridge I have a few cheerful pastel coloured photos from a couple of years ago when my sister and I enjoyed some warm sunny summer afternoons with her in Carwood Nursing Home’s garden. There we were – not “doing” much, not saying anything of any real consequence – just basking in our reflected pleasure in eachother’s company. Despite the illness; the twinkle in her eyes, the interest in her eyes, the kindness and the sheer love in her eyes all almost palpable, never lost.
Her last weeks, intense weeks of both incredible light and terrifying darkness as she progressed toward her transition, feel too fresh and too intimate to share today, so I’ll finish by sharing the words a close friend and confidante shared with me. “We live as we live, and then we die in just the same way we have lived.” In being beside Granny this last month I can confirm this is true. She died with tremendous strength, determination, courage and grace.
I believe that she also learnt an important lesson in the final steps of her journey however; how to really let go. And so it is with a mixture of strength, determination, courage, grace, and the vulnerability and the surrender required to really let go sometimes, that I will continue along my journey as a woman, a daughter, a sister and a mother. Grateful to the core for all she was, all she brought and taught me, grateful for the privilege of being at her side in her last weeks on earth and for this illuminating experience of death. Promising to share what I can of her legacy with my own family and friends.