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The world is on maternity leave. For mothers (and fathers) the feeling may be surprisingly familiar. Everything is paused, but the work hasn’t stopped, only shifted focus. Daily chores and child rearing happen without pause and work on top of it. There is loneliness not being able to connect with others in person and simultaneously a fear those “others” might ring the bell and create an awkward situation of having to turn them away, say “we’re not ready for visitors yet.”
While many report slowing down, baking and walking, dancing, long-forgotten projects, renewed meditations, others are lonely, anxious, overwhelmed, constantly parenting while also working their normal hours. Some are hidden away in fear, blocked from the comforts of social connection, some sick, some dying, some grieving.
One thing is certain, no matter what our situation, one of the most important choices we have right now, is where we put our attention, what our focus is; this makes all the difference in our experience of life. My wise teacher Jennifer Mckeown, made a helpful acronym to guide people through this time: FLEX: Find Love Everywhere, X out fear.
Her words ring true when I watch my mind seek out the problems instead of the solutions. I choose love, I choose connection, I choose brightness and silver linings. I choose to focus on love, not just in the sweeping and moving global story– where we hear heroic tales of healthcare workers, clean air, and water, loving gestures, and music from the balconies of cities around the world, but in my own tiny reality:
- The love notes we’re getting in the mail from our fans.
- Watching baby Alice learn to crawl, not with gaps in between the stages of her progress, but being there every incremental leap forward.
- Even our son’s tantrums feel like a gift right now if I take the time to see them that way. We’re getting the chance to help him through his big emotions in a way we don’t normally, because there is nowhere else to go, nowhere else to be but here with him. And he’s growing through it, something is shifting.
Of course Jeff (my husband) and I are meeting our own pressure points as well. Absolute exhaustion and the inability to find time for ourselves coupled with reinventing our business and creatively finding ways to continue to have an income.
I’ve had to release a pattern of perfectionism in our work projects. A recent spelling error in one of our videos sent me to new and uncomfortable depths as I realized we just had to let it be there, there wasn’t time, budget or attention for one more round of edits.
I am not in control, none of us are.
And now we’re having a collective experience of this lack of control over our lives. We have an opportunity together to shift our perspectives, to decide where we put our attention, and to create our reality, not by shifting world events, tattling on our neighbors, or by criticizing every step our government makes, but by focusing in on our own great beating hearts, capable and strong and able to embrace and release so much more than we could ever imagine, right here, right now.
Find Love Everywhere.
In birth the baby comes when we release and open our body. The baby comes also through the tightening of contractions– contraction leads to expansion. As a woman surrenders to the pain of birth she is able to open her body wide enough to bring a new life into the world…and here we all are, contracted into our own homes and being asked to expand our worlds into a new reality.
Maternity leave, like the stay at home order, and the restrictions that this virus has put on our lives, is not a straightforward experience. Being postpartum is far from the experience of a vacation. We are home, surrounded by our things and family, living in our same body, but when we look down we don’t recognize the new place we have arrived. We have to learn to love our new experience, our new body, our new family structures and schedules, the limits that are now put on our business and time.
The beauty of this moment is that we are all in this together, everyone is on leave. And as we step back slowly into the world, our eyes adjusting to the light, our bodies unsure of how to be in these new spaces, our most important task will continue to be to Find Love Everywhere and to X out Fear.
Learn more about my work as Paige of Jeff and Paige here: http://www.jeffandpaige.org
This isn’t a confession, but it feels like one, and that’s why I’m writing it.
You may know me as Paige of “Jeff and Paige,” and of course I am also Paige, just plain old Paige, mother, wife, and writer. I have written for years about everything from climate change and sustainability to my own recovery from an eating disorder years ago. Now I’m feeling all the threads of my life experience coming together as I feel called to share about my recent postpartum journey.
After our second child, Alice, was born, the rich and complex experience of pregnancy and birth was deepened as I was overcome by extreme postpartum anxiety.* A week after Alice arrived on the scene I stopped sleeping. Make no mistake, she was sleeping. I was not. A creeping dis-ease and otherworldly anxiety was taking over. My four-year-old, Wolf, needed me, in a desperate way that would reassure him he hadn’t been replaced. My breasts were engorged beyond belief, “I’ve never seen a woman so engorged with her second child,” is the direct quote of my midwife, Elizabeth. Physically, other than the engorgement, I was fine. I had triumphantly and joyfully birthed our sweet baby girl at home in our own bedroom. The pictures of me holding her, moments after she arrived shows the bliss that birth can bring.
This made things almost more confusing in my muddled mind, what was the problem? Why couldn’t I relax, or sleep, or even really sit still for very long? I slept less and less. And the less I slept the worse the anxiety became. It grew from a dull roar that I could manage to a screaming pitch that was taking over my life. When I did fall asleep it was fitful and I was visited by strange primordial dreams and images.
I recognize now that it was a passage, a transition, powerful and ripe with meaning, but I lacked any outside help, rituals, or references to contextualize what I was experiencing. I told no one what was going on. I didn’t have the words.
Not that they didn’t notice. My mom, who had come to support our family, and my husband Jeff, were bewildered. They knew something wasn’t quite right, my eyes seemed vacant, I couldn’t carry on much of a conversation, I bit my nails and pulled restlessly at my hair, and the initial outward joy of greeting our daughter had vanished.
As Alice entered her first week of life my hormones and brain chemistry went haywire. I felt as if I were having a never-ending panic attack. Relentless waves of inexplicable fear rolled over me, their crests coming faster and faster.
The pain of contractions seemed preferable, at least that pain was temporary, at least it could be breathed through, and seen by others. The fear was tied to nothing. I wasn’t having thoughts that caused fear, I wasn’t worried about the baby, I was just experiencing the physical sensation of panic. This was part of why I couldn’t say anything to anyone about what was going on, there seemed to be nothing to say. I worried I was going insane and that I would never feel the ground under my feet again.
Luckily I got mastitis.
My breasts were not releasing enough milk, the baby couldn’t eat the volume of milk I was making, and despite my best efforts with castor oil, cabbage leaves, herbal tinctures, and cold and hot compresses, infection set in. I’d been up most of the night pacing my bedroom when a fevered sleep overtook me. My body was grateful to be asleep.
On the morning of the sixth day I woke up freezing hot and shaking. I was sandwiched between my newborn and four year old gasping for air, drowning in the covers.
“Help.” I cried, voicing the word that had slowly been building inside of me. “Jeff! Mom! Help! Help me!” I tried to stand but I was too dizzy. My mom and husband came into the bedroom.
“Something’s wrong.” I said, “something’s really wrong.”
I tried again to stand but it was hard to see straight. My stomach hurt.
“I feel like I can’t breathe.” I stumbled to the bathroom with my mom’s help. Jeff picked up the baby, and soothed Wolf. His face was shattered with worry. Sitting on the toilet I tried to cry but I couldn’t get the tears to come.
“I think I have a fever,” I heard my shaky voice tell them from the bathroom.
“Please call Elizabeth.” There it was, the first clear sentence that had come out of my mouth in days.
Okay that’s a really succinct version of this moment. There were way more tears (mostly Jeff’s it was his 40th birthday, and his parents were arriving from the airport in an hour) a screaming baby, a whining and bewildered four year old. Plus I was still waddling around in adult diapers and spraying warm water on myself after I peed. It was a mess. Thank god for my solid, caring and level headed mother who has been there for me every step of the way in this life. And for my midwife, thank god for my midwife.
Stay tuned for Part Two—Help Comes
This is Part One of a series of posts about my postpartum experience and the resources available in my community (and beyond) to help mothers partners and families with the delicate and profound postpartum transition. A NOTE ON THIS SERIES: This has been on hold since the COVID-19 crisis began. It didn’t feel right to share as we were navigating the early days of quarantine etc. However!! I will resume this series soon.
In the meantime here is a video sharing one of the BEST resources I had to help me through my postpartum experience. The Post Partum Wellness Center. They are offering virtual (and some) in person services!
“Happiness is solely a matter of where you put your attention.” ~Anonymous.*
*I’m not sure who to attribute this quote to, if anyone knows please let me know.
Each glorious day arrives and ends. The One who witnesses, our capital ‘S’ Self, watches it all pass without commentary, or judgement. The small one, mind, ego, thought, chatters, makes trouble, takes issue with the way things are never quite right…
…If only I didn’t have a headache
had gotten more sleep
didn’t forget my computer for the meeting
wasn’t doing a performance today
wasn’t worried about politics
was spending the day with my kid
if only, instead, I wish…
When we become fully present to the moment there is no problem. There is not even opportunity, there just is. The fullness of what is. My teacher Jennifer McKeown calls it “the is-ness of what is.” Coming into presence we find that the small-self, with its needs, wants, demands, and resistances, collapses into infinity. Then we do it again, and again, and again, all day long coming back to presence the second we notice attention has left.
Walking down the stairs, thoughts come about the day, what will I do later if I don’t finish the…” Caught! Stop. Return, hand is on the grooved wooden banister, feet sink into the carpet, sun shines through the window, the body breathes. Presence. Over and over, all day long I practice.
My heart rate is up, a thin sheen of sweat builds at my temple, they’ll be home any minute… or maybe not, maybe I’ve got two more hours. I wanted to put the laundry away, play music, finish up loose ends for work, meditate again. I catch my body moving in jerky spasmodic motions, not sure where to turn next as the thoughts bombard my attention. I compulsively check my phone to see an update on their ETA. I’ve had 24 glorious hours of quiet, calm, unscheduled time.
I’m so grateful.
It’s not enough.
I need to get out of here! If I get out of here before the come home, I can finish up a couple more things before…
…before all of my attention is focused towards my child…
…before I’m at the mercy of whatever mood he’s in…
…before any rational planning and accomplishment of tasks is totally impossible.
I can’t believe how wrapped up in anxious thoughts I’ve become, I practically run out the front door to be sure I don’t accidentally see my son and husband before I’m ready to reengage with them. I realize I forgot my wallet a block away. I sneak back into my own home, terrified that I’ll hear the creak of the back door as I open the front.
Terrified that I’ll see my son’s chubby face and deep brown eyes light up at my presence,
that I’ll feel my hear melt,
my arms open,
my to-do-list fade into oblivion.
End of summer marks time passing,
watching beautiful child grow,
almost three now,
a blink and an incredible journey.
Each moment presents itself full of glory, fear, pain, love, pleasure, trepidation,
as though it is all that ever was,
gathering all focus and attention,
a storm’s lightning flashing.
And then it is gone.
The next moment upon us,
waves in the storm surge, unbearable in their intensity
or almost unnoticed in their mundanity.
And where are You? We, within this?
What are we?
We are not the waves.
Are we the shore eroding with each crash?
Are we the flower ripped from the bank?
The tree nourished by the moisture?
The water after it calms?
Where is our attention?
On the rock, the plant, the roots, the movement?
Or on every single one and ourselves too.
All as One.
The watcher and the experiencer,
never swept away and deeply touched,
dry to the bone and soaking wet
in every unfolding moment.