Lucidité

Musings on language, images and life

On Writing and Parenthood: Thèmes du Jour

I have something to confess. Each time I sit down to write a blog post on pregnancy (don’t worry, you won’t be seeing any of those for a while), birth, or motherhood in general, I feel a pang of dread. Dread that I’ll be labeled a “mommy blogger” (you know, the kind that reviews strollers or dedicates full blog posts to spit-up) or be viewed as a monothematic writer (let’s face it, I’ve been called worse). Not that there is anything inherently wrong with either of those labels, they’re just not what I aspire to be.

I’ve always written what I know (standard advice in the field), and this blog serves as a receptacle for all of those thoughts that are either too personal or too obscure for the venues in which I typically publish. The very personal lessons I’ve learned from my daughter are what have caught my attention the past three months. In the days I’ve spent with her, I’ve not only learned who she is, she’s also revealed to me various facets of humanity. She’s reminded me of beliefs I’ve always held that had become buried under years of quotidian concerns. Life has become a celebration, and my creativity has flourished thanks to her innocent revelations and reminders.

A dear friend of mine (who also happens to be a world-class writer and editor) recently introduced me to an organization called Pen Parentis. The members of this diverse group don’t necessarily write on parenthood (in fact, most of them don’t). Their commonality lies in the fact that they are all parents and writers— a powerful combination. Powerful because, in my experience, parenthood informs my writing (on a variety of topics) and the perspective required to be a writer helps me to better understand the world(s) of parenting, these intimate microcosms we build and exist in each day.

I’ve decided to cast off the yoke of dread I feel when I sit down to write about the creative fodder—gifts, really— sourced from this awe-inspiring journey called motherhood. I will forge ahead shamelessly, unabashedly, as a writer-mother/mother-writer, since I know that someday I will crave anything that reminds me of these intense, beautiful days. I’ll return to writing about some of my other favorite topics soon, but for now, I’ve decided to dedicate the slim spaces in my schedule to writing about what I am living, feeling and learning today. Art, feminism, literature, politics and education will have to wait for the time being. Or will they? As I’m learning, each of these realms informs the views I bring to parenting.

As I reflect on my first three months of being a mother to a babe outside the womb—the strange smells, new sleep schedule, lack of personal time and my painful, shifting postpartum body fade into a nebulous, low-level hum and a select set of crystalline moments remains in the foreground. These are thèmes du jour that captivate me and compel me to write. I will continue to put pen to paper (or fingers to laptop, as it were) and get them out into the world.

On Vulnerability

I tip-toe over to my daughter’s cradle and furtively place my hand on her belly to feel the rise and fall of healthy breathing (a common new mom compulsion, or so I’m told), a gesture that elicits what sounds like an exasperated sigh from my already very independent 2-month-old. I breathe my own sigh— one of relief, that is— and curl back into bed next to my husband. I watch Lyla squirm a few times, furrow her brow, and sigh again before settling back into a comfortable position. Each squirm makes my heart ache in the best possible way, and I close my eyes and sink back into this new state of being— one I can only describe as a state of vulnerability imbued with incredible strength.

I rarely think of myself as a vulnerable person. I will admit that I’ve been vulnerable at times during my life, but it isn’t a term I frequently use to describe myself. I’ve always associated vulnerability with weakness, something one (especially women) must fight against in order to be successful in life. This philosophy had served me well for many years— at least I thought it had until I discovered the beauty that lies in allowing oneself to become completely vulnerable.

The events surrounding Lyla’s birth taught me exactly what I had been missing all these years. With each movement felt or heartbeat heard during my pregnancy, I fell deeper in love with the powerful little being growing inside me. As I labored to bring her into the world, I felt both my body and soul open to the possibility of loving more than I had ever thought possible. This opening, this complete surrendering, left me more vulnerable than I have ever been in my life. In the first days at home with her, I kept her on my chest constantly (unless her dad was holding her), needing to feel her near, needing to show her how much I loved her.

As the days passed, out of this feeling of vulnerability came the knowledge that I was a capable mother. As my physical strength improved, so did my mental clarity and emotional energy. Combining instinct with research, I continued to care for my child, a process I had begun ten months earlier. As I nursed her, bathed her, and took her out into the world, I felt both invincible and completely exposed. This vulnerability/strength dichotomy is inherent to my experience as a parent. Each day is trial by fire, and I come through it feeling more confident, more aware of my daughter’s needs. I fall even deeper in love with my child, which leaves me feeling vulnerable… and the cycle starts all over again.

Before I became pregnant, I had a conversation with a good friend who described parenthood as being completely willing to sacrifice everything for one’s child, even one’s own life. I didn’t doubt this was true, it was just that I had no context for this type of emotion at the time. I understand it now. I understand it on a visceral level, and I know that this desire to protect and ensure the survival of one’s  child is in and of itself and act of strength.

When Lyla was two weeks old, I was invited to sing back-up on one of my dad’s songs at the Compassionate Friends International Conference. This organization exists as a support network for parents who have lost children at any age, due to any circumstances. This year’s conference was organized by my beloved aunt, who lost her daughter (our dear cousin) in a tragic car wreck sixteen years ago. Dad and his musicians were asked to kick off the morning walk to remember with his song “Walk in the Light.” As the song began, I looked out into the sea of parents who had gathered to remember their sons and daughters. Many of them had pictures of their children on their t-shirts. I ached for them. I also admired them more than words can express. In their eyes I saw the utmost pride and love for their children—these souls who continue to live on in the hearts and minds of their loved ones. I saw incredible strength, strength that I cannot even begin to imagine. Just as it was difficult for me to understand parental love before I became a mother, it is nearly impossible for me to fully understand the type of strength it takes to carry on in the memory of a child who has left this world.

What I do know is this: It is only through allowing ourselves to be open and vulnerable that we experience true and deep love. Of course, this state of heart-wrenching, exhilarating, all-consuming love is not just reserved for parents. It is accessible to anyone who dares allow him or herself to enter into this precarious and sublime state of vulnerability. From what I’ve witnessed so far in my very new journey as a mother, out of this vulnerability comes unimaginable strength, the strength to care, to act, to love unconditionally every day of our lives, whether our loved ones are still with us or not.

We will walk in the light of their memory,

Run with hope in our hearts,

Fly on the wings of love all our days…

All our days.

(Excerpted from “Walk in the Light” by Dan Westmoreland)

Breast Interests

“Mama Jen?” Dad said quietly from the hallway. “I think she’s still hungry.”

I was already headed in her direction. She had been crying for two minutes or so and, as any breastfeeding mother can tell you, my milk ducts had already responded en force.

“I’m sorry. I know you need to work. She ate the two bottles you brought, but I think she needs more.” My parents had kindly offered to watch my 5-week-old daughter so I could carve out a couple of hours to spend in front of my laptop finishing up a project for a client. In anticipation of my work night, I had pumped two bottles, the only “liquid gold” I could manage extract between Lyla’s nearly constant feedings.

I sped over to the chair where Mom was holding Lyla, rocking her and soothing her with a voice I hadn’t heard since I was a child. “She needs her mama right now,” Mom said with knowing eyes. Bending down to scoop up my red-faced babe, I briefly cursed myself for thinking I could maintain a vital career and be the type of mother I wanted to be. Clearly I was failing on both counts.

Lyla and I retreated to my parents’ living room and her hungry little lips latched onto my heavy breast. I tried typing with one hand while cradling her in the opposite arm. When that proved too tedious, I began making a mental list of all of the things I needed to accomplish before the week was out— maternal, personal and professional tasks. I felt my blood pressure rise.

When I was only 3 or 4 months pregnant, Mom asked me if I was planning to breastfeed. She beamed when I responded with a resounding “of course!” “You’ll love it,” she cooed, slipping into a dreamy, nostalgic state.

I do love it. I love that my body can produce everything that my quickly growing daughter needs. I love that I can give her something that no one else can. I love that we have moments throughout the day (and night) that are reserved for just the two of us.

But some days I’m just a human couch with milk spigots (my sister’s apt description). On those days, each time I try to perform basic hygiene or get out of my mismatched pajamas, each time I try to respond to an email, each time I try to go to the bathroom, pleading little sounds and eyes draw me back and we nurse…and nurse…aaaaand nurse.

I am grateful for the ability and desire to breastfeed my daughter. I am also grateful for a lifestyle that allows me to do so. I work primarily from home, and most days I am able to complete that work and have plenty of time to spend with my darling “nugget.” Both my husband and I have worked hard to be in a position where I can work part-time from home in a fulfilling career and mother Lyla in the best way I know how.

What’s more, I have an incredibly supportive husband who cooks, cleans and never misses a chance to interact with his daughter. Even though I know we have worked hard to get here, I still can’t help but feel like I won the lifestyle lottery. Most days I don’t feel like a woman “oppressed by motherhood” (French writer Elizabeth Badinter’s theme de préférence), nor do I feel like I’m somehow less of a mother for maintaining a career (a common American maternal anxiety). I feel like a pretty great mother, actually.

Then why have I felt so “off” these past few days? So torn? Searching for the answer, my mind traveled back to the conversations about breastfeeding I’d had with my mom before Lyla was born. Well, she didn’t work while she was breastfeeding me, I reasoned, so there you go. All she had to do was concentrate on me and my needs. She must have been happy with that. But I knew deep down that wasn’t true. My mom has never been the “housewife” type. She’s a woman of action, a woman of vision. I know there were times when she felt cooped up when she was at home with us. I also know that she loved that time in her life more than words.

How did she do it? The answer came to me as soon as I asked the question: she has always been wonderful at living in the moment. For better or for worse, I have always excelled at speeding ahead into the future, relying on multitasking and overloading my schedule to get to the next step, the next level— either personally or professionally.

That was it. In the best interest of my daughter, and in my best interest, I would have to swap out my lens, to adjust my perspective.

So, I’m taking a page out of my wise mother’s book and trying my darndest to stay in the moment. Yep… easier said than done, but this truth reminds me of the importance of trying: If there’s anything lovelier than my beautiful daughter nursing merrily while never breaking eye contact with me, I have yet to experience it. I know these days will pass too quickly and someday, like my mom, I’ll speak of breastfeeding in rhapsodic terms.

I also know that I have a great support system. When Michael gets home from work he’ll be there to play with Lyla while I do my work, or bathe, or have a glass of wine—whatever I feel is the top priority at that moment. When I greet him with un-brushed teeth, tangled hair and tired eyes, he’ll immediately know what kind of day I’ve had: a human couch day.

Today was one of those days. “She only sees me as a food source,” I lamented. “She doesn’t play with me like she does with you. She doesn’t smile at me as much.”

“Yes,” he replied. “But you’re the reason she’s so happy and healthy. You’re the reason she’s growing so well. Plus, I saw her crack a few smiles while you were talking to her in French this morning.”

“You’re right, she did like that,” I remembered as I stepped into the shower.

Yes.

Perspective.

Cascading Over the Precipice

Your birth was a series of moments that accumulated, stacking one on top of another, leading me up, up, up until I found myself cascading over the precipice, thrust into an exhilarating free fall before landing peacefully in another reality.

Saturday, June 25, 2:30pm

Your induction is scheduled for Monday. I will be nearly 42 weeks pregnant at that point (or 43 weeks, depending on which due date you go by), which, in terms of gestational timeline, is on the far end of the medical community’s comfort level. My OB has been wonderful, doing everything possible to give me the chance to go into labor naturally. Being induced was the last thing I wanted for us, but my thoughts are with you and getting you into this world in the healthiest way possible. I also know that I am exhausted and in pain. I’m not sure how many more sleepless nights I can endure and still be an effective laborer. I lean on your papa’s shoulder and say “I think I just need a little more time. Lyla and I can do this. I know we can do this.” I call my OB and she agrees to push back my induction until Friday, provided I come in each day for a biophysical profile. I agree, relieved. I make it my mission for the next few days to stay rested and nourished. I meditate and talk to you.

Wednesday, June 29, 12:03pm

I lumber upstairs to get dressed as your grandma is on her way to pick me up for lunch. For the past three weeks we have been calling you our mermaid, so content you seem to stay in your underwater world. I bend over to pull on the one pair of pants that fits (sort of) and notice a small stream of liquid trickling down my leg. Then a gush. Then a deluge. I squeal and burst into tears. You are coming, naturally, on your own. Your papa races back home to find me perched on the front steps with a drenched towel between my legs, beaming.

Wednesday, June 29, 3:08pm

I’ve been walking through the birth center for an hour, trying to get contractions started. The on-call doctor (not mine) started me on the dreaded “Pitocin timeline”—I have until 4:00 to show some cervical change before the cascade of interventions that I had wanted so badly to avoid will kick in. My cervix is only dilated to 1cm. I’m starting to have some contractions—not strong, but regular. I tell your auntie that I need a break. She lovingly tells me I need to keep walking. I do.

Wednesday, June 29, 4:11pm

My cervix is dilated to 3cm. I go to the bathroom and feel your head drop like a bocce ball into my pelvis. I immediately start cramping— hard. “Thank you,” I whisper.

Wednesday, June 29, 6:15pm

After walking for another 2 hours I’m having strong contractions. With each one I slip deeper into a place of concentration, a place of connection to you. I roll back and forth on the birth ball, flanked by your papa and auntie. Papa plays Leonard Cohen’s “Halleluia” and I feel hot tears stream down my cheeks. We’re there. We’re in active labor. You and I are doing this.

Wednesday, June 29, 8:05pm

I’m laboring hard in the tub. My body adjusts to the intensity of each contraction just in time to prepare itself for the strength of the next one. I breath, grunt, hum, vocalize. The vibrations of my voice feel soothing and give me more power to stay on top of each surge. (Little did I know they soothed you, too. I would hum in the same way to put you to sleep weeks after your birth.) I ask for your papa to come in. He sits on the edge of the tub, tentatively putting a hand on my shoulder, then quickly retracting it, unsure of what to do. His touch brings me out of my place of concentration, so I ask him not to make physical contact. I tell him that I just need him there. He doesn’t have to say or do anything. I feel his gaze on me as I work through each contraction.

Wednesday, June 29, 10:15pm

After a series of contractions that leave my thighs trembling, I abandon my current position (on my knees, draped over the end of the birthing bed) and sit for a moment with my legs dangling off the side. A wave of hormones and adrenaline hit and I start convulsing. Auntie and Doula Robyn hold my shoulders so that I don’t fall. The shaking takes me by surprise, but after it ends I feel more focused and energized. A contraction comes and I surge forward. I’m spontaneously pushing. The nurse checks me and I’m fully dilated. You are kicking more forcefully than ever. I’m not surprised when the nurse tells me that your heartbeat is strong and regular— you are tolerating labor well. We are both thriving in this moment.

Thursday, June 30, 12:15am

I’ve been laboring down for two hours, letting each contraction guide my pushing. The spontaneous urge to push is the most powerful sensation I’ve ever experienced. I feel strong, in control, totally connected to you and my body. This is the hardest I’ve ever worked— at anything. You continue to kick as you glide down the birth canal. Auntie, Papa and Doula Robyn are taking shifts holding my legs and encouraging me. I know you are coming. There is no need to rush your arrival.

Thursday, June 30, 12:40am

The pace of my pushing changes. I hear someone say “I see hair!” and the tone in the room shifts. The nurse calls for back up and I realize that doctor has not arrived yet. The nurse asks me to resist the urge to push, to “puff” for the next few contractions. I “puff”, but the next contraction pushes your head through the opening. You are fully crowning. Everything in my being— in my universe– at that moment is telling me to deliver you into the world. The sensation is primal, it’s out of my control— I have become the pushing. With the next contraction I give a strong push and you come sliding out onto the bed— head, shoulders, body. We cascade over the precipice together.

Thursday, June 30, 12:49am

In the moment between delivering you and feeling your glorious little body on my chest, I’m in an exhilarating free fall. As you land in my arms, I feel myself land in this new reality. “Lyla! I’m your mom!” I exclaim through tears of joy.

Thursday June 30, 12:55am

I peel my gaze away from your lovely eyes for a moment to see Papa cut your cord without hesitation. He has a glow of pride I’ve never seen before. Your long fingers wrap around one of mine and we are both completely drawn into you.

Thursday, June 30, 2:20am

We’re back in our recovery suite. As I share the good news with your grandpa by phone, you stare at me through the side of your clear bassinet with those big, curious eyes. You are magical. Every fiber of my being wants to jump out of bed and hold you to me, but I don’t trust my exhausted legs and the pain from my birth injuries has begun to take hold. Your papa gets back from fetching our things from the delivery suite, gently removes you from your bassinet, kisses you on the forehead and hands you to me. The three of us embrace and I understand the meaning of perfection.

Monday, July 4, 6:50pm

You’ve been in the outside world for four, almost five days now. I’ve spent most of my time those first days holding you, learning your ways, taking you in. We are celebrating 4th of July at your grandma and grandpa’s. You’re sleeping through your first raucous Blake/Westmoreland/Bouchard card game, snuggled in your grandma’s arms. I pick up a stack of photos your grandma took the day you were born. As I flip through them, my heart fills. I feel your grandma watching me from across the table. When I look up, our wet eyes meet. In that moment, I understand what it means to be a mother.

A Good Home

My arms are fully extended, straining to reach the keyboard on my laptop. My ample 42-week (or 43-week, depending on which estimated due date you go by) pregnant abdomen has become the focal point of our lives this past month. On a physical level, it’s been a month of strong contractions (prompting several “false alarms”), shooting pains, aches and sleepless nights. It’s also been a month of feeling our daughter kick harder and stronger than ever, responding to our voices and our touch— which makes her parents both proud and relieved on a daily basis. On an emotional level, it’s been a month of mood swings, anxiety, and confusion.

It’s been a month of doubting my body one moment and having the utmost confidence in its abilities the next. There have been difficult decisions, hours spent weighing risks and benefits. I’ve had to redefine what this birth could actually look like, which at times has felt like a process of giving things up. It’s been a month of fears— some of them unfounded, but no less real.

During this transformational time, I’ve also experienced incredible support from friends and family. Words have been spoken that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Last night, slumped down on the couch, head and body aching, I turned to Michael and said “Well, at least we know we’ll have this kid by Friday. I’m nervous, though. I never thought I’d have to be induced. I’ve been so committed to the idea of a natural birth, knowing its the best thing for both the baby and me; I’ve prepared for it for nearly 10 months.”

He offered his usual encouraging words, assuring me that I’d done everything right, that we’d researched every option, that we had amazing medical care and doula support. He grabbed my hand and I turned to find two wet eyes staring into mine. “Thank you for providing such a good home for our daughter for so long. Such a good home.”

Vision and Humility

“OK, I have to tell you guys something,” Mom blurted out sheepishly during dinner the other night. “I was asked to be grand marshal of the Hopkins Raspberry Parade and I’m not quite sure what to do about it.” Her authentically humble announcement was met with a chorus of cheers from my dad, sister, husband and me.

“What do you mean you’re not quite sure what to do?” my sister asked.

“Well, I just don’t think I’m really grand marshal material. I mean, it’s a huge honor, and I’m not really sure why they asked me. There are so many better people for the job, like…” Typically, I would find this type of remark from a woman with a list of accomplishments and awards as long as hers to be nauseating, disingenuous at best. Coming from my mom, however, the statement is both touching and incredibly frustrating because of its purity. My mom’s humility makes her accomplishments even more impressive, and it certainly makes her easy to love, but at the same time I wish she could, just once, say “yes, I deserve this honor” without any caveats or diversion tactics.

My mom is proud of the work she has done for the community, to be sure. However, when asked to do an interview or accept an award or honor, she never fails to deflect attention away from herself and shine the spotlight on anyone else who worked on the project with her. I’ve seen her do this countless times over the years. Even while talking with her family in the privacy of her own home, she mostly focuses on the contributions and accomplishments of others and rarely on her own. She constantly argues that she’s “just doing her job.” Technically, my mom’s full-time job is Family Partnership and Volunteer Coordinator for Hopkins Schools, but over the years she has extended that job description to respond to a variety of social, educational and health needs within the community. In truth, she’s always done much more than “just her job”— and Hopkins is a much better place because of it.

I’ve spent years trying to figure out the source of her genuine humility, a quality that is rarely found in our narcissistic society. The conclusion I’ve come to is that, for my mom, it’s never been about the recognition— it’s always been about the direct outcome of the work. This is what gratifies her. Knowing that a grade school kid from a low-income family will be able to eat lunch at school, that an elderly lady will have her “need to be needed” met through a volunteer opportunity, that an immigrant mother will have the resources to create a better life for her children— these are the “rewards” my mom reaps, the ones she really cares about.

Along with other visionaries in her community, Mom has constructively combated the closed-mindedness and the “I’ve got mine” mentality that pervades suburban America through education and countless hours of philanthropic work. Her commitment to social justice has never waned, in fact it has only grown stronger over the years. It is for this reason that she has received some of the top honors and awards the city has to offer.

After several days, we were finally able to convince her to accept the grand marshal honor as well. She’s still up to her usual antics (Mom: “In the interview for the local paper I’m going to mention that you were Junior Raspberry Princess in 1985-86.” Me: “Really, there’s no need for that, Mom. Keep it focused on you, that’s what people want to hear about.” Mom: “No! And I’m going to talk about when my uncle was the grand marshal and all of the wonderful things he did for the community… oh! And of course I’m going to mention that my baby granddaughter, the first member of the next generation, will be riding in the parade with me!” Me: *sigh*), but she’s already getting into the spirit and has started applying her unique brand of vision and creativity to this scenario as well — let’s just say this afternoon we’re going shopping for props to use during the parade. After all, we’ve got to put on a good show for her many fans.

Provenance

Thanks to my wonderfully generous family and friends, I’ve had two lovely baby showers as I prepare for the arrival of my first child. At one of the showers, I received a gift that moved me deeply. My mom’s cousin gave me a doll that my grandfather, at that time a young army doctor, brought back for her from France after WWII; a gift for his brother’s first child, his goddaughter. As her beautiful note articulated, the connection between the doll’s provenance, my lifelong interest in French, the fact that my soon-to-be-born daughter, Lyla, will be raised to be bilingual (and hopefully have an interest in “la Francophonie” like her parents), not to mention the fact that the doll had been gifted to her by my deceased grandfather when she was a baby… all signs indicated to her that this was the time to pass the doll along to a new generation.

Blake Family Doll © Jen Westmoreland Bouchard 2011

Lyla will be my beloved 85-year-old grandmother’s first great-grandchild. Likewise, if my grandfather were still alive, he would be excitedly welcoming her as his first great-grandchild. As I opened the doll at the shower and began to understand its significance, several things hit me. During my pregnancy, I’ve often reflected on how fortunate I am to have such an exceptional family— not only in terms of talent and vision, but also because of their bottomless reserve of love and ability to nurture and inspire. It’s easy to imagine what Lyla will learn from my parents, sister, grandmother, extended family and my in-laws. I’m beyond excited to discover what various family members’ traits and interests she will share— as well as some that are all her own, of course. However, until I opened that doll, I hadn’t really thought about the traits that she will inherit from those who have left this world; the lessons they have passed down through us that will, in turn, be passed down to her.

The term provenance is typically used to describe the origin or source of an object. It comes from the French verb provenir (“to come from”).  I first encountered this term in the French context twelve years ago was while I was waiting for a train at Gare Montparnasse in Paris. On the arrivals/departure board, the terminology used is en provenance de, describing where the train is coming from. Seeing this expression for the first time made me think of where the train had stopped before it got to me, and who it had picked up along the way. My imagination ran wild.

We are all on a journey, and, for most of us, our family members are the first people we encounter— if we are lucky, they become our nurturers, our teachers, our guides. They encourage us to be our own people, to strive for our own goals. However, whether we are conscious of it or not, their journeys no doubt impact and inspire our own. Whether living or deceased, they have much to give us. Remembering those who have gone before us and reveling in the presence of those who are still with us has given me much joy in these anticipatory days before I meet my next inspiration, my next teacher— for I know this child will be both of those things and much more.

Nation of Id

As is often the case after a major world/political event, this morning my Facebook newsfeed was full of one-liner reactions to complex issues. Some rely on quotes to convey their sentiments, others craft their own statements based on initial reactions or, less frequently, measured analysis (much appreciated by this reader, no matter where on the political spectrum they fall— and yes, it is possible to be thoughtful in less than 420 characters).

Indeed, on the morning following Osama Bin Laden’s death, my newsfeed was dominated by cathartic, Id-driven responses— which is to be expected, given that Osama had become the personification of evil in our national consciousness. Naturally, the instinctual reaction of a nation that has been trained by the media and politicians to believe that the War on Terror is a black and white, us vs. them (and the metaphorical net cast to encompass the “them” is often quite large) issue would be one of intense celebration.

However, amidst the celebratory exclamations and bold statements about what justice and patriotism entail, I also see reactions of fear and sadness from my friends. These are the responses that resonate most with me. I don’t claim to be a scholar of US-Islamic Extremist relations. However, one thing I do know is that the murder of Osama Bin Laden does not constitute the end of the War on Terror. Rather, it is an act that I imagine will haunt us for decades.

What if we were to temper our Id-driven “USA, #1!” responses with a healthy dose of super-ego? If we were to pick up a book, take a class, or talk with someone who could give us a different perspective on the historical events that we have come to view solely through our national lens? Perhaps we would discover that justice will never be reached until we fully comprehend, as Obama put it in the wake of 9/11, “the sources of such madness.” Perhaps we would realize that peace will not be achieved until we recognize that (to borrow Obama’s post 9/11 words again) “failure of empathy, such numbness to the pain of a child or the desperation of a parent, is not innate; nor, history tells us, is it unique to a particular culture, religion, or ethnicity….”

Quotes taken from David Remnick’s “Obama and Osama,” The New Yorker, May 2, 2011.

Swallowing the Moon

Yesterday, I came across the following poem on one of my favorite literary sites, Words Without Borders.

The Moon

Every time the moon rose, she prayed.
Finally Wol-nam’s mother, at forty, bore a son.
In dreams before pregnancy,
she swallowed the moon.
After her son was born, Wol-nam’s mother
would lose her mind
without fail
every time the moon rose.
Late at night, washing dishes,
she’d smash one bowl-
the moon then hid in a cloud
and the world grew blind.

From Ten Thousand Lives by Ko Un, published in 2005 by Green Integer Press.

Ko Un is a Korean poet and Buddhist monk who writes primarily on pastoral and spiritual themes. My first reaction to this poem was both admiration and frustration. I found it stunningly beautiful in its simplicity, yet disappointingly predictable in its reliance on the trope of female insanity during pregnancy/motherhood. I rolled the words around in my mind throughout the day, trying to figure out exactly why it was speaking to me. I kept coming back to the line “In dreams before pregnancy,
she swallowed the moon.”

In my own dreams before pregnancy, I experienced similar symbolic moments– images that both made perfect sense and were highly impossible. I dreamed of incubating lush gardens in my abdomen and of giving birth to fully formed humans who verbally thanked me in multiple languages immediately after exiting my body. Like the images in my dreams, “swallowing the moon” is the epitome of impossibility, yet it somehow captures the anticipation, trepidation and (metaphysical) appetite I experienced while we were trying to conceive and, to an even greater degree, now that we await her arrival.

© Jen Westmoreland Bouchard 2011

As fate would have it, I had my first “crash and burn” pregnancy moment last night. In my 33 weeks of pregnancy thus far, I’ve felt nothing but happiness and gratitude. Every day I think about how I am in the minority of pregnant women on this earth– I have access to top-notch healthcare and my in utero child appears to be completely healthy. I have a highly supportive mate, a family that is beyond wonderful, a fulfilling and flexible career, and the intangible and tangible resources to raise my child according to our priorities as parents. Mostly, I am grateful for the chance to be a mother, no matter what the circumstances. These are the thoughts that have prevailed over the last 8 months.

However, last night as I was rounding the couch to sit down, I jammed my hip into a sharp corner, causing me to stumble and (uncharacteristically) burst into tears. I rubbed my bruised hip and slumped down onto the sofa, letting the tears roll down my cheeks and my moral rapidly spiral downward, unable to stop either. Michael moved closer and took my hand. “What can I do?” he asked.

“I’m tired. I’m impatient. I want her to be here. I have deadlines to meet before she comes. I’m clumsy and can’t make it up a flight of stairs without getting winded.” As soon as I heard the words escape my mouth, I felt ashamed. I had become the stereotypical, self-indulgent First World pregnant woman. “But I know that I have no right to be crying,” I quickly added, as if to absolve myself of all that I had already uttered during this state of temporary insanity.

“You can cry about whatever you want and for as long as you want,” he said. “You’re so beautiful and I am grateful for everything that you are doing for our daughter.” I remember hearing his words and feeling him kiss my forehead before quickly falling asleep, my head and body heavy.

This morning I awoke with the sun and a new perspective. Who among us has not experienced a moment of temporary loss of control, the feeling of surrendering to something completely illogical? Instead of self admonishing, perhaps I should focus on the universal aspect of “swallowing the moon”– recognizing that these moments of temporary insanity happen to most of us, pregnant or not, parents or not, across cultural boundaries. Forces beyond our control drive us to mental and physical exhaustion. At times it feels as if the “world grows blind,” but our resiliency prevails. Like the moon, we cycle back around.

All In

How could I forget the first time I perceived you— your dynamism and individuality? I was rushing to get ready in the morning, stumbling across the bedroom toward the closet and, all of sudden, there you were. The reality of you stopped me in my tracks and caused my breath to lodge in my throat. It would be several months before I would sense the corporeal reality of you, but the essence of you was there— wholly, overwhelmingly, undeniably.

In the months to follow I would receive the first palpable proof of your existence. The grainy image of you undulating wildly at twelve weeks will forever remain etched in my psyche, as will the steady swooshing of your mighty heart. Soon thereafter you would begin swirling your Lilliputian limbs ever so gracefully under our extended palms, causing your dad’s and my eyes to fill as we stared at each other and swallowed, unable to carry on a conversation for the first time since the day we met.

Your physical presence is forceful now as you maneuver yourself into a pike position or send kicks into my side at a rapid pace. It will be weeks before I hold you close to my chest and stare into your eyes. It will be years before you read this, before you are able to begin to understand what you have given me these past months. When you do, know that from the first instant I sensed your brilliance, long before I knew you physically, prior to naming you or beginning the process of preparing myself emotionally and intellectually to parent you, I loved you so fully, so completely. I was all in.