The Power of Community

I spent a large portion of my day today grieving and processing the loss of a mentor and friend. In my own grief and sadness I could not help but watch the storm of messages being written on the walls of family members and the continual updates in news feeds about this man, and the impact he had on so many individual lives and the legacy he has left behind…. Hundreds of messages sent to his wife, words of encouragement and support and shared grief. His son made a post with a tribute to his dad part way through today, and over 270 likes and close to a hundred comments were displayed in response. This a community that bans together, shares in the joys and the sorrows. They show up. They make phone calls, mail cards, bring food and meals, send flowers and offer their hands anywhere they are needed. This is a community I have been a part of for the majority of my life and have taken for granted. 

Today as I watched the support stream in from every angle possible for this family, I was awestruck. While reaching out to my own set of connections and friends to share this painful moment with, I could not help but feel a sense of gratitude for community and all that it provides. The ability to know that someone else is there and they know what you’re going through and they want to be there for you. Powerful and life altering.

I have watched families go through this sort of tragedy countless times, and it is powerful to step back and see what a community can do for a family or individual, to rally around them and share in their journey. What I have witnessed is an enormous amount of strength and courage and an incredible resilience that rises up in these families and individuals that are surrounded by support systems, and not left to process life’s journey on their own. There is a shared space that we experience when we are aware that we are not alone, that someone cares, that somewhat has witnessed the unfolding of our day. 

In her 2004 movie “Shall We Dance”, Susan Sarandon has a scene where she describes why people marry;

”We need a witness to our lives.  There’s a billion people on the planet, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything.  The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things, all of it, all of the time, every day.  You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it.  Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness’.”

This is one of the most powerful descriptions that I have ever heard regarding the real reason for marriage or commitment. A community can be each and every one of these things. Whether large or small, new or old, religious or professional, a neighborhood or organization. A group of people that join together in one way or another and end up forming a connection, a bond. We congregate together in order to share our lives, to bare witness to others lives and support and share in them, to find encouragement and care and concern, to seek wisdom and learn from one another. We are social beings, made to connect with one another, and to co-create meaning as we live our lives. 

One of the greatest tragedies that I see is when someone isn’t sharing their life with someone else. This does not need to be a marriage or family I’m talking about someone who isn’t connected, and doesn’t have others in their immediate world who bare witness to their life. We are not beings that function best or even well in isolation or solidarity.  We are social. We are fragile. We are vulnerable. We need an other in our world, to make it real, to bring it meaning, to simply survive. 

We attach to the person who is there for us most, and we attach securely when that person is consistent and reliable and unconditional in their care-concern. When attachment needs go unmet, illness and disease show up, they begin to infiltrate our minds and our bodies and wrecking havoc. 

The beautiful reality is that attachment begins between two individuals and has the ability to grow and expound from there. The growth of a community, the connection of a group of individuals is not instant and does not happen overnight. It happens in the mundane everyday realities of each of our lives. As we reach out, as we open up, as we allow others to share in our journey, we are invited in and gifted with the opportunity to share in theirs. To give and take, to grow and share, to expand. It starts simply, it happens slowly, but these encounters-exchanges of words or actions begin to build bridges of connection. They begin to foster friendship. And one day you realize that you are surrounded by people who know you and care about you and for whom you would do pretty much anything for.

You find that you are a part of a community, of a whole, and you are a small part, but a necessary part that allows the whole to exist. You find that you are more resilient than you ever imagined, that you are stronger than you ever thought possible and you are not alone.

Tonight I am challenging us to connect. I am challenging each and every one of us to connect in some small or big way. To reach out, to get involved, to share, to give, to open, to receive and to engage in the building of a community, even if that community begins with two. 

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My journey as a new mommy

I’m not gonna lie, my christening into motherhood was akin to baptism by fire. I had dreamt of being a mom, I had prayed to have the opportunity to have a child of my own. I prepped, I planned…there were spreadsheets with graphs- timelines, needs, steps to action. I have no problem claiming my type a personality- an equal blessing and curse.

While I have counseled parents, have studied child development, parenting techniques, striving versus thriving, the impact of helicopter parenting, the need for attachment and so on…. The importance of routine, consistency, confidence, self-awareness, along with the impact of stress, and the challenge to a marriage of the new addition. I read the books, I babysat my whole life. I loved being an auntie and spent countless weekends caring for my nephews and practicing parent-dome. Nothing could have prepared me for my own child.

I experienced an incredibly shocking awakening when I had my daughter. She quite literally shook my world, spun it around and then flipped it upside down and then smiled.

Neither my husband nor I had any clue how drastically our lives would change when we had a child. Of course we knew it would be different, but in our naivety, we thought we’d adjust quickly like we always have to change, and after a short pause of adjustment, life would resume as we had previously known it. We were educated, experienced adults…

Come to find out, becoming a parent is not something that one can really prepare for. Sure you can educate yourself and collect tools for the journey (this I would highly recommend) but aside from that, no amount of prepping, planning, reading, babysitting nor studying can stabilize you for the earthquakes and the steady occurrence of aftershocks to follow.

Very early on in my pregnancy I made the decision to be open and honest about my experience. This was inspired by the perceived lack of truth-telling that I experienced from other women prior to embarking on the journey myself. I wasn’t going to be that flowery overly positive, see the bright side mom- hadn’t previously been that kind of non-mom. Not gonna start now. 

The day I hit my 6th week of pregnancy, I was washed over by a wave of nausea, fatigue, exhaustion and huge slap of reality of just how quickly life was to be modified and forever changed… The next 14 weeks were a daily assault of life altering changes to my body, my mind, my diet, my exercise routine and my sleep.

I was asleep by 7pm nightly, and routinely slept till 7am the next morning only to be hit with an overwhelming need to nap by 2pm in the afternoon. I questioned my sanity daily… I began forgetting little things here and there and before I knew it, I was having to write down everything like an alzheimers patient.  I had low back pain and hip pain and sometimes my joints would ache like i had arthritis. I was sick to my stomach constantly and had heart burn that wouldn’t give up for the first time in my life. To top it off, although I felt like the world had ended and I must be barely hanging onto life by a thin thread, I barely showed the signs of a bump, so no one even knew or could empathize with me unless I told my tales of whoa. But here comes my positive note: I got a  brief break at around 20 weeks that lasted to about 28 weeks…where I didn’t want to curl up and die on any given day.

However just prior to 30 weeks the desire to curl up returned only this time I was large (to me i was whale like, to others i barely looked 5 months pregnant), uncomfortable and down right unhappy about it. Food became infrequent and small snacks at best, as I routinely felt like food just camped out in my esophagus, waiting to send up smoke signals. It was about this same time that my husband and I began a holistic birthing class- mostly comprised of individuals seeking all natural birth experiences, some specific to water birth (myself included). We went weekly, making dates out of the classes, having dinner after, discussing our fears, hopes and dreams. 

At our 36 week apt with our midwife we discovered that baby girl was still head up and didnt’ seem to be interested in turning around. We began a multiple week onslaught of exercises, putting my body in specific positions, acupuncture sessions, even going as extreme to use close-pins on my toes while circling them with moxa- considered a natural way to help the baby reposition (in eastern medicine). We did this daily and sometimes multiple times a day. I was committed to having a non-cesarean delivery. Daily acupuncture continued. Inversions, music near my pelvis, smoke rings of moxa around the toes…

At our 38 week appointment baby girl was still bum down, head up. I left my midwifes office, called my previous OB and scheduled an appointment to discuss options. After much debate, cautionary concerns and emotional turmoil, we made the decision to schedule another appointment 5 days prior to my due date, to do one of three things. Option one would be to see that baby girl had turned and could be delivered naturally and I go home- chances were below 30% according to my doctor. Option two would be to do a manual procedure called aversion, to try and force baby girl to turn- also very low percentages on success rates (can also be painful for mama and cause “distress” to the baby). Option three was to head into the OR and have a cesarean section to remove baby girl, avoiding the risk of going into natural labor with a breech baby (which apparently doctors don’t get super excited about allowing). 

There are very few words. I went from refusal to acknowledge the reality to a numb sort of acceptance. I didn’t want to talk about it. It was what it was. I felt withdrawn and compliant at that point. It felt like someone else’s life I was hearing about, not my own. I was beside myself with frustration while simultaneously trying to gracefully accept the route this was going. I was swimming in the dark.

I remember waking up early the morning of my appointment “to be or not to be” ringing through my head. I wanted to go for a walk. So despite the rain, I suited up and walked my regular 3.5 mile loop. As I walked I cried tears of anger and rage, then I smiled tears of acceptance and surrender. I sang songs of comfort… even prayed that I would start contractions, for some assemblance of “natural” or “as it should be” to occur. Then I sat by the river and just let all the emotion flow for a long while. And when I got up and finished my route home, I felt I had shifted internally. I was ready to face this. Bring it. 

I got home- showered and got dressed, pack a bag for my baby girl and myself, took my husbands hand and walked to the car. I remember it vividly. When we showed up to check in at the hospital, the receptionist was peppy and friendly and confirmed that we were there for an aversion/c-section appointment and I burst into tears. She apologized profusely upon seeing me self-combust, was so “sorry for upsetting you”, but I put my hand up and reassured her, she was fine, I was fine, all was fine.

After I was shown to my room, the nurse came in to see us. I was all gowned up- and calmly stated that I would like an ultrasound and if baby girl was still head up and bum down, than I would decline to try and turn her- I couldn’t stand the thought of even more distress and uncertainty and watching a monitor of a crazy high heart rate on my girl.

The doctor came in shortly after, we looked at baby girl, who had not budged an inch…. and honestly the next memory I have is of me walking across the hall from my room into the OR, cap and gown and IV pole. It was cold. There were a lot of people in there and it was time for my spinal IV to numb me from the chest down. 

I remember not even being able to talk. Nurses talked to me, even held my hand, Drs checked in, the anesthesiologist was kind and gentle, very personable. I said nothing. I just lay there on the cold table trying to breathe and avoid a full blown panic attack. I was an emotional wreck. 

It was like nothing I had ever experienced before. I was fully awake and present and terrified. I could feel minimal movement in my body as they cut and wiggled and jostled and dug into my stomach to pull out her little bum.

My husband stood beside me taking pics of the whole thing, talking to me the entire time, letting me know what was happening. Then her little bum appeared first followed by her body and head and her legs, which were so tight by her head the initial series of pics showed her legs slowly lowering down to her waist but no further until much later. Both OB’s present for the procedure commented that she was like a sardine in a can, tightly knit in the womb and would not have budged regardless of any of our efforts. This entry into the world was meant to be. 

They suctioned her nose, wrapped a towel around her, and handed her to my husband and he brought her immediately to my chest so I could kiss her face. It was surreal to say the least. Here was this human being, cheek against cheek. She was tucked away tightly inside me for the past 9 months and suddenly she is beside me, touching me, nuzzling me. It didn’t’ matter where we were, who else was there nor how it had come to be. But she was with me, she was healthy, safe and my very own. 

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It never ceases to amaze me what we as humans can go through, even put ourselves through, and come out the other side… wiser, calmer, stronger, more resilient. I had no way of knowing during those early mommy moments, that this was only the beginning of a lifetime of adjustments, compromises, lessons learned the hard way about control, and the necessary acquisition of flexibility. 

Fast forward two years and here we are. I have a beautiful, strong, brave, highly engaged and ever present toddler whom I am more challenged by than I could have ever imagined and I am more in love with literally everyday of her life…

She has taught me to be present. She has taught me to be silly. She has taught me to laugh and shared her contagious smile. She has been the hardest thing that I have ever done, truly. She has challenged me to my core and made me put my actions where my mouth is. She has called me out, humbled me and changed me for the better. She has repeatedly shown me that she is not a force to be reckoned with, but rather a very delicate flower in need of daily sunshine and water, and ever present attention. 

I am aware that I am NOWHERE near the end of this journey through motherhood… but I have to pause in celebration and acknowledgement that we made it to 2 years of age. I feel this is a milestone worth commemorating, as it has been by far the biggest thing I have ever accomplished. Surviving the first two years of a human beings life makes graduate school look like a walk in the park. I think that Aristotle said it best when he said “the heart has reasons for which reason does not know”. I truly believe that no one in their right mind would sign up to embark on such an adventure if they knew ahead of time just what it would entail and just how challenging and life altering it would be. That is why the heart is more often the one that makes these decisions.

We are not all cut out to be parents, to grow and then raise a being. For those of us who do end up with such a task, I now see it as a privilege and a gift. It is a privilege of tall order, of great sacrifice and unending calling to become even more than you ever thought that you could be.

Suraya Elise, you have shaken and stirred my world to the core, and for that I am forever grateful. I am honored to be your mommy and filled with gratitude for all you have brought to my life!Image