My husband's sister gave me The Red Tent by Anita Diamant several years ago. I was either pregnant or had already given birth to Sadie - I am not sure of the exact time frame. I remember reading the book and feeling offended by the liberties taken with the story. As a story it was fantastic. My concern with the text had more to do with people reading the book and thinking that was the true story - the one written in the Bible.
A month ago I received an invitation to a Red Tent event. I immediately thought of the book I had read years ago. I clicked on the link not expecting what I read - it was an event where women would gather in a red tent and share their birth stories. This was my thing. Suffering a difficult birth has made birth stories my passion. I couldn't wait to hear other women's stories.
I arrived at the San Diego Birth Center nervous. I don't do well in large group situations and meeting strangers makes me uncomfortable. I love people but they scare me at the same time. What if they don't like me?
I immediately see some women I met at an ICAN meeting and their smiles and warmth settled my nerves. At the front desk they were asking for a $5 donation but it was Shabbat so I didn't pay. A table groaning with cakes, cookies, fruits and drinks stretched the entire length of the hallway. As my eyes moved past the brownies, sweet drinks and containers of water I saw a beautiful arrangement of pillows and linens on the floor with a large red tent filling the space above. I sat on a pillow waiting for the event to begin. I felt transported to a mystical place where for a few hours there was no judgement. We all would accept one another. This was a room filled with women who understood the power of story telling.
As we all sat on the floor a woman sat on the pillow that was the focus of the room. She smiled and made us all feel welcome. We were explained what the event was about and then she asked us all to not share the stories we will hear. These stories were meant only to be heard and repeated under the red tent. Before finishing, she read this prayer and asked us all to close our eyes and listen:
"There are so many different kinds of mothers and I ask you to pray clearly during the following prayer when you hear me mention a mother you know who fits the description. If we could just bow our heads in prayer:
God, please continue to bless all of the amazing women here today and in our thoughts. Continue to allow us to learn from each other and draw strength from each other. We include in our prayers mothers who had wonderful, empowering birth experiences, and those who had traumatic birth experiences.
We include in our prayers our own mothers, mothers who are now in Heaven, new birth moms, mothers with postpartum depression, adoptive moms, mothers of teenagers, empty-nest moms, mothers of twins, triplets, and other multiples, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, women who hope to have children some day, women who cannot bear children, women who do not choose to be mothers and mother the world in other wonderful ways, women who gave up their babies for adoption, teenage mothers, mothers who miscarry, mothers who abort, mothers of children with challenges or diseases, mothers who suffer a fetal demise, mothers who birth stillborn babies, mothers who lose their children, foster mothers, Godmothers, and surrogate mothers.
Please let your light shine through us all and into the lives of the children around us. Amen."
As she spoke I looked around the room and saw many women with their eyes closed. I then closed my eyes and felt chills as I listened. I knew when she was done I wanted a copy of her prayer. It was beautiful and moving. Later I was able to connect with her and get a copy to share with all of you.
I stayed for five hours at this event listening to woman after woman tell her story. There were animated women, shy women, crying women - all mothers who carried their stories with them. There were women who had birthed sick children, women who lost their children and women who had births dreams are made of. We were all connected by this rite of passage. We wanted to hear and support each other. Many of us felt there was a price to pay to bring life into this world - a price we gave willingly.
I told my story at the end. I was one of the last women to speak. I wasn't sure I wanted to share my story but I gathered my courage and sat on the pillow and spoke. I had lost my voice days earlier so I had to scream over myself just to be heard. I felt myself wanting to cry on several occasions as I looked into the eyes of women who truly cared about my experience. When I was done and had let go of the pain I held inside I walked into a different room and cried. I sat there and cried for minutes - finally letting go of a piece of the pain I hadn't realized I even carried. I allowed the emotions to move through me. Afterwards several women came up to me and hugged me. They thanked me for sharing my story. I felt liberated. I came home exhausted worn out by the experience.
Giving birth changes you. It has been one of the most important moments of my life. Hearing other women share the same feeling was beautiful and moving. The strength and courage I saw in that room was inspiring. For many of the mothers in the room I shared a prayer sending them love and peace. Bringing life into the world demands great faith in God and life and ourselves.
I made a promise to myself to start blogging more frequently.
Usually I am writing 1-2 posts a week that are deep and meaningful. Those are wonderful and certainly an aspect of my identity. However, my days are also filled with ridiculous funny things and often mundane moments.
Either way, I've promised myself to write more. To put up more pictures. To interact more with this place.
So here goes.
We are going to Israel for the high holidays. We are EXCITED. I've also been a wreck emotionally all day yesterday. In the past few weeks I've accumulated picture frames, a mirror and a bathroom cabinet all waiting to be hung by my lovely husband. Our weekends have been packed with social engagements and simchas. Our weekday evenings consist of Logan working late and not having time to help. Today we are going away for a few days because Logan has a work commitment in Palm Springs. Yesterday evening was the night Logan was going to hang everything. Logan didn't know this was the plan. He calls me an hour before coming home and tells me he wants to go out with his brother for some beers.
I pretend I'm cool with it. I don't want to be "that wife." He comes home and I try to act cool. I try to pretend that I was not completely disappointed that Logan wasn't helping me at home. But, I'm really bad at pretending. I was absolutely butt hurt. At 10pm when I'm trying to get into bed because I'm tired Logan gets the hint (my inability to engage him in any conversation and repeated mentions of stuff that needs to be hung might have helped with the hint) and decides to hang the mirror in the bathroom. At this point I'm in a horrible mood. Really, really bad mood. I definitely yelled at him and the mirror and the office and wanted to kill everyone. Sadie was driving me nuts turning the lights on and off in the room as I was trying to sleep. We ended up hanging the mirror. I now have a mirror in the bathroom that is too small for the space, is level but doesn't look like it's hung right. And the picture frame that Logan hung beside the mirror wasn't hung evenly with the towel holder. (Did I mention the frame taking 20 minutes just to be hung because it has these crazy little hook nail thingies that make it super difficult to hang. Oh and once we hung the frame the damn photo in the frame slipped down so we were forced to take the frame down and fix the picture and then try to hang it again.) I'm insane about things being "even" so I had him take it down and I decided we will hang something easier there.
Did I mention Sadie turning the lights on and off in the bathroom nonstop as we're trying to hang these things? It took a lot of willpower to not attack the both of them.
This morning I continued to feel totally stressed out about my house not looking perfect. I couldn't get it. Since when is there such an emergency? And then it hit me.
Logan and I have been talking about getting pregnant again. We were thinking Israel would be a wonderful place to start trying. Well, I've had it in my head that my house has to be PERFECT before we get pregnant. That bathroom that needs to be finished? Well, it needs to be finished. All the artwork has to be hung. MY HOUSE HAS TO BE PERFECT.
I called Logan and told him what was going on. As much as I want another baby, I'm not really ready. The idea freaks me out. I'm not sure if you're ever really ready for another baby once you've had one. There is a certain intensity to children that is overwhelming.
Right around the time Grandpa Hal died (about a month ago) my father told me he believed I was depressed. He felt that I resented my life - baby, not going to law school, getting married at 25. After we got off the phone I bawled in the shower for an hour. I sat there and just cried. Sadie didn't know what to do. She kissed me several times - her usual way to get me to be happy - and then was stumped when I continued to heave and wail.
I really wanted to feel into my emotions. I wanted to embrace the idea I was depressed. After a good cry I decided I was going to figure out whether or not I was depressed. I asked Logan and my closest friends if they felt I was depressed. Nobody had the impression that I was anything other than normal. I spoke to God, I asked him if I was depressed. I cooked dinner, asked myself if I found that depressing. I did laundry and wondered if that would be my aha moment.
About two weeks later I was with my therapist and I started to talk about Grandpa Hal. Well, that's when the flood began. I cried for a long time. I realized that I wasn't depressed, I was suppressing my emotions. I was devastated that he died. I was overwhelmed that my house was a mess. I was drowning. I wasn't depressed but I also wasn't accepting my life.
I realized I hadn't come to terms with the choices I had made. I started to access everything. Did I want to continue being at home with Sadie? Did I want to clean my house? Did I want to live in a messy house? Was I happy with my life?
No, I wasn't living in New York going to NYU law school and living the single life. The reality was NYU denied me twice in the past five years - that dream wasn't in my cards.
I took a step back from my life. Some of the dreams I thought were important obviously were not part of my life path. I tried and failed. I am exactly where I am supposed to be. I am Sadie's mom. I am Logan's wife. I am a writer, a photographer, a dreamer, a cook, a laundress, a cleaning lady. I am exactly where God wants me to be.
I finally have accepted my life. No, not only accepted, I embrace my life. After crying it all out I knew I needed to make some changes. I hate living in a messy house. I clean my house everyday now. Maybe that's crazy but it makes me happy. I bought some stuff for the house to make it look more put together. I went thrift shopping and bought myself a bunch of great clothes for a good price. I love looking stylish and need to honor that need within me. I decided to make peace with my 20 year old self that demanded to continue partying and living a carefree life. I can't be that person forever.
And thankfully, I'm truly happy now. I'm honest with myself and my needs. I don't beat myself up anymore for not "being successful" or a "working woman." I accept that sometimes I need to nap. Some days I will wash the dishes and that will be an accomplishment. I feel good about where I am now.
Tomorrow my needs might change. I only hope I can embrace and honor whatever that may be and continue to respect myself.
Little over a month ago Logan's grandfather passed away. Around 10 at night the phone rang and it was Logan's mother on the line. Logan's parents were calling us from Denmark. His mother's voice sounded worn and tired, I immediately knew she had bad news when she asked me to put Logan on speakerphone. Gently I placed my hand on Logan's shoulder as he washed the dishes. I told him in a soft tone that his mother was on the phone and she wanted to speak to both of us. Logan's body stiffened, waiting for the blow we hoped would come years later.
Tears swam in our eyes as we heard his mother tell us that Grandpa Hal had passed away. His death, while not completely unexpected, has strangely affected me in ways I had not imagined. He was 89 years old, a family man, a man of integrity - a shining example of how to behave and live. His generosity was legendary. At his memorial I heard story after story honoring a beloved man. Nearly a hundred people of several generations came together to celebrate his life.
I only had three short years to know him. His love of life and his fighting spirit were a source of awe for me. When I asked him what it was like to be 89, he said that in the mirror he saw an old man but in his mind he was a young man in his 20's. Prior to his death he batted cognitive heart failure and had several bouts of pneumonia due to his weakened heart. On several occasions he was forced to use an oxygen tank to keep his body alive. He fought tooth and nail to get off the oxygen and refused to use a walker or a wheelchair. He had no plans on dying. In my eyes he was a warrior battling old age and death. He refused to resign into old age - a lion heart.
He was the first person I've lost in many years. When I was a teenager I lost three of my great grandparents - their deaths, while sad, were not memorable to me. I was already living in San Diego and had not seem them for some time. I was not informed of their deaths until later and was not invited by my parents to the funerals. Grandpa Hal's death was the first funeral I attended. He passed on Tuesday and we were in a car early Friday morning driving to Culver City. We drove through Los Angeles and were pleasantly surprised to see a beautiful, well kept Jewish cemetery amidst all the sprawl and gunk of LA.
I covered my hair with a scarf - again, not my custom, but a sign of respect for the sacred ground I entered. Immediate family greeted us with somber faces, we acknowledged one another waiting for the funeral to begin. Logan and his parents entered the viewing room and I stood outside the room with Sadie. As time passed I realized I wanted to say goodbye to Grandpa Hal, despite my absolute fear of dead bodies. I entered the room (without Sadie) and there he lay in his casket. He looked alive. I expected him to open his eyes and yell "gotcha" at all of us.
Logan's grandmother sat beautifully on a couch and shared her strength with her children. There were tears streaking down everyone's face. I was probably the only person who did not cry. I was afraid to show my pain. I felt undeserving. I wasn't a blood relation and I wasn't Logan's wife for that many years. I didn't deserve to hurt deep inside at the loss of Grandpa Hal. So I contained my tears and stood there watching everyone. Out of respect for the people in the room I will not write of the pain I saw in their faces. I can only say as a collective group we all mourned deeply. And I now know a body without a soul is merely a body in rest. Death, while absolutely sad, should not be terrifying.
After the viewing was over we all accompanied Grandpa Hal to his final resting place. He was to be buried in a beautiful spot covered with grass and open to the sun. The clear blue sky overhead welcomed us. Sadie refused to sit still for the funeral. I saw and heard glimpses as we ran around the cemetery grounds. I passed Jewish last name after Jewish last name - I said hello to them in my mind. "Hello friend, hello. I hope you're enjoying heaven." I wondered at the stories that were buried. I celebrated the deaths of those who were old and hurt for those who died in their youth.
When the cantor was finished they lowered the body to the ground and allowed the family to cover the casket with dirt. At first everyone took turns with the shovel and scooped one shovel full of dirt on the casket. We stood there embracing each other and found comfort in one another. And then Uncle Harvey grabbed a shovel and went to town with the dirt. His mourning needed a physical outlet and he began to shovel dirt into the empty space beside him. It was as if each scoop of dirt was a tear dropping from his heart. Logan saw what Harvey was doing and grabbed a shovel and began to help him. Sadie then grabbed dirt and started to help fill the hole. We did not leave until the entire casket was covered in dirt.
That night Logan and I lay in bed. We started to speak about Grandpa Hal. Slowly Logan began to describe how the funeral affected him. He embraced the process and was grateful to have carried the casket from the viewing room into the car and then help bury his grandfather. He felt like he had closure. He felt like the circle of life was complete. He was his grandfather's progeny and helped him return to the soil he came from. As our conversation was winding down we said a blessing for his grandfather, we prayed that his soul would be very close to God and he would only know joy. At that moment my cellphone lit up and a great blue light filled our room. Chills ran down both of our spines.
Grandpa Hal's death and life forced me to re-examine my own existence. I will write more in another blog on this topic.
August 10, 2011:
Today I decided was Sadie's last day to nurse. After another sleepless night of Sadie demanding to nurse every hour I finally acknowledged my growing resentment. I didn't want to nurse Sadie anymore. She was 17 months old. Thank God I was able to nurse her since the day she was born. Nursing did not come easily to me. I am grateful for the opportunity and for my stubborn nature that would not let me give up.
I look down at my engorged breasts - they sit high and heavy. My breasts are transitioning from being a source of food and comfort for my daughter, to existing as a source of pleasure for my husband and making my clothes look good. The feelings within me are mixed and confused. I am excited at the prospect of Sadie sleeping through the night once she cannot nurse. However, I am also very sad. I am sad because I don't know if I'll ever nurse again. There are no guarantees that God will give me more children or that I will be able to nurse the next time around.
By weaning Sadie I am saying goodbye to an aspect of myself that has become my identity. I was "nursing mother," now will I just be mother? I don't know what motherhood will mean without my ability to nurse. For the past 17 months I have provided my child with nutrients and vitamins and nourishment. Without nursing, Sadie doesn't need me the same way. As I've said, I don't enjoy nursing Sadie anymore. I've been bitten numerous times, I've been woken up throughout the night, I've had my privacy destroyed. Nursing has robbed me of my ability to do anything consistently. Sadie prefers nursing instead of eating food or drinking water. The constant interruptions of my day drives me crazy.
September 12, 2011:
Weaning in one day is not something I'd recommend to most women. There is a reason we are encouraged to wean gently. On the 10th of August I decided to cut Sadie off. I tried the gentle weaning approach for a few months beforehand. It worked and then she started waking up repeatedly through the night demanding to nurse. I finally gave up and decided a more strict approach was necessary. No more nursing, period. During the day when she was hungry I was able to offer her food and drink that satisfied her. However, the first 5-7 nights were brutal. Sadie would wake up at night and then punch me in the face in frustration when I refused to nurse her. I was getting beaten up all night. I was kicked, bitten, and abused by my toddler. Logan and I didn't sleep for a week. She would yell for hours. She would throw herself off the bed and wail. It was pure agony for the three of us.
While this was happening my breasts were threatening to explode. By the evening of the 10th my breasts were rock hard. I ended up expelling some milk simply to relieve the pressure. The next day I sat on the couch and iced my breasts and massaged them to prevent a plugged duct, or worse mastitis. I was terrified of getting terribly ill and having to rush to the hospital - but I also knew Sadie could not be moderated with the nursing. She is an all or nothing kind of girl.
I went on Facebook and wrote about my breasts threatening to explode. A friend of mine recommended taking Sudafed to help with the engorgement. I initially responded to her there was no way I was going to take the drug because Sadie was nursing and it would be bad for Sadie to have in her milk. Then I realized something monumental. My body was mine again. I wasn't pregnant, I wasn't nursing - I could take all and any drugs I wanted to without any consequences to my child. I was free. I popped the first Sudafed pill knowing I was saying goodbye to nursing. The one time before I tried weaning Sadie I gave in by night time. This moment, this pill, was my way of saying my intention was clear and I was going to stop nursing Sadie. The pill helped immediately. I took Sudafed for several days and sang my friend's praises to my husband repeatedly. It took anywhere from four to five days for the pain to go away. It's been almost a month later and my breasts have shrunk to pre-baby size. I am having fun wearing all my cute bras that have bows and colors missing from my nursing bras.
In hindsight I'm glad I weaned when I did. I had come to a point where I resented having to nurse Sadie. There is only so many times I wanted to see my breasts in a day. I didn't enjoy the feeling of her teeth grazing my nipples or Sadie forcing me to nurse her at night when I was sleeping. She still wakes up repeatedly throughout the night. Now it's a much easier fix. I grab her, put her into a comfortable cuddling position and we're both usually asleep again in minutes.
I am grateful I was able to nurse my child for as long as I did. My body gave health and life to my child. It is a gift and a blessing. However, 17 months was my end point. Sometimes when Sadie falls down and hurts herself I want to put her on my breast. I remind myself I can't and I hold her instead. I'm pleased how a simple hug can convey all the love and comfort I have to offer and it's usually all she needs.
Meet the Blogger!
I'm a mom. A writer. A lover of good fantasy. A proponent of nursing when possible. A birth advocate. I am absolutely horrible at keeping my house clean or the dishes washed or the laundry done. I strongly believe in women having a positive birth. When we start to respect women's rights to birth the way they want, we can start to treat women as equal people in this world.
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