Expectations can be devastating… the way they fester in the absence of truth. I was told of the village through the stories of my childhood. I expected it. That soft-hued vision of the other mothers, nurturing and ever present… nursing circles and casseroles… that village did not, does not, exist for me.
My village of place exists in the community I cultivate around my coffee cup. In the exhausted eyes of the other working mothers I pass in the halls at school. Our plates spin in concentric circles and there is community in that chaos. We support each other.
But one can’t give from an empty well, can’t nourish others from a depleted source. The village of my soul is fed by moments and memories, layered snapshots, of people then and now. This is the village I pull from to mother my others, and to mother myself.
Motherhood is vast, without the boundaries of time. We learn from those who are with us and from those who learned before us, and they are here. They are all here… the men, the women and the ghosts… they follow me wherever I go. The snapshots…they are the scar tissue over the old wounds, and the balm that soothes the new.
In my first snapshot I am curled in blankets, a baby bird nestled onto my Grandmother’s bed. I am sifting through her jewelry box with my nine year old fingers, lingering over stones and twirling gold chains around my wrist. She sits beside me, completely present. I’m talking and she’s listening, twirling my hair. I know she truly hears me. The conversation is lost to the years… but I remember the presence. That moment is what I call upon now when I curl up in the nest of my own baby birds for bedtime lullabyes, when what I desperately want is to be alone. My Grandmother’s presence is what I remember as I curl fingertip mantras in my daughter’s ringlets as she relays her day to me. Does she feel safe, and loved and heard? My Grandmother is gone from my sight, but her legacy of presence lives on in my village.
In this picture, I am lying on a stretcher in the Ultrasound room, 5 weeks pregnant, a deer trapped in overhead lights. The tech spurts blue gel on my prematurely swollen, tender belly and I clutch my husband’s hand. I’m positive there’s something wrong, as the wand moves slowly across the landscape of my womb. The tech is stoic, silent… she measures two spots repeatedly. I’m sure they’re tumors, sure I’m dying. I can’t find my voice. “What are those two spots?” I manage. Cold prickles on my spine. “Those are your babies. You’re having twins.”
This is our pivotal moment, what defines our before and after. Now the years have come and gone, and we’ve learned the way a blink of an eye can feel like an eternity while you’re blinking. There is one constant in our chaos… the cornerstone that has held us through the birth of those two unexpected, beautiful babies, through my subsequent postpartum depression, and through our life of perpetual motion…his hand in mine. His hand has held mine throughout my becoming… first as I learned to mother others, and then as I learned to mother myself. This partnership is ever-present in my village. He is my love.
In this photo I am sitting in a wheelchair parked before the reception desk at the ER. I am two weeks post c-section, swollen, empty. I’m still wearing the only mumu that could accommodate my twin belly. Physically, I hurt all over. Emotionally, I am in agony. My father stands behind me, hands on handles as if to guide me through the pain. It is the only time in my life that his presence didn’t soothe me. I haven’t slept in days. Can’t calm down, can’t stop my nerves from firing in icy blasts down my spine. I want to disappear. I want him to scoop me up and bring me home, back to my childhood of circus print wallpaper and muffins in the oven.
My Dad knew it was postpartum depression before anyone else… before even I knew. He was my advocate that night in the ER when he tried to convince the on-call psychiatrist. “I think Sarah is suffering from PPD. She is not herself.” We didn’t believe him… but he was right. He was there through it all… as I hit rock bottom and clawed my way back out. He would come and sit with me for hours, holding steadfast to the real Sarah, tucked deep inside my postpartum husk. My Dad is my champion. Everyone needs a champion in their village.
In this picture my Mom has just awoken from hip surgery, her third surgery in a year. Her eyes are cloudy, her voice is hoarse. The pain must be excruciating, but it’s not what she focuses on first. Her gaze rests on me standing at the foot of her bed and it’s me that she’s worried about. It’s a late winter’s night, and I have an hours drive ahead of me. This is my Mother. Selfless, stoic… a pillar of strength. This is the woman who balanced her broken hip on a hard kitchen chair for hours the week before her surgery in order to do a puzzle with my son, the determination radiating from her like heat off the sun. My mother has always been the strongest woman I know. I’ve lived my life in awe of her. I call upon my Mother often, not always with my voice. It’s her resolve that has helped me to find my own. Her strength, her determination, they fortify my village.
In the last snapshot, I am bringing the barbells down to rest at my sides again, palms gripping, slipping, as rivers run down my cheeks and chin, pooling in a puddle on my mat. The scent of sweat on metal reaches my nostrils, and suddenly I am seven years old again… gripping the ballet bar with nervous, sweaty hands. The smell of sweat on iron’s there, and I can see that girl, vividly, in the mirror of my memory. I see her in her black leotard and pink tights, both too small for her ever-growing body, and her ballet shoes which were made for daintier feet. I can feel her thoughts inside my own head again, “Too big. Too clumsy. Too… not like them.” I can see her there, faintly, along the wisps of my peripheral vision, but I choose to focus straight ahead. I heave the weights up and down again, and this time my hands, the metal, they tell a different story. This time it’s one of strength. Of fitting perfectly within my own skin. Of loving my body for what is, and not what it isn’t. This story is what I borrow from when I tell my eight year old daughter, taller than any other classmate, that she is fierce and beautiful on the basketball court. The 7 year old is but a snapshot in my memory, but she’s a part of me.
I am in my village.