My sweet, amazing eldest child recently faced a terrible beast in the form of a long-distance 4th grade field trip to dig fossils. Now, obviously it's normal that a kid would be nervous with this sort of adventure, much of which we could also assume would be overshadowed by the excitement involved in a fossil dig AND a fancy bus ride AND a hotel room. However, for my kiddo, who suffers from clinical OCD, this was not exactly the case. Overshadowed nervousness is not something her brain knows. For her, she only knows variables of possible danger that require "hamster wheel" rumination in order to resolve, only to then reveal other variables of danger that require Bobby Fischer level chess talent. The vicious cycle continues. It’s an insidious form of torture locked inside her skull, for which a gentle “there there” and “don’t worry about it, everything will be fine” is actually more harmful than helpful.
Now, I’ll depart from detailing her experience, as I try not to speak for my kids, especially not in a public forum. But, this latest experience of the field trip was a huge shift for me in my adventure as a mother. Prior to this field trip, I have completely avoided things that trigger her and have focused on listening and supporting her instead. I thought it was good for her. I thought I was doing the right thing. And in some ways, I was. I created safety for her so that she can actually externalize the rumination, rather internalize it. However, in many many other ways, I was not at all doing the right thing. I was overcorrecting as a result of my own needs and my own experience with clinical OCD, much of which was simply not listened to or supported in my own childhood.
And because of the work I’ve been doing on myself recently and the shifts in grounding and personhood I am experiencing, this time, I was challenged to operate differently. I was challenged to push her. To bring into her life the brutal essence of exposure, the one thing that can shatter OCD rather quickly and release it’s sufferers into freedom and presence. I won’t go into details here, but this process was awful. I was changing the operating system for both of us and even though I was doing it with professional guidance and communication, I was abandoning a huge part of the faux-security I had created for the two of us. She was angry. She was frightened. She acted out. I wanted to fold. I was convinced I was breaking her. Most of all, though, I felt like I was abandoning the kid inside of me who still needed help.
And when I realized that last piece, my struggle to give her this experience and to stay strong and grounded no matter what she needed to exorcise became much easier. This was MY stuff. Unaddressed stuff that I was trying to work out through my child. And I saw how unfair that was to her and how it was quite possible that my help was not helping all along. That perhaps even though she came hard-wired into this world with that amazing brain of hers, her coping skills and her opportunities may have very well been hindered by what I considered to be help. It became evident that that "help" was just a disguise of my own insecurity.
Taking ownership for that is probably one of the things I will be most proud of at the end of my life. To remove yourself from your needs and your hurts is a painful die-off, but in that death is the start of the things that break old patterns and surmount mountains of generational garbage.
And as this process was unfolding, I realized rather quickly that this is why motherhood is as all-consuming as it is for most of us. It’s why we can’t stop seeking answers, why we feel so overwhelmed, and why we seek so much identity from it. Because to be a mother is to be a warrior, a warrior willing to die of the self every single day and to return again tomorrow to face another death - all in the name of Love. And, yet, modern motherhood these days has become so diluted, so commercialized, so surface level, so complain-y. I think we’re trying really hard to show the world how much work it is, but we’ve missed the mark. It’s not the amount of work that we seek to illustrate, it’s that we want a proper warrior burial at the end of each day. We want to be celebrated, cherished, acknowledged and we should be. We are women first, mothers second. And no matter what kind of mother you are or children you have, the woman in you faces a sacrifice every single day.
Before I go any further, I know that fathers experience their own version of this and I’m not ignoring that. It’s equally important. But, it’s different. And we know it. You know it. Their autonomy, unless they are truly the ONLY caregiver in the picture, does not get affected the way ours do, just simply from a biological sense. There is a special nuance of this warrior-dom and die-off that occurs ONLY for mothers. Period. And this is the crux of feminism right here that we miss. It’s not just that we want to be equal, but we want to be properly valued. And that valuation has to start with a genuine and deep bow to the fact that the experience of being a woman means that we are often called to die-off in the name of others. And that this is a huge amount of work and that this should be made more of a healthy exchange so that women - and not just our communities and our world - can benefit from it.
The risk of not doing this is severe. And I’ll share a very personal experience in my life to highlight it: After my second child was born, I lost traction with sanity. In all honesty, I hadn’t ever recovered from the postpartum depression I had dealt with after my first was born, five years earlier. And that wasn’t anyone’s fault, but rather due to a misunderstanding I had had about postpartum depression. I thought postpartum depression involved feeling severely low and feeling harmful to your children. I didn’t know that there was more to it, and I’m pretty sure most people don’t know that. For me, postpartum depression shifted dramatically how I functioned and processed the world around me. Sure, I was depressed, but I also had had a break with reality. And that break was caulked together with weak tools like time, avoidance, vicodin, booze, self-help books, bad relationships, and work.
And, so, when my second was born, I think I thought I was going to do it differently, an insane idea in itself. So, one night, I found myself in my infant’s room who was crying for the third hour in a row - and my eldest, still not sleeping through the night at age 5, was desperately crying in the other room. My c-section incision had developed a seroma, which bled through at night and I had mastistis and I had caught a stomach virus and my back hurt so badly that I couldn’t even think about walking and I couldn’t pay rent or any bills and I despised the long days at home each day with my babe and my husband at the time was able to sleep and work through the whole thing. I had had enough. And I started planning how to kill myself. That night. And all I felt at the thought of it was total relief. Relief. Not fear or trepidation, just a long sincere breath of relief. Like, YESSSSS.
I don’t remember what happened after that moment, honestly, but something did. Some sort of surrender happened. Something beyond me. Something that I believe, to this day, is the holy beauty of motherhood. I did die that night, but only to the idea that I was this mother, trapped in this life the way our modern society had decided it to be. I remember having a vivid realization that my job as a woman was to guide these children and that was simply it. Rather than trying to be any sort of glowing mother that I saw in the commercials or read about, it was to be an evolved, gritty, joyful woman in my own way. It was to a provide a reality to them that did not involve one of losing me, but of finding their own strength and fulfillment along with me.
And it was from that day that I started showing up for myself for bits of exercise, I kid you not. This sounds so silly and trite, I know. But, it's exactly happened. I woke up the next day and I was slammed with clarity about my true reality. So, I started at the most basic part of my struggle: That I couldn’t move, that I felt so much pain, and that I was bored as sh*t. And from there, everything started to change.
And this is what irks me so much in my career today. That I have such a hard time finding a voice for the fact that exercise and strength is not a luxury for mothers. It’s not some fluffy part of our day where we giggle and “sparkle” with sweat. I mean, what the fuckery. I mean, why is that big beefy athletes get to pocket exercise as “training” (for which they get paid) and for mothers, we get commercials with women learning how to wear their yoga clothes as streetwear.
I mean. Exercise saves my life. It’s not a luxury. It allows me to die everyday and rebound the next, for yet another day of death and glorious growth. And, without it - YOU GUYS - without it? I don’t know. I just don’t.
So, while the world continues to commercialize fitness for women, I’ll keep plugging away here at what I do and believe in my heart that at some point soon we will see motherhood as an action sport for which elite training is required. That we will know that when a woman chooses to get strong, she is often fighting for her life and fighting to be equipped to be a guide to the sweet little souls that need her entire being awake and alive. And that we will value women as the warriors they are, not just as the busy bees needing to learn how to prioritize.
I am dedicating this summer to you all and to this message through an in-person clinic tour called, "Take Back Your Body." I hope to remind you that you are not falling apart, but that you have been undervalued and neglected. And to show you that the solution to this is so incredibly accessible and feasible.
Take Back Your Body. I’ll see you soon.