When I was 24, just a few months before I got pregnant with my first kiddo, I traveled to Ecuador to live with the Shuar tribe in the Amazon jungle for a couple of weeks. It was through a college course, designed to focus on non-Western modalities for healing.
I learned a lot.
I learned that when you get a healing from Shaman, they prefer batteries and orange soda as payment and they will require you to get butt ass naked for said healing because "westerners have too much attachment to clothes." In a group. With your professor and fellow classmates.
And I learned that when you get served the head of a fish with still in-tact eyeballs, all the villagers will watch you with delight as you devour EVERY MORSEL and that you will have to act like you love it or else it will be super duper rude. Fish heads are good luck, after all.
I also learned that any and every word of high school Spanish will come flooding back to full fluency when a Shuar man leads you 9 miles through a jungle, paddles you in a canoe down the Amazon river, and then upon landing at his longhouse says, “Banarse rapido” followed by the word “anaconda.”
And I learned how to make and drink - without cringing - something called chicha. It’s a lot of chewing of Yucca root. And a lot of spitting. And then a lot of fermenting. And that’s all I am going to say.
Oh, but the best thing I learned by far is that the children in these villages do not ever throw tantrums. Nor do their parents put them in time outs. Nor do they get constantly told to look both ways while using machetes to chop down roots and trees - at the age of 5.
The most essential piece of this was the presence in these kids’ eyes. They were “there.” More “there” than any Western child I had ever met.
Obviously, I went home from the adventure thinking that I’d have a dozen babies some day and I’d carry them on my back and I’d go about life and I’d feel the joy I felt in the mothers I met in the jungle. That I’d go to sleep each night, nestled in my bed with a caring partner, not obsessing about whether or not to respond to my babies or let them cry it out, but instead hearing the echo of a night spent in the village - tiny bells dancing on ankles and faces flushed from the fire - all while the breath of my babes settled near my side.
It was a shock to me when my experience as a new mom was joyless. Alone. Isolated. Confused. Stressed. Pained and painful. And hard as shit in a way that wasn’t rooted in the obvious effort of motherhood, but instead in some odd assemblage of expectation, duty, and being pulled apart in a thousand directions that served nothing essential to my role as mother.
I blamed myself, honestly. And I did the opposite of what those mothers in the jungle taught me: I started reading books instead of listening to my gut. I started worrying instead of praying. I started faking it instead of asking for help or healing. I started to grow stagnant instead of showing up in my community. I started getting strict and structured as a means to control the uncontrollable, ever-changing, amorphous presence of an infant. I stopped merely responding and started strategizing. And with that, poof, any innate wisdom I had about myself as mother got trampled amongst the authority of everything outside of me.
Here I am, two kids by my side and 11 years later, and to be honest, I am still often deferring to the “authority of everything outside of me” when it comes to being a good parent. And I’m surrounded by other AMAZING mothers who are doing the same thing. On paper, we are all doing everything right. But, if we all admit it, for so many of us, it’s not working. Our kids are juggling modern life strife at younger and younger ages and many of them are confronting depression/anxiety at a clinical level. And as women, we are working our booties off. And despite the obvious love we have for our kids, we’re waking up each day feeling like the train to peace and contentment as a modern mother took off three hours before we opened our eyeballs. Aka, we’re stuck in the chase without a real chance of every catching up.
I don’t know about you, but I’m over it. And I’ve decided to stop blaming myself and I’ve started to blame the container. I’m standing up and saying, “HEY THIS CONTAINER DOESN’T FIT.” And in doing that, what’s happened is that I have come to see three main things that are the root of so much of the issue:
- We complain about motherhood as a release, but it’s not solving any problems. It’s become a faux-community, which is made more evident by the fact that mommy vloggers get over 30 million views for complain-y (albeit funny) videos in a single day. Instead of only venting, we need to become communities again that scratch the itch that these videos exploit. Which is easy, honestly, because, ahem, “it takes a village.” The moment we do this, it all makes sense. Postpartum depression wanes, our bodies heal more quickly, our children are less anxious (and obnoxious), our endocrine system is enhanced, our identities are fortified, and our relationships with spouses/partners stay in tact.
- We are too child-centered in this culture. We need to become mother-centered. This is good for everyone, especially your kids. No one - no one - actually truly enjoys hyper-attention and it always 100% leads to issues later in life. The Shuar kids were balanced because they were allowed to be a part of an adult world. They weren't oogled over every single second and they certainly were NOT left alone in a house with an exhausted, isolated mother who struggling to find societal value again by doing a thousand crunches. They were given ample space to experiment and observe, which led to them having self-esteem and independent life skills. They are enveloped in a community of people, wherein they get to see their mothers being dynamic, engaged members. That view allows them to create a secure attachment to the strong thread she sews, hence gives them security of self. Plus, they learned to respect their communities rules/laws not through being told what to do, but because they were able to witness it firsthand. And, PS, these cultures are also 100% women-centered. They are matriarchal without compromise. It’s the only way to make everything else work.
- We see motherhood as a single label, rather than a spectrum. We all try to be a "good mom," when really truly, we simply need to learn how to be ourselves. We need to learn how to respond to our children in our unique way, which requires a presence and ownership of self. This then gives us what our pelvic floors already know: We, as women, are only as strong as we are flexible. There are mothers with depression, mothers with children with special needs, mothers with trauma, single mothers, mothers who despise the baby years, mothers who are skilled with teenagers, mothers who need to travel, mothers who need to nest, mothers who need constant company, mothers who need more rest than others, etc etc etc. There is not one right way to mother. There’s no magic answer. The only answer is that she feels able to respond to the spectrum she embodies. And the only way to be able to respond is if she is given roots to her truest self.
So, yeah. Screw this. I'll be the first to admit it. Mothering like this has yielded me a giant Screw Up Soup. I am a screw-up. And underneath it all, every tiny bit of me just wants to do it right. I just want my people to be happy. I just want to make it all work. But, I’ve been fighting upstream because I’ve been deferring to the authority of everything outside of me.
I am not broken. I am just beginning. And I have been living in a container that has begged me to be rigid and proper, when everything about my version of motherhood involves being wildly tethered to the ebbs and flows of joy, health, happiness, and life without fear.
If you are just beginning too ... If you are willing to start wrestling your way out of the container ... if you are brave enough to admit that motherhood is a spectrum ... if you are aware that you don’t know how to simply respond ... if you are ready to become the authority on your wild tethers ... then ...
Welcome. I am lucky enough to be a part of a place that does all of this and more. This August 7th, we are doing it together. And I’d love for you to be here. You need to know, though, that we’re going to enter into all this through the side door. That's right. I'm gonna get you to get up off your screwed up butt, shake off your screwed up back, and screw on on your screwed up neck and build a foundation from the depths of your nervous system. I'm going to start with the animal in you, which I know from experience will then remind you of your roots and give you the energy you need to take flight. Sure, I’m about to suggest you do a 28-Day Strength Challenge, but that’s because exercise is the best side door to the house of your dreams. I can’t explain why and I bet the Shuar women would ask me not to try to. So, I won’t.
If you’re a screw-up, welcome. Let’s band together and create a community that actually works and that builds a container with tons of open windows and tons of resources and big, huge plans for constant remodeling.