My oldest daughters birthday was yesterday. She turned six. I had two little boys before her, sixteen months apart. That was a helluva thing. (“I already HAVE a baby!” I said, when I found out that I was pregnant with boy number 2.)
We were “trying” when we got pregnant with Tansy. (Because we were on crack, clearly.)
I don’t know that I ever actually voiced the desire, but I wanted a girl. I wanted a little red-headed girl so much, but I was scared to have one. When the sonogram tech announced, “It’s a girl!” tears erupted out of my eyes, unbidden and uncontainable. Joy, mostly, and fear, were falling down my face. I held it together until I made it to the bathroom. If memory serves, I might have crossed the line into hysteria while I peed. (Hysterical moments can happen while peeing.)
That night I sat on the couch at home and wept. How could I have a daughter? How could I healthfully raise a girl? My own femininity is fractured, something I pieced back together like a child trying to reconstruct a first century Grecian vase. I have no idea what this work of art is supposed to look like. But I’ve tried. I’ve tried to figure it out, to glue the shards together, make it functional and usable.
Maybe this seems obvious, but it hasn’t worked out very well in the long run.
Jesus and counseling are undoing what I constructed, in my pain and immaturity, and the lack of a better way. (Along with the help of healthy community and dear friends and all the things we do to work our programs and grow. )
But six years ago I was much further from anything resembling the true shape of the vase that is my femininity. I was terrified at the thought of raising a girl. Oh my goodness I WANTED her! But I was afraid, afraid that I would jack her up. Afraid that I would pass on all of my brokenness. I didn’t want her to be yet another little girl in a long line of pieced-together girls, doing the best they know how to do. Another little girl whose attachment to her mother is a push-and-pull dance of fear and love.
I wanted her to have more.
Her birthday was exhausting. It’s tough when you want to celebrate someone, but they can’t receive it and, more than that, they spend the day complaining, starting fights, antagonizing, and generally being unpleasant. Tansy is wrestling within herself. At six. Beneath my frustration of dealing with a person who is difficult to enjoy, I carry so much sadness for my daughter’s pain. I want better for her.
She was birthed in a tidal wave of anger and sorrow, a breaking point in my labor journey. The point in which my wrestle for control and the trauma of vestibulodynia, and everything that came after, produced a molotov cocktail of agonizing hours of unproductive labor.
Can I be much surprised at my daughters deep aching need to know her worth? To be seen and heard, known and loved? Can I be surprised at the unquenchable cry for acceptance, no matter her brokenness?
So Tansy gets to go to therapy, too. (Cause that’s what we’re doing these days.) I’m hopeful, but most days I feel like I’m barely treading water. I cannot control or fix this situation. What I can do is hold boundaries, love well, and work my own program.
But here I am, caught in this mystery, feeling the pressure to own my own womanhood so that I can, in turn, lead my daughters into theirs.
Is Womanhood defined by child bearing? Being at peace with who you are? Cultivating the art of nurturing, no matter your personality? (We all get caught up in that last one.) Nurturing is not simply a personality trait. It is a skill! It may look different on all of us, but it produces the same thing: security.
The textbook says that womanhood is the state of being a woman. In that case, every cell in my body can attest to my womanhood. But wait, there’s more. The infamous and nebulous They also say it’s the “qualities natural or characteristic to a woman.”
That's actually an insanely hard question. What is natural to me? If I peer beyond my dysfunction and pain, if I look back to the Girl, will I be able to see what was once Natural to me? But if I peer back that far, then I also take the risk of going down a long, deep, dark tunnel into remorse, regret, and grieving the things I’m still in the process of recovering. Namely, my heart, my True self.
At some point, all of us find ourselves confronting our own mothers failures and successes, strengths and weaknesses. We find that we become them, that we step into those inheritances, both good and bad, without forethought and despite our resistance. Most of us get tangled up in trying to process it all. We find ourselves suspended in the tension of love and hurt, as you’re going to be with any person who you have a relationship with!
With our moms, it’s a hard road to navigate.
Your mother might have been so abusive you are at a loss to see the good. Or she might have been one of those rare people who somehow manage to just nail everything. Or she might be like most human mothers, a beautiful and tragic mix of love and loss.
The truth is that I can have empathy for my mothers struggles, incredible gratitude for her ongoing amazing sacrifices and love, while still grieving what was not, or what she didn’t have to give. And so my own daughters will with me.
We suffer from our mothers pain. And our daughters suffer from ours. We pass down health and dysfunction through the same umbilical cord, through the same swig of breastmilk. (Or formula. Whichever.)
Our daughters receive our light. And our darkness.
Last week my counselor asked me if I could imagine what a safe, secure attachment would feel like. (Cause that's a life-long struggle.) I giggled. (Yes. That was a weird response. She was understandably a bit surprised.) I giggled like a suddenly vulnerable, open-hearted memory of something precious and dear that fills you will joy came bubbling up uncontrollably.
I was relating this moment to Hannah and she said, “Was it the Kelli giggle?”
It was. It was indeed.
I made a swift and secure attachment to my friend Kelli. It’s not because she’s perfect or I love her more than the other people I love. I’m very aware that if she were a family member I would have the same dysfunctional issues with her that all family members inevitably have. She is human. So am I.
But I get like, crazy giggly when I know Kelli is coming to town.
One time I was talking with Hannah about our mutual Kelli obsession and I said something like, “If Kelli had a uterus that was like, outside of her body, I would want to curl up in it.” To which Hannah replied, so fittingly, “Ew, you weirdo. Me too. Like a kangaroo pouch!” (Nailed it. So much less gross then my analogy.) So Kelli became Kanga and we became her Roos, the two super weird 30-somethings in Kansas City who treat her like a celebrity.
So how did this precious and secure attachment happen?
Kelli has been with me down to the deepest, darkest, most painful places of my heart. And mind. She’s been with me in the most vulnerable moments, when Jesus has come and spoken life to the most hurting things. She’s held space for me. She’s fought for that space. She’s fought for me. She’s personified Mercy, generosity, gentleness, and vulnerability. She’s listened and heard. She’s understood me. She’s loved without judging. She’s never been overwhelmed by my emotions. She isn’t afraid of the dark chasms inside of me. She's been fiercely protective when I needed her to be.
Most of all, she sees my True Self and continually calls her forward.
And it’s occurred to me, that’s actually what the heart of mothering is: Being an empathetic, compassionate guide that is willing to gently and fiercely go with others wherever they need to go, while remaining a tether to safety.
That’s motherhood. And perhaps that is womanhood, too.
We all need Kelli's in our lives. Several of them.
Maybe becoming a mature woman is to be settled in yourself with peace, to be empathetic and nurturing, while unafraid and fierce in battle. Clearly it's a complex and complicated and slightly unquantifiable Sum. It’s a state of Being. It’s not the tasks or careers or shapes of our bodies. It’s not a specific personality or list of accomplishments. It is, perhaps, the continual journey to see our femininity made whole. It is, perhaps, the broken woman on the road who is willing to keep walking.
Womanhood just might be moving forward, paced and intentional, towards life. And, along the way, in the midst of our own brokenness, giving life, releasing strength, and guiding others.
And Motherhood, it seems, grows from it. Motherhood is flesh on bones.
One time the Lord asked me, “Do you know what a warrior and Mercy make? The most powerful thing of all. A mother.” I almost didn’t know what to say.
And becoming a mother, a thing which I still can’t seem to emotionally acknowledge, has been one of the most wretched, painful, lonely journeys of my life.
And I’m doing it again. Did I mention that I hate being pregnant?
End of Part II…to be continued next Tuesday.