The same three episodes of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations played repeatedly at least three times that night. One, he was somewhere in Spain eating in a local's home. I thought of how Mimi always was the one cooking for us when we all lived together. How would Bourdain feel about her food?
I had been watching Anthony Bourdain for years. I was relieved that at least those three episodes was something of a distraction as opposed to infomercials and other random television bullshit that plays in the wee hours of the morning. Through Bourdain, I saw parts of the world that this working class mountain girl will never get to see with her own eyes. I would watch him have experiences as I would want to have them. Ask the questions I was curious about. See the parts of life that aren't just for show. His jokes felt like they were coming from a friend who got my brand of humor. Watching him felt real. There was empathy in his eyes. A knowing from somewhere deep.
I lost my Mimi not long after that night. She had played the biggest role in raising the woman I am today. Having watched her suffer, I stopped fearing death. When I understood that miraculous healing is not what we are owed and that this life is but a blip in the whole scheme of things, I realized that death means freedom. It's real freedom. And, that when she passed on, she would no longer hurt, suffer, be cold, feel bodily pain, worry, fear, or anything like that. She'd be transmuted.
I experienced the death of my grandfather, aunt, and uncle during that same period of time. And, each time, while I was sad and wished they didn't have to go, I started feeling relieved for them. They each had to suffer so much before death. Sure, you may think it morbid. Heartless even. But, freedom is boundlessness. I only want freedom and boundless nature for my loved ones.
It was within this time frame that I began to not want to exist. I wanted that boundlessness too. I was done having to be at the doctor all the time, having entire days lost to physical pain and listlessness. Done wondering if I was a good enough mother. Done trying to juggle finances and being poor despite busting tail. Done waiting to live because everything was consumed by timelines and priorities I didn't create. There was nothing to make me want to stay aside from the pain that it would cause my daughters to know that I couldn't stay for them. That was the only thing that kept me living.
You cannot judge someone for feeling this way. Sure, you can say, look at all they have going for them. Look at the life they have that I wish I had. You can call them ungrateful, negative, thoughtless, selfish... but, unless you can understand the loss of emotional attachment to living coupled with a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual exhaustion associated with going about the day in and out... in and out, then you cannot know how not wanting to exist feels. You cannot judge what you cannot comprehend.
It isn't that a person does not value or see their blessed life. It isn't that they are negative or have stopped seeing beauty. And, other than putting a higher priority on their own suffering than that of their loved ones, you can't even say it is selfish. We make other similar life choices all the time. Accepting or declining medical care, smoking cigarettes, walking a tightrope, doing drugs, eating crappy food, driving the car too fast, climbing Mt. Everest... things that we deem worth the risk despite the pain it might cause to us or others in the future. In a way, that's actually living. The thing to realize is that the people who decide they don't want to exist are too exhausted to keep trying. They made the pros and cons list. They did the risk vs. benefit analysis maybe 1,000 times. And, in the moment they end it, the finality of not existing felt like freedom. Boundlessness. All else would go on. Life, for all of us is a series of struggles as much as it is blessings. We cannot save our loved ones from that experience because they are alive.
I understand how "out there" this sounds. Unless you've felt it, it's a hard thing to intellectually grasp. We are born with the instinct to survive. A newborn baby has the ability to wiggle, smell, root, and find it's mother's breast with no help when placed on her abdomen. I watched my grandmother fight for her life even after she knew it was over. We fear the unknown, naturally. Until, through experiences and chemical configurations in the brain, loneliness, and lethargy from whatever cause, the unknown becomes more appealing than the experience we are having. Suicide is NOT normal. It is NOT an answer. It's an avoidance of the problem all together.
What we have to do though is make "suicide" a word we use. We need to ask our friends about it in conversation. We need to check on the friend that seems so very strong and courageous as often as the one who is having obvious struggles. That doesn't mean a text (though that is good), it also means visits. It means getting up in their business even if it gets on their nerves. It means meeting them where they are - even when they decline invitations, finding something that they can say yes to and doing that. It's about really seeing a person. Not just a social media account. It's about eye to eye conversations. It's about belly laughs. It's talking about the tough stuff.
"As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life — and travel — leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks — on your body or on your heart — are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt." ~Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown
In a culture that puts so much value on "manifesting" and "postivity," we cannot neglect the experiences that allow us to understand what a "happy life" means. We cannot stop giving space to our pain and hurt. We cannot underappreciate sadness.
Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life. ~Susan David
Stop avoiding your the topic of your friend's suffering. Stop ignoring that funny look in their eyes that you kind of wanted to ask about, but didn't want to intrude or make things uncomfortable. Be willing to get uncomfortable dammit! It won't KILL you!
This past week, despite all the great things in my life, the feelings of not wanting to exist would well up from time to time. It happens when I haven't had a break and get really tired. Now, that I understand those feelings, I think I will always face them when things are especially tiring, hard, or the right combination of this or that brings them up. I have attempted suicide twice in my younger years, before I truly grasped what it was I wanted to do in attempting such a thing. Now, being a mother will keep me from attempting, because I know that I don't want to be a source of any suffering for my girls. Yoga will give me reprieve. I will be open about the thoughts and tell people that if I quit talking about it, that's when they need to pay attention most. Being unmedicated now, I know I must diligently use my new coping tools. I will teach yoga, and I will give myself and my gifts as a resource to humanity. Anyone who wants to sit with me, I will, with honor, listen and I will share if you want to know. Don't discredit me or the things I share with you because I have these feelings. Don't label me negative. Yet, I will still be ok with the thought of not waking up. I have lost my attachment to living even in all its beauty and glory. Time is only now and a long, happy life is never a guarantee. No reason to be attached.
Then, today, while wishing I had more energy to face my day, I saw that Anthony Bourdain had made the choice to end his time here on earth. I cried. I've cried multiple times. I feel like I have lost a good friend. I've openly talked about him as my favorite of favorites. His work opened the world up to me. I'm devastated especially for his daughter, whom it was obvious he loved dearly. I hope she has a good network surrounding her. I hope Anthony is free. Boundless. He, if any of us, knew the beauty this world offers as well as the bad, and understood it twice as good.
I can’t help but share my story when I hear the struggles of others. The year I became a mother, I learned the hard lesson that ignorance is not bliss. More of us, especially women, should be sharing the truth of our stories. We need to share it all, even the hard parts – the parts we’ve yet to fix or grow into, included. It’s how we learn from our own mistakes and from one another. It’s how we can prevent a little heartache and some aimless wandering. You may be thinking, I don’t want people to think I’m a negative person. Or, on the opposite end, I don’t want anyone to think I’m bragging. I understand. Totally.
My story of healing sounds nearly impossible if I tell it in its entirety. Pieces of it are scattered throughout this blog and my other writings. I share bits of it on social media. A lot of it isn’t easy to hear, but I try not to be shy about sharing those parts too. I’m a warrior. I battle depression, anxiety, Hashimotos Thyroiditis, polyarthropathy (chronic non-specific joint pain), chronic migraines, and chronic gastritis and colitis. I have a little bit of stuff that likes to slap me in the face every morning. But… I’ve lost over 100 pounds, and I have weaned myself off of all prescription medications aside from my daily thyroid hormone.
I could say that the main factor in getting this far for me was consistent positivity, but that would be a HUGE lie. It would not only be a lie, but it could even set others up for failures in their own journey if they think positivity alone can get them where they want to be. Try remaining positive when in constant pain, worrying that something you said days ago was taken the wrong way, and all the while you don't want to exist anymore. In that state of being, nothing is as simple as a positive attitude. Worse than that is if that positivity is a distraction from the things we’re truly feeling, because it will keep coming up and asking for our attention. For those of us born into a state of fairy like bliss, positivity may come naturally. For others of us, life coupled with brain chemistry wired us differently.
I don’t mean to sound derogatory toward people who naturally tend toward positivity. In fact, there are aspects of that tendency that I can become envious of if I’m not careful. Yet, we must point out, in the age of incessant out of context quoting and the popularity of memes, that positive thinking, as it is portrayed by that mostly online culture, is not accessible to many people who desire to make positive life changes. At worst, those types of attitudes can bring shame, guilt, and alienation to those who feel like they must always keep a positive outward appearance to not seem like an ungrateful, sour person.
There have been times when I personally have felt demeaned for sharing aspects of my story that others perceived as negative. Other times, I’ve taken a deep personal look at this idea that a “change of attitude” is what it takes to bring happiness. I saw a meme once that brought such a sick felt heartache to me that it shocked me to feel it. It said:
The person who posted the meme said they had no room for negative people in their life. It felt as though because I was in a state of unhappiness, I was being accused of being ungrateful. I am immensely grateful for my life and always have been. I do go through periods of intense unhappiness without losing that gratitude. Secondly, I felt rejected by this person for any possibility of friendship or working together because I openly share my struggles with depression and anxiety. Our society sees these things as negative, therefore, did they perceive me as one of the negative people they were referring to in their posting?
I took a long time to explore this idea for myself. Was there something I was missing? Is it really as simple as saying – hating my pain is negative, I need to stop whining and just accept my pain as a permanent part of my life. Be positive. It isn’t that simple. For me to make positive changes in my life, I could not wait for myself to feel that positive attitude, I had to harness the energy of the emotions seen as negative to create my forward momentum. I had to transform "negative" emotions into positive motion.
A fair number of people reach out to me who are also feeling sadness, depression, or intense struggle. Often, these feelings are coupled with health problems, financial issues, or loneliness. None of them want to remain in this state. They want it to end or at the very least believe in the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. It is naïve to expect that someone (even yourself) can just choose not to feel the emotions our society have deemed “negative.” To transform these emotions into forward, or healing momentum takes time, goals with a plan to reach them, and a willingness to be more flexible in your thinking. Consistency in those three things is key. Some things will be worked at hard with no results. Some will make you feel worse before you get better. Others will ask you to confront some really hard truths about yourself and your life. The process will demand you use your intuition to guide your way forward.
A lot of language I hear from people as they share their story is self-limiting, such as: I have no motivation. I can’t. I won’t. Others use blame shifting like: There’s no time. The kids won’t let me. I can’t afford it. I have no support.
I’m not going to call those “just excuses.” They’re not. Many of these things are very real obstacles. I am, however, going to call it “stagnant” or “stiff” thinking. While some obstacles will be ever present, those things do not have to block us in other areas. If a person I’m talking with doesn’t respond to my suggestions, or seems resistant, I know what I am offering isn’t something they are ready for at the present time.
For example, diet can be pretty difficult to change, but you want to make yourself physically healthier overall. Don’t start with diet. Start with exercise. You can exercise at any time. You can exercise for free. Research shows that exercise lifts the overall mood. Exercise can look a lot of different ways. Begin by setting a goal. I will exercise 3-4 days a week. Then, make a plan. I will wake up 30 minutes early and do chair yoga. I will always use the stairs at work. After dinner the kids and I will walk the dog. With that, you’ve begun. As you reach goals, you’ll become motivated to create more. You may begin see some of your obstacles differently, turning them into opportunities.
If you’re wanting to begin a healing journey, but find yourself “stuck”, ask:
For those who carry some heaviness of heart or circumstances, it can sometimes be the things meant to guide us toward the light that add to our darkness. No one sharing these memes or ideas means harm. The most important thing to remember is that everything exists in shades of gray. Nothing is completely black or white. No one will be happy all the time. You don’t have to accept your darkest days as a state of permanence.
According to the Buddha, there is suffering. Suffering is common to all. Everyone experiences the tears of birth, sickness, old age, and death. Buddha said,
“There is happiness in life, happiness in friendship, happiness of family, happiness in a healthy body and mind, but when one loses them, there is suffering.” ~from the Dhammapada
The April 8th opener for Saturday Night Live, “Donald Trump Goes to Kentucky,” is the latest example of what many Appalachian academics, activists, and advocates feel is outsiders taking liberties with extreme representations of our people and culture. In the skit, four Kentuckians from Boone County (not in Appalachia or the coalfields) express concerns to President Trump who is there to relish in undying support. They express their concerns. Trump replies in his vague and ridiculous manner. Each of them sit down a little shell shocked, but still wanting to believe the president they elected has their best interest at heart. Almost immediately after the skit aired, my Facebook newsfeed was ablaze with offended eastern Kentuckians admonishing the writers of the skit for stereotyping and making us out as idiots. A little later, came more blogging about liberal elitism and how the Democrats are to blame for our communities’ Trump votes.
Our family gathered to wait with us. It was snowing, and all the local buses were on calls. Our drivers came from Elkorn City to Prestonsburg to pick us up. We waited over two hours after getting the news. I had time to explain to Ivy about surgery. How most of the people she is close with have had surgery. How she was born and alive because of surgery. How she's strong, and I won't leave her side. I would never leave her side.
She slept on the ambulance ride. I texted with some of my mama friends and family a little, but I mostly watched her sleep. It was hard to reach her where I was belted in, but we had the kindest EMTs with us, and the man in the back also had three daughters. He'd reach over and run his fingers through her hair every now and again. He won't know how much I appreciated that he wasn't afraid to touch her for me.
Like I said, I planned. What would this look like? I had only been with my job since October 2015. I guess they'd just have to let me go. I had been a stay at home mom for 10 years and nothing like this had every happened to us then. Now, I had made the decision to change our entire lifestyle so I could find fulfillment and a purpose beyond parenting, and this happens. As my mind is always analyzing, I asked - What is Universe trying to tell me? Have I become a neglectful parent in my pursuit of engaging work? Am I a selfish mother in even considering how this all will affect me?
Thank God, it wasn't cancer! Ivy is on the mend. University of Kentucky Children's Hospital and her surgical team were amazing. She had a 6cm vascular abonormality that was a total bizarre fluke. They removed it all, and now, almost two weeks later, you can only tell that she was operated on because she has four little incisions covered with surgical tape.
We got home on a Monday evening late. I went directly back to work the next morning. I didn't want to go. I wanted to stay, but now, we are dependent upon my income. My income pays for all the new things in our life. A house that meets our spacial and privacy needs, tuition for cottage school, babysitting, food, insurance and my medical bills, my supplements and medicine, and gas money. I can't not work.
Again,because we can't do without this income, I thought, what have I done? I had to think on it awhile. I came to a conclusion that I had come to months ago as I was making the decision to go back into the workforce. It doesn't matter if I am a stay at home mom or a working mom, I'm going to have guilt placed upon my shoulders by myself and by society for all the things I'm expected to be and cannot. We cannot be everything - even to our children. Becoming a parent shouldn't mean we are expected to. Then, I realized, being at work was a kind of relief. I wanted to be both places, actually. At work, I could breathe. I could focus on something a little less heavy for awhile. I could see something through from beginning to end.
I remembered an essay in _Brain Child Magazine, online that I had read back in September before I knew I had gotten my current public affairs position. Aubrey Hirsch writes:
I’m learning a lot, too. The big revelation for me came the first time he woke up on a Saturday morning and, as we were lazily playing in our pajamas, said, “I want to go to Melissa’s!” Movies and mom blogs had prepared me for this moment to be heartbreaking, but it wasn’t. It was totally fine.
Before she ends the essay this way, she wrote, "Watching another woman cuddle and comfort my son didn’t feel bad; it felt great. I knew he would be fine and that Melissa would take good care of him." With those lines, I was reminded how I'm not a natural nurturer. When my own mother was caring for my dying grandmother, she broke down in her stress and grief and said, "I'm not good at this stuff. If I had wanted to be a nurse, I would have went to school and become one!" I realized so much watching my mother caring for my grandmother, and when she spoke those words so much acknowledgement poured through my soul. Hugging, rubbing, touching, holding... it all wore her out too. She too had to make an effort to do it in an extended way. I realized it wasn't that she didn't want to hug me growing up, but she got tapped out quickly. It didn't mean anything was lacking in her care of me or her love for me. It just meant she would show it in different ways that aren't typically associated with the act of mothering, and she did.
I hadn't thought I would be a mother up until a few months before I began trying to become pregnant with my first child. My plan was to be a writer. For various reasons, plans change. In this season of my life, I'm revisiting the dreams of my early twenties. Some would call that a mid-life crisis. Others might say I'm finally accepting myself. The biggest point is that I don't have to feel guilty for it. In fact, I have come to understand the huge contribution working mothers make, and how it actually is more difficult in many ways than being a stay at home mom. Mentally and emotionally, being a stay at home mom almost devastated me. It brought me to a very dark place after years of denying to myself that I really felt the way I did about not pursuing my interests.
You DO NOT have to be a martyr to be a mother. I wish for the life of me that society would help us convey to our daughters that you DO NOT have to be a martyr to be a woman. For if you find yourself a mother with a career or job, you may also find yourself holding the brunt of household chores, cooking, bill paying, errands, and outside family commitments. Going out and finding yourself is just another thing to add to the plate that is already spilling over the edge. Yet, it might be the most important piece in being not simply a caregiver, but a role model for your children. Being a role model can be achieved in the home and outside of it and will be particular to any given woman.
I'm still trying to find the balance of being both in the home and out of it. The truth is, I'm going to give up most of the yoga classes I teach so I can be home a few more hours in the evening. Mothers need rest and cuddles too. Even mothers who get tapped out quickly. We all need self care, but from what I see, especially women. Pursuing the interests and hobbies that help us nurture ourselves so that we can nurture our children and loved ones.
Hillary Clinton, back when I was younger was known for saying, "It takes a village to raise a child." She is right. Back in the day, the whole holler watched after your kids while they ran from house to house and hill to hill. Only since we have become nuclear families and neighbors with closed doors have we lost the village mentality. That doesn't mean that it still doesn't take a village.
Things happen, and I will be the mother who deals with them as they come. I will be the mother who seeks and finds herself. I will be the mother who shows her daughters that a woman can be whatever she wants without the permission of anyone. I will be the mother who knows and understands that we are each unique and being a good mother simply means providing an environment where your child is nurtured, safe, fed, warm, and loved however that may appear.
Today, I've decided to give up fighting. I'm on day 3 of a another migraine. I'm home alone with my girls who are getting much better from a bout of upper respiratory illness. They are giggling and horse-playing. I need to work on a radio piece for my new job, but this week has thrown so much at me, I need to clear my head first. So, I come here to write. I also took an Imitrex. The medicine hasn't been helping. I hate taking all this medicine.
A good friend's mother and a regular in my yoga classes, my chiropractor, and some folks in my online support groups for Hashimotos urged me to get my thyroid scanned. I'm on thyroid medicine and my thyroid had never been palpated nor had I had an ultrasound of the thyroid. This last year I have had a few CT scans, 3 x-rays, 2 MRIs, and countless blood tests. My main condition which I MUST have daily medicine for had never been evaluated by anything more than a thyroid panel blood test. I could write a whole other post on my frustration with this fact, but I will just say this. If you work in healthcare (medical, mental, alternative, or spiritual), listen to your patient/client. Even if you believe what they are saying is a crock, listen with all your effort. In their words, you will find the next appropriate steps regardless if their words are medically meaningful to you.
Last week, I had my first thyroid ultrasound. I had been complaining of tightness in my neck, difficulty swallowing my medicine and some food, dizziness, hearing my pulse in my right ear, and the feeling of being in an airplane taking off in my right ear as well. It's messed quite a bit with my hearing. I was prescribed allergy medicine and had an MRI for that complaint. I don't have seasonal allergies. I never have. I very rarely even get a cold. The MRI showed normal blood flow in that region. The symptoms didn't go away even when I gave the allergy medicine a chance despite feeling I didn't need it. I didn't think these symptoms were something I should have to just ignore the rest of my life. Sometimes the swooshing and pressure change in my head is impossible to ignore. Being a yoga teacher, it affects my balance and impacts my practice. It also makes it hard to talk on the phone and at times in person because I can't hear the other person. That's not normal. That's not ok.
I got a call Friday that my doctor wanted to review my ultrasound results with me in person. I went in this past Monday. These are the results. Pardon my coffee stains. I'm a little obsessive when it comes to reviewing my medical records and I had an accident.
I have multiple nodules that are small in the left side of the thyroid - "hypoechoic areas". Lo and behold, I have a complex mass of a significant size (though apparently they can also be larger) in the right side of my thyroid. The radiologist has recommended a fine needle biopsy guided by ultrasound to rule out cancer. It will also need to be assessed if my thyroid needs to be removed even if the mass is benign. If you look at the size of the mass in comparison to the size of the right side of my thyroid, you can see why it is something that needs further testing.
Many members of the population have nodules on their thyroid. Not all of these people have been diagnosed with thyroid issues. However, people with nodules measuring on the larger end and who have a history of thyroid issues, are the most likely to have a malignant nodule. Malignancies occur in few cases compared with the commonality of thyroid nodules. I'm supposed to get my appointment for the biopsy today, and at 3:16pm, I still haven't gotten the call. I'll be traveling to Lexington for the biopsy. It's a 3 hour trip.
I'm starting my first round of employment in a decade on Monday, and I am just now getting this news. For almost a year, I have been having symptoms associated with these findings. I can't begin to explain how angry I am that I am now going to have to deal with this at all. My hormone numbers were improved in my last bloodwork. I had several months of feeling better after adopting an autoimmune paleo diet and a no-holds-barred 7 days a week yoga/meditation regimen. I've added herbs and supplements, cut many of my favorite foods, and tried my best to surround myself with people and activities that feed my soul. I thought it was working. I suppose it was a little.
To me that seemed like a reasonable option. I was done with spending half of every month in pain with the headaches. I told Creator that night that I would take on anything if it helped me move passed this pain. I told Creator I'd accept cancer, brain tumor, craziness, aneurysm, all of it. I'd accept it because it would be a diagnosis and with a diagnosis I could have a plan. Whether I lived and got treatment or died, I'd have more freedom than I was currently having. After seeing the neurologist, I got some improvement in my headaches with medication, but now I have had a headache 10 of the last 20 days. Back to the headache from Hades (not that all of them aren't bad, but I literally would've downed a bottle of pills and died if I hadn't had the ER option that night). I told Creator that I'd use whatever I was given to improve my life while I am here and to try to improve the lives of as many as I can reach through my experience. I said, "Please, bring it on." A diagnosis big or small was the only way out I could see aside from death. Yes, it's a dark place to be, but it isn't a godless place.
I still don't know what I'm dealing with, but I'm closer to an answer. I don't know what road lies ahead. All I know is I am tired. This year I have lost 2 grandparents, 1 grandparent-in-law, had 2 aunts and 1 uncle diagnosed and battling cancer, 1 sister with a cancer scare, a niece with blood clotting issues in the brain, and 1 sister under immense stress and battling Graves disease. I am currently grieving another great loss that leaves me recognizing how alone I really am. Surrounded but alone. All my close friends live away from me and are busy people. None of us enjoy phone calls. My husband must work regular hours. My parents are busy working and caring for the other kids in the family. I've always preferred being a loner, but sometimes, I wish I could just sleep in someone's arms and not have to tend to anything.
breath. Strength comes from the breath and if you become a witness to your inhales and exhales and your body's reaction to the breath, you will discover relaxation and the panic mode dissipates. It is always good to concentrate on basics, and just observe the breath connection from head to toe. Just lay on the floor, stretch and breath, and be a witness. Understand you are strengthenIng inside out. We all should do this on a regular basis, but, I think we view this as no effort towards our practice, when it is the most important part. You never lose a gain...it remains with you."
I stopped and realized that all the pushing, making myself keep going, and searching for answers beyond the medical is wearing me out. I realized that I have not focused on one of the most fundamental aspects of yoga or spiritual practice - equanimity. I have not found my balance. In all the striving, I have built my willpower up so intensely that I do not know when to allow myself a break or to stop, celebrate, and live in my gains. I just plow down the next row. Start trying to fix the next biggest issue. I want so badly to be a light to myself and others that I think I have let my ego get out of control. I have overestimated the impact I can have on a life, including my own. My efforting will only go so far, if it doesn't create space for me to also take the time to live what I have learned. Sometimes, we can try to make up for the lack of self-esteem and self-worth in our lives by building other parts of the ego like self-confidence. I have been relying on my own strength and my own mind to do everything for myself and others. At this moment, I really just want to be loved and carried for awhile. I'm done fighting. I'm going to breathe instead.
I have to make a plan. I have to hone my spiritual and yoga practice. I have to re-think my self care.
"You can't fully appreciate the light until you understand the darkness." - Black Yoga Asanas Ritual Vol. 1
If you would like to read more about this particular aspect of thyroid disease, these links are where I have been doing my own research on what is to come for me.
Thyroid Nodules - Cedars-Sinai
Does the Risk of Malignancy Increase When a Thyroid Nodule is Larger than 2cm?
Risk of Thyroid Cancer Based on Ultrasound Findings
Thyroid Nodules - AAFP
At this point, I am angry. I want to feel like a 36 year old who exercises seven days a week, eats a clean, whole foods diet, eats no refined sugar, doesn't smoke or abuse substances, and generally tries to keep a good attitude. Why? That's who I am, but sometimes I wake up and feel like I don't want to wake up anymore. The pain from headaches, procedures on my foot that won't heal, a bum shoulder, a stomach that doesn't want to digest food, is wearing me out. Not to mention, I was told Monday that my insurance won't cover the procedure that would help my foot heal quickly. Nope, I have to a make three hours one way trip to the doctor every month and renewed pain with the treatment I receive until this is healed. Emotionally, while I try to hide it as best I can, I'm up and down. Anxiety and depression takes its toll as well. It's hard to admit you have either of those conditions when to the outside world you appear to be functioning fine. Some days, all I want is to be held by strong arms, smell damp earth, and feel the wind against my face. All day. I'm coping well though. Better than I was, and yoga is the reason. Fatigue is another big obstacle, but at the moment, I'm caffeinating strongly and taking iron to overcome my anemia as my body isn't absorbing nutrients from my food as it should.
I'm seeing three specialists (neurology, dermatology, and orthopedics) with 1-3 months between visits. I see my primary care physician at least once every 3 months for bloodwork, further testing based on prior test results, and medication updates. I have also started seeing my chiropractor regularly in hopes to spread out the visits to the orthopedic doctor. Honestly, it feels really stupid. Stupid. How did I end up here? Genetics is the simple answer. When I asked the girls pediatrician at their recent well visit if there was any way I could keep them from ending up here as well, she said, "Not really. The best we can do is watch for symptoms and catch it early."
Hover the cursor over photos for descriptions.
Because western medicine sees no cure for Hashimoto's and other autoimmune thyroid conditions, the approach is typically to manage a patient's symptoms as best as they can. For many patients, the management is not enough to allow them to live the life of a normal healthy individual. Unfortunately, as in other areas of medical breakthrough and dissemination of knowledge, most primary care physicians are not up to date on the latest information surrounding autoimmune diseases of the thyroid and a very many are not even aware of how to properly test for or diagnose them. Unless they specialize, doctors receive a basic understanding in medical school and not many take up further study in this area. Many people spend years with their disease worsening before they can even get a diagnosis. All the while, they are accused of being a hypochondriac or diagnosed with an array of issues that are not separate at all, but are related to the decline of their thyroid function. It is extremely frustrating for the patients and those close to them who know something more is wrong.
I didn't want to be in this place again. I am now overwhelmed while being in a familiar area. It reminds me of all the researching, writing, advocacy, and healthcare searching I did when trying to uncover why I had experienced unnecessary cesarean surgery and how I could go on to have a vaginal birth after cesarean. So, much of the information women need to make good decisions in pregnancy and birth is not transparent or shared among care providers and the women they serve. I had to become more involved in determining the kind of treatments and healthcare I would receive than those who were providing me that care. I had to take it upon myself to research, learn the science, and take the steps that I could to heal my body. All the while, I was sharing my journey with other mothers and becoming an advocate for the health of women and babies. When I stepped away from the career side of this advocacy, I thought that my focus would no longer have to be split between my passions and my healing. Yet, here I am again. Same thing, another issue. I'm tired.
Eventually, as I am choosing to do this one step at a time, I will be giving up many of my favorite foods and all things that I currently consider a treat - chocolate, dairy, all grain, corn, coffee, tomatoes and nightshades, nuts/seeds, soy, possibly eggs, all preservatives, and alcohol (which I have always had an aversion to). Eating out will be very difficult as will eating when friends and family cook meals. I have to be strict about the changes or it won't work. After 3 months to 2 years, depending on how my body responds, I will be able to reintroduce foods to see if I react poorly. If I don't react, I can continue to eat them if properly prepared for optimal nutritional absorption.
Another piece to this puzzle is medication and supplements. This is part of why I HAVE to adopt the diet and lifestyle pieces. I don't want to grow this mix. I want to reduce it. I will probably write more about that as I know what is helping me and what isn't. I really want to share this journey because Hashimoto's affects about 14 million Americans (along with the other health issues it causes) and no one seems to be having open discussions about it. It's another one of these dark areas where information is clouded and you can feel crazy and very alone.
I also have to make sure that I sleep at least seven hours a night, preferably 8-10+. It is recommended that Hashimoto's patients sleep until they naturally wake up and sleep until 8 or 9am as regularly as they can. This will be hard for me as I get a second wind in the night or I sleep restlessly, having wild dreams. My daughters get up at the first hint of daylight. The bodies of Hashimoto's patients need time to rebuild and to rest from the overburden.
Light exercise is also a must. It isn't recommended that we go for very intense exercise as that will cause further stress to our already taxed adrenals. I'm grateful I already have that under control with my yoga practice. I, now, practice 7 days a week and my favorite teachers have DVDs geared toward my health and fitness goals. Below are a few I'm using. I'm so thankful for my yoga!
The biggest thing I'm dealing with right now is needing to vent and not feeling like anyone wants to listen. I don't want to whine or seem as if I am whining. I'm a very proactive person and I'm not asking for pity or help. I want to be frustrated and have someone hear it, tell me I'm strong, tell me I'm a beautiful person, or simply feed me some positive about myself. Encouragement. I want pep talks. Or maybe I want my basketball coach back. The one that would make me mad in order to have me be fired up to play my hardest. Right now, I'm so worn out I don't want to fight. I just want to move on, whatever that means. It seems though that those with Hashimoto's have a hard time finding support and will often lose the support of friends and family. So, I'm going to blog for that reason too. Maybe I won't overburden those I love if I can let some of it out here.
In the meantime, I'm going to relentlessly pursue my dreams. I'm applying for jobs, seeing the girls into their new school, teaching yoga, cooking good food, and reading and writing a lot. Hopefully, spending times with friends and family will be added in there. I'm going to do my best, because I can.
That's the anger, overwhelm, and the plan.
By the time July 2014 rolled around, I was finding that I could no longer keep up with the form of workouts I had chosen. I was doing CrossFit inspired and HIIT home workouts. I was really worried because no matter my physical size, I had always been athletic and capable of pushing myself to keep up with strenuous exercise. Not only this, but the migraine headaches that I had been having since age 13 had picked up in frequency and were becoming debilitating. I reluctantly went to my family doctor. That began a cascade of testing and seeing specialists. I have seen a neurologist (and will regularly, indefinitely), orthopedic specialist, gastroenterologist, ob/gyn, chiropractor, and a dermatologist. I've had bloodwork every 3 months, MRIs, CTs, x-rays, and cultures of various sorts. Then, the ER visits.
I had to begin taking medications that would significantly lower my heart-rate in order to help prevent the headaches that were interfering with day to day life. This meant that it was now physically impossible for me to keep up with the intense workouts. That is when I took back up with a daily yoga practice. I now practice Kundalini and Vinyasa yoga at least 6 days a week. I eat real food as well as I can manage, and I try to feed my family the same way. See, I wasn't giving up. I have three daughters to raise and provide an example for. If I gave up on myself, what would I be teaching them?
All that said, leads me to why I'm really writing this post today. This region of Kentucky is known as one of the sickest regions in the nation.
Kentucky is one of the sickest states in America, a place where too many people die too soon, and many who live endure decades of illness and pain.
I must say, that what I'm seeing in my neck of the woods, currently, around health and fitness, gives me a great hope for our future. As I research and find the resources I need to receive the healthcare and access the food that I need to live the best quality of life possible for me, I am finding other eastern Kentuckians doing the same. Not only are they taking charge of their health, but they are becoming the change that they want to see in the region.
People I went to school with who are in the medical field are offering free, daily health tips via Facebook and coming back to the region to serve their communities. When I make posts about health and fitness information, I get messages and replies asking for more information or making comments that offer me more information. Area residents seem more interested in local food options. Farmer's Markets are sprouting up all over, and people are learning more about wildcrafting. Yet, the thing that inspires me the most is what I'm seeing as an increased willingness of people to use and explore the capabilities of their own bodies in outside of the box ways. I have recently started teaching yoga in Hindman and Whitesburg and have been so pleased to have no fewer than two and as many as eleven in my classes! So many express interest and a desire to learn how to take responsibility for their health. This makes me hopeful for the health of our young people.
Nick is part owner (along with Stacie Beckett and Carrie Adkins) of the new CrossFit Experior in Williamson, and Cristin instructs and works from the box (gym). I asked Nick why he wanted to make this passion of his into a career, and his answer is so much a part of the solution I envision for the positive growth of our region.
I wanted to open a gym to make a difference in the community, to help people change for the better. I think people are more interested in a healthier lifestyle these days for many reasons, like a better quality of life, to be more physically capable, longevity of life, or maybe to prevent a future health crisis. People as a whole are learning and adapting. 80 years ago everybody smoked. It was the norm. We're at a time now where healthcare and technology make things well known. We know now smoking has many adverse health problems, eating fast food, and drinking soda everyday has adverse health reactions. - Nick Potter
Simply put. He wants to make a difference in his community. Nick and Cristin saw an issue that affected them personally and in their desire to change it for themselves, they are a part of changing it for the community at large. We live in an area that is so naturally beautiful. I see it as very possible that this region can be known for health and well-being in our future. That's part of my vision as I share yoga with those who come to my classes. I know Nick and Cristin are seeing it on a daily basis as they inspire people of all ages to good health.
Jane Austen wrote in Persuasion, "I am half agony, half hope." On the days when my body and emotions feel agony, I look to hope. I'm going to fight the good fight. Others are fighting the good fight. This is just one part of the puzzle that will be rebuilding eastern Kentucky, but it is this type of revolution that makes me not give up completely. It is a clear path to goodness.
This week I'm welcoming again Barbara Hannelore as a guest blogger! This is the second installment of a two part post on harnessing the power we hold within the menstrual cycle and using it for the betterment of ourselves and all those we influence. I'm so glad to share Barbara's work with you. I hope you enjoy it! ~Kelli
Last month’s post was about how our menstrual cycle actually carries a valuable rhythm that we can use to our advantage, to stay in balance, anticipate our needs, and take valuable time for self-care, in order to be at our best. Our cycle can actually become a tool for success when used wisely! Today, I’d like to go into more specifics as to how you can discover your own personal rhythm and its value for you.
We were talking before about the phases or “seasons” of our own month, and how they resemble the phases of the moon or seasons of the year. We have all four phases, or all four seasons, each month during our own cycle. This is such a great model to follow, because we can see how these different aspects of the month compliment each other and keep us in balance. Our “outer” time of social focus and busy accomplishment is balanced by a time to turn inward for reflection, creativity and renewal.
Let’s take a closer look at the phase of the month that tends to give us the most challenges - the premenstrual time. What if we knew how to approach this time in a positive way that supports our needs, instead of just trying to plow through it, acting like it’s not happening, and assuming there was something wrong with us? When we realize that our premenstrual time is at the end of our cycle, and is our own "autumn” season, we can being to approach it in a very different way. Autumn is the season of harvest, of completion and review. It is a time when the leaves fall, letting go of that which is no longer needed; getting ready for winter.
What does this mean for us? Our premenstrual time is our own time for rebalancing. It is the time when things that want our attention will come to the surface, and we’ll be drawn to finish projects and review aspects of our lives in a more critical way. We can begin to see our annoying “symptoms” as signals instead, alerting us to what may be out of balance, and not healthy for us in the long term. We tend to think of these imbalances in terms of nutrition or hormones, but it goes much deeper than that. What about our emotional lives? Are we finding avenues for expression for our creativity, for our feelings, for our dreams and plans? Are we doing things that are fulfilling for us?
We may need rest, or exercise, or just need to get out of our normal routine and do something different for awhile! The menstrual time brings us back to the body and is a time when our Wild Woman wants to come out and prowl a little, so finding a way to loosen into some of those creative urges can be wonderfully freeing and healing. Another thing you may be craving is time alone. This is a powerful and unrecognized need for most women, and ignoring it is what causes a lot of the irritability and overwhelm in the first place! You may actually be feeling less social premenstrually, and needing to carve some “time out” space into your calendar.
This brings us to the topic of calendars, which are an essential way to begin to keep track of your month and anticipate your times for optimal self care. Here is a good way to begin: You will find a monthly calendar page that you can print out on my website, www.womenswaymooncycles.com, when you enter your email address. A sample of the page is also in my book, The Moon and You, on page 64. This is a very simple calendar that just shows all the days of one month, and allows you to mark the days of your most recent period. Then, the trick is, to look ahead to next month and use another calendar page to mark the days that you anticipate your next period, as well! Now you can plan ahead!
So, using two identical pages, with the dates filled in for two months, you will mark the days that you had your last period, and then mark when you anticipate the next one. Draw a red line, for example, through the days that you expect will be premenstrual and menstrual days in the coming month. Then - do not plan any optional activities during these days. No dentist appointments or get-togethers with friends. No big trips or big meetings, if you can avoid it. Give yourself the gift of this free time, and then when the time comes you can decide what you want to do and what you don’t. Uninterrupted time to just do nothing is valuable, and essential for deep creativity and a different kind of intelligence to emerge. In my book and classes, I go much more deeply into what kinds of things can emerge during this time, and some ways to support yourself and do some personal healing.
Once your period starts, you have another opportunity to make some small changes and plans for this part of your month, that will make a huge difference in the quality of your experience. For example: You can plan special things for yourself to make your period a special time - even something to look forward to!
• Begin to gather pretty things that are special and meaningful to you, such as objects from nature, things that remind you of the moon, or of the Feminine. These are things you will only bring out when you begin to bleed each month, as a reminder to treat this time differently.
• Think in terms of pampering items such as towels or pillows, soft socks and scarves, or teas and a special mug. Think of adornment, such as shawls, bracelets, necklaces or fiery red underwear! Include creativity too - a journal and pen, a small set of paints, a tiny flute.
• Gather red things, in honor of the power that has always been associated with that color! You could create your own Red Tent retreat space - start with just a red pillow or candle if you need to, and build from there!
• Look for a decorative basket or box that will contain these items. This is a box that you will only open when your period begins! Imagine having something pleasant to look forward to! You can transform your “personal time” into something you treasure, a retreat into a different quality of time and space, even in small ways.
Believe it or not, I have heard time and again from women that simply beginning some of these self-care practices, thinking of their month in terms of seasons or phases, and paying attention to the moon, has transformed their cycles! Difficult cramps have gone away, and women actually look forward to this time of the month as a time to settle in and slow down a bit.
One of the key insights to help you “allow yourself” to shift gears at this time of month, is that you will make up for it during the following phase, when the renewed energy of the next cycle begins to assert itself. More physical energy and greater mental clarity are often noticeable in the weeks after your period; especially if you have taken the time to recharge during the time when your body and mind were requesting it!
Remember the example of trees from last month’s post: They retreat into their roots in winter in order to rest and recharge for the coming year. If they didn’t, they would not have the energy they need for the coming bright season of productivity! Your own month follows a similar rhythm, and when you surround yourself with nourishing experiences during your most feminine phase, you will have that inner resource to draw from, and be able to give the best of yourself during the rest of the month! I wish you the very best, and would love to hear your thoughts or questions as you try some of these approaches to your cycle.
My Foundation Class, Welcome Your Rhythm, begins on June 22, for 5 weeks, by phone. If you and a friend wish to enroll together, you may each receive a $30 discount. Please let me know your names and I’ll send you each a discount code to use when you enroll! This is a great way to take the class, since you’ll be able to compare notes about your experiences. www.WelcomeRhythm.eventbrite.com
The first four women to enroll will also receive a complimentary Cycle Comfort Coaching Session with me, which can be used either before or during our 5-week course! You can discuss any aspect of your cycle, or work on creating more healthy habits in general.
I’d like to share some thoughts on an aspect of our lives that does not get nearly the attention and respect it deserves. As women, we have a unique ability that has been so demeaned by modern culture that we have no idea how to approach it in a positive way. Our menstrual cycle is that ability, that “superpower” that we carry. Think about how powerful it is, considering that without it there would be no humans on earth! Our cycle carries a regenerative, life-giving force, and yet we have been told nothing positive about it. We’re encouraged to suppress it, medicate it, tolerate it, and ideally act as if it is not even happening, as if it were a weakness, and we would be better off without it!
What if, instead, there were a model for menstruation that was based on positive associations and images? Instead of being a joke, a burden, or an embarrassment, what if your monthly cycle could be a personal rhythm, a meaningful experience, or even a blessing?
It’s hard to imagine, given the fact that modern culture so thoroughly demeans and dismisses this aspect of our lives. Really, though, distancing ourselves from our own experience, and trying to ignore something so central to our lives, is what causes much of our distress. We are literally fighting ourselves each month! When we think about it, it’s obvious that this is not empowering, or healthy. There are a few simple ideas, shared by many cultures throughout the world, that present the menstrual cycle in a very different light, and can help you have a much easier time each month. Believe it or not, you could even begin to look forward to your period!
• You can learn to anticipate your needs and optimize your time, so that you approach different projects when you have the most energy for them.
• You can learn to take loving care of yourself, with “time out” when you need it most!
• You can also learn to interpret your menstrual challenges in a more holistic way - looking for ways to balance your energy and expectations, instead of blaming yourself for not being able to do it all, all the time!
It’s really about getting back to the basics: learning what our cycles were designed to do, and how we can support them so that we can feel our best. This is a rhythm, after all, that operates at the center of our bodies and lives for several decades. Our cycles affect everything we do, so wouldn't it be wonderful to learn how to live in harmony with them? We ourselves, and everyone around us as well, would benefit from that!
I’d like to share, today, how using the seasons or the moon as a model for our own rhythms makes it easy to visualize an entirely different way of approaching the changes that we go through from week to week. In Part 2 (to be published in June), I’ll go into further detail about the premenstrual and menstrual times of the month, which tend to pose the most difficulty for most of us.
I have found that observing the similarities between the menstrual cycle and the rhythms of nature changes everything. The moon and seasons have phases that are easy for us to visualize and relate to. Looking at the rhythm of the moon, or the seasons of the year, we can easily see how the light grows and brightens, expands into fullness, and then decreases and wanes again.
Once you begin to interpret your own experiences similarly, in terms of “seasons” or “phases” that have a natural, predictable rhythm throughout the month, your own month makes much more sense. You’ll have a reliable pattern to follow and will finally be able to work with your cycle instead of against it! You’ll begin to develop a personal practice that takes advantage of your own optimal times for different types of activities. You’ll anticipate your needs and make plans for self care. Your month will become immeasurably easier and you’ll probably end up wondering why you did not learn this long ago!
Let’s take a closer look:
This model shows the 28-day cycle of the moon’s phases, as the moonlight grows brighter until it reaches full moon, and then returns to darkness again before the new cycle begins. The wonderful thing is, you can place any other cycle onto this same model and see the same pattern of expansion and contraction. This is how everything in nature works, from the inhale and exhale of a single breath, to the circling of the largest galaxies. Everything has a pulse or a rhythm of movement.
When we place the four seasons of the year onto this model, we easily see that summer is similar to full moon, while winter, at the opposite end of the cycle, resembles the dark of the moon. Springtime is similar to the growing light after new moon, and Autumn corresponds with the waning light that occurs after full moon, as the light descends toward darkness and the completion of the cycle.
It is a predictable rhythm of expansion and contraction, and it has much to teach us about ourselves, as well! This pattern of growing outward and returning inward offers a balance of energies, and it also allows for different types of expression, and different perspectives. If things stayed the same all the time, nothing new would ever happen! So, when we apply our own menstrual cycle to this model, we can see how it reflects the fact that we go through profound rhythmic changes each month. Remembering how our cycles resemble the wise design of other rhythms of nature can help us appreciate our own different types of expression, and different needs.
It’s easy to see, when looking at the model of the moon and seasons, that full moon is very different than dark moon, and summer is very different than winter. In a similar way, something very different is going on within us, depending on whether we are ovulating or menstruating! Why would we expect ourselves to act or feel the same from week to week, when we are in a completely different personal “season?”
Our menstrual time is like our own winter or dark moon, when we retreat more into ourselves. Our ovulation is like our own personal summer, or full moon, when we are more radiant and social, and our energy is expansive and focused outward. (These are generalizations, I realize, but most women will find that they have a personal rhythm that is somewhat similar to this model. The thing is, when we approach our cycle with curiosity and interest, we can discover what our own rhythms actually are!) For half of our cycle, our energy is building toward ovulation, and most of us will tend to feel more social and capable at this time. These are the qualities that are rewarded in modern culture! But for the other half of the cycle, our outer focus tends to wane as our attention naturally turns back toward ourselves, toward our own feelings and needs. This tends to be a more introspective time, a time to re-balance, to catch up with ourselves, to notice what is not working so well, and to correct anything that needs our attention before it gets worse!
This knowledge of the value of our cycles is a “wisdom teaching” that women have shared with each other in various ways for thousands of years. But as modern culture has divorced itself from nature, these wise traditions have also lost favor and been forgotten. The expectation for women to be agreeable, available and productive at all times, entirely negates our own need for self-care, rest, creativity, and time alone. We need some deep introspective time, from which renewal and inner guidance can emerge, for the good of our entire family and community. We need time for balance and self care. We can’t be focused on others all the time.
I love to think of trees as such a great example of this cycle of self care! Most trees lose their leaves or become dormant in some way in winter. They are not in full bloom all the time! They withdraw underground and descend into their roots. Does this mean that they are lazy, unreliable, or selfish? Of course not! They withdraw into their roots to gather strength from the nourishing soil, so they can emerge fully in the coming season of flower and fruit and have energy for the year to come. Anything else would be a recipe for burnout!
It is easy to see the value of this rhythm in the lifecycle of trees, but can be harder to see in ourselves! But we, too, can take time for ourselves and give ourselves the time to recharge. Our cycles are actually designed to help us do this; to create these healing practices in our own lives.
I look forward to sharing more with you in Part 2 of this guest post to be published next month, about specific tools, perspectives and practices that you can begin to incorporate into your life. Many blessings to you until next time!
My Foundation Class, Welcome Your Rhythm, begins on June 22, for 5 weeks, by phone. If you and a friend wish to enroll together, you may each receive a $30 discount. Please let me know your names and I’ll send you each a discount code to use when you enroll! This is a great way to take the class, since you’ll be able to compare notes about your experiences. www.WelcomeRhythm.eventbrite.com
The first four women to enroll will also receive a complimentary Cycle Comfort Coaching Session with me, which can be used either before or during our 5-week course! You can discuss any aspect of your cycle, or work on creating more healthy habits in general.
By now, most people who have been acquainted with me either in person or on social media know that I have personally experienced a traumatic childbirth. I'm sure many of them wish I'd just shut up about it already. It was my first personal birth experience. In a very large part due to that experience, for the last six years, I've been a birth professional. I've pursued and achieved credentials from various organizations, professionals, and institutions. I've walked the walk and talked the talk of empowering women with education. Helping women in this glorious time of their life has been some of the most enjoyable moments of my life. Yet, it is time for me to step away from the model of childbirth educator and doula that I have been following.
Over the years, I have gone through many stages of healing my own trauma and coming to a place where I can use what I experienced in a productive and positive way. It has taken a lot of hard work, and will take more. Upon taking the work of a birth professional, I have made it a point to read op-ed pieces, studies, and news reports pertaining to pregnancy and childbirth. I've kept up with advocacy organizations and their various approaches to making the birth climate in the US more friendly to women and mothers. Honestly, it has been utterly exhausting on the emotional and physical levels.
From all of this reading, interacting, seeking, and doing, I have learned quite a bit about how women communicate with one another. In the most general sense, I have discovered some really troubling trends, especially related to how we discuss the topic of childbirth and share our stories and information. I can no longer surround myself with the qualifying, judgment, and blame that I see coming from women on every side of the discussion of childbirth and empowered women. I'm seeing too many women hurt by mindless comments, too much hypocrisy, and too many speaking from a place of hurt either knowingly or unknowingly without the access to resources that they need to process this hurt. I know that in order to make real change in regards to how we become mothers, there must be change in how we are initiated into and experience womanhood. A woman who has not tasted empowered womanhood will not suddenly become an empowered mother upon becoming pregnant. This issue goes so much deeper than the choices we make or do not make during the pregnancy and birth experience. It is woven into our lives as women.
Advocates for access to childbirth options are making grave mistakes in how they are communicating with the women they are hoping to reach. Some are so zealous with their beliefs on how women should birth, that their whole campaign is based on assumptions about women and mothers - assumptions that equate their personal beliefs with the "right" way to birth. Under this guise they speak of empowerment, yet many mothers cannot be heard or acknowledged for fear or attempted avoidance of being judged for their choices or the way they gave birth or chose to give birth qualified against this "ideal" in one way or another. Women are hiding. The truth is every childbirth option is a valid one. Each and every woman is faced with unique circumstances and history as she prepares to birth. Every birthing option has the potential to carry great beauty and satisfaction to a mother. The key is empowered decision making and unconditional, respectful support.
Two pieces written over the last two weeks hit it home with me, that even the movement that hopes to change this less than optimal environment for mothers and babies is broken. The first was an article written for Time by Mehera Bonner titled "Why Having an Epidural Should Count as Having a Natural Birth". Bonner states, "By classifying Cesarean and medicated vaginal births as unnatural, mothers who prioritize natural delivery are potentially put in a position of feeling inferior if their birth plan is unexpectedly thrown out the window. An unplanned emergency C-section is stressful enough without worrying that your birth experience was somehow less legitimate and authentic than you’d hoped." In various birth circles on Facebook, I read comment after comment from birth professionals pointing out a few minor flaws in the piece that really doesn't retract from the overall point. What is the threat of this mother asking for validation and acknowledgement for what she was able to accomplish and the work that she did to get herself there?
Next, came "An Unnatural Birth: In Praise of the Cesarean Section" written for Jezebel by Laura June. This piece hit me in the gut as I hear and read it so much in mothering circles. June writes, "It took me months to come up with a better, more accurate, and more honest response to the, "I'm sorry to hear about your C-section" comment, but I've got it down now, and I need to, because I hear this fairly often. It is always, always, delivered with genuine caring and disappointment on behalf of my subpar birthing story. Like my well-worn "My face just looks like this" response to "You look like you're having a bad day!" or "Why aren't you smiling?" comments, my response to the C-section question can come off cutting, even rude—even though I don't intend it that way, not really.
"Actually, it was fantastic," I say now. "I slept well the night before, checked into the hospital, she was born healthy in about fifteen minutes, and I healed up in a few days."
It's all true: it was a wonderful experience. But it's not what a lot of people expect (or maybe want) to hear about a C-section birth." Why offer condolences for someone who isn't asking for them? Who am I or anyone else to feel pity for a mother who simply states that she gave birth via cesarean. A cesarean is not an automatic bummer. Trauma is created either by the circumstances leading to the cesarean, how one is treated by those who should be guarding their safety, deep fear, or tragedy. I've seen several cesareans that were wonderfully satisfying and family oriented. There are "natural" births that are also extremely traumatizing. Do we qualify these mothers by saying that somehow their birthing choice was less than? Can you imagine having to withhold plans, not connect with other mothers around birth, or not sharing your birth story because of this qualification and judgment?
I can. I will share my story far and wide, but how it is received or if it is heard is always a hit or miss. In fact, I think I make many uncomfortable when I share it. Laura June writes many statements in her piece that qualify my birthing experience as well. That, if I open myself to it, though I have a feeling it wasn't at all her intention, can make me feel judged, unheard, and ashamed. For example, "Every birthing experience where the end result is a healthy mother and healthy baby is equally awesome." The end result of my birth experience was considered a healthy mother and healthy baby. There was no part of that trauma that was awesome. The only awesome things about it was the miracle of life, hearing my daughter cry the first time, and seeing her gorgeous face. Blanket statements like that negates the feelings of many mothers who have experienced birth as trauma and can result in feelings of guilt and wrongdoing. June says, "If, like me, you don't get to decide, don't feel bad. It really doesn't matter, you will likely remember the day as one of the best of your life, and your baby will be amazing." Some of us could only wish that our having no say in the matter of how we birth could have left us feeling amazing. Tit for tat.
I cannot any longer participate in advocacy for mothers in the same ways I have been doing. For my sake and the sake of my family, I must change things up. The bitterness, pain, backbiting, and unthinking from woman to woman cannot be allowed to go on. I'm calling it out right now, and dare to say we have all been guilty. Empowered womanhood does not project these insecurities. It honors women for educated decision making, provides opportunities for growth and exploration, and supports women right where they are. From now on, that is my path. For my three daughters who may or may not ever be mothers, I recognize that womanhood is not a competition of degrees. It is Divine.
Kelli Hansel Haywood is the mother of three daughters living in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. She is a writer, spiritual explorer, avid yogi, reiki practitioner, and is living life with chronic illness. Connect with her @ Kelli Hansel - Writer & Spiritual/Yoga/Self Transformation Guide