I’m honored and excited to introduce you to one of my closest friends, Rachel Schipper, who writes to us this week about Qoya and her journey through motherhood in honor of Mother’s Day on Sunday, May 8th. Whether you are a mother or just have mothers in your life, her honest story sheds some light on our culture’s unrealistic expectations of motherhood. We’re honored to feature her incredible program, New Mom Dream Team, on Lifestyle of Reverence as an essential resource for new moms everywhere (tip: If you are a new mom or have a new mom in your life, it makes a WONDERFUL Mother’s Day gift!)
In her luminous book, Rochelle reminds us that our sacred work is often planted in the soil of our wounds.
I’ve experienced time and again as a Qoya teacher and student (and lifetime seeker) that darkness gives birth to light – but it’s been a work in progress for me to get how this applies to “work.” When I fantasized about having kids one day, I never imagined that becoming a mother would be wounding or transformative. Our culture puts motherhood on a funny pedestal (kind of like romance), showing us unrealistic and incomplete images of what pregnancy, childbirth, and having young children looks like.
Motherhood is, without doubt, the most wondrous thing I have ever done. The love astounds me. It also has a deep, dark underbelly. That darkness is the rich soil I want to tell you about. Let me start with today.
Today I lay in savasana at a yoga class I started going to as part of my reclamation/evolution after becoming a mother. My kid is two now; the reclamation is quite a process, it turns out. The class was challenging, and I was sweating down to my ankles. The room was warm, and feeling my body melt into the floor was a familiar, sublime one. Qoya reminds us that when we let our minds rest and experience an embodied experience of who we are, our heart has a clearer path to our mind, unencumbered by our expertise at getting into our own way. So lying in constructive rest today, I felt a deep and pure well of gratitude wash over me – gratitude for my strong body, strong and capable beyond anything I could have imagined back in the days before I became a mother. The sensation caught me by surprise.
I thought back to a year ago, when I arrived at the Qoya retreat in Miami. It was an epic effort to get from Toronto to Miami for two days: the first trip away from my baby, who was one at the time, the expense of a last-minute ticket and luxury spa that wasn’t justified by much needed reconnection time with my husband, the idea of indulging myself, the logistics and expense of child care. Was it worth all the hassle, I wondered, for a mere weekend of pilgrimage and ritual?
I’d known Rochelle for years, since we first met on a yoga teacher training in India, and she’s always had a way of helping me hear my own longing with a compassionate ear. The part of me that knows this made the trip happen. I arrived in Miami feeling anything but strong, confident, or capable, and miles away from any previous experience of “sensual.” Instead, my body felt shattered and unfamiliar, and without the distraction of work, home, and family, it was really in my face. On all fronts, I felt a little foreign to myself.
I cried off and on for much of the trip, loving every moment and being floored time and again as the deep well of remembering swelled up. In just over a year, I’d forgotten how to move through the world on my own, to hear my own heartbeat, to know what I wanted to eat or when I wanted to wake up in the morning, to just feel myself. I was all mom, every breath, every heartbeat, every moment. There is so much beauty in the selfless devotion of the early days of motherhood, but the dark side of that is the loss of connection to who we are in addition to this epic role of mom. The distance I felt from a version of me that I recognized is what brought me to tears. It was kind of like a tearful reunion with myself: “Rache! Darling, look what you did!”
The experience of becoming a mother is physically, emotionally and spiritually profound. Our bodies are one with our babies until they come out, and in the early months, the physical separation between mother and child grows, but it sure isn’t instant. The first few months are a challenging and beautiful time, precisely because we are physically separating, and it’s a process. At first, babies’ digestive systems are extensions of their mothers’, when what mom eats goes into breast milk and warms up baby’s digestive system for future culinary adventure. We are up at all hours, entrained into a wake-sleep pattern that places mom and baby with each other – and somewhat isolated from the rest of the world – until baby learns day from night and can go the daunting 8-12 hours without sustenance. For many reasons, mom and baby need to be together, and in some cultures, mom and baby are always together for the first four years for spiritual protection. The underside of this time of transition is a dramatic loss of mom’s autonomy, a shifting sense of identity, and a physical transformation.
This transformation was silently bleeding into my work, and I was fighting it because to be honest, I didn’t want a mommy blog (spoiler alert). Rochelle reminded me to keep drawing from my own well of personal experience. I didn’t get it, so I just danced, and I remembered as I moved that fighting myself was exhausting. I’d stop doing that and feel f$^&ing radiant and alive. There was no moment of realization, just a softening and surrender to what is.
When I got back to “reality,” the cracks were all so obvious, and so was the support needed to mend them. So I got to work. I created a video resource to support new mothers in the first two years after having a baby. It’s called the New Mom Dream Team (we really do all need one), and it draws on an expert faculty to make the transition to motherhood as graceful and joyful as possible.
I am over the moon that Rochelle is our resident spiritual guide. I cover everything from pelvic floor health to spiritual expansion, to relationships and identity, and much more. There is so much out there about your baby, but virtually nothing about the birth of the mother. I could talk about how maternal health is the single strongest indicator of child health, I could talk about post-partum depression being the number one complication of childbirth, I could talk about the way we treat mothers as an extension of the way the patriarchy treats women – but what I want to talk about in this sacred circle is joy and grace. These are not part of our lexicon of early motherhood, but they can be. I work so that they are.
May our sacred work continue to light the way, and may you (and your mom and your friend who is a mom) feel supported and blessed this Mother’s Day and every day.
I love Rachel's work because it embodies the understanding that so many of our individual struggles initiate us into offering solutions for collective healing.
I also love the idea that whether we are birthing children, projects or ourselves, there is a collective restructuring around the idea of MOTHER. I was inspired by this new initiative called the Compassion Collective started by Elizabeth Gilbert, Cheryl Strayed, Brene Brown and others. Here's what they share:
Mother’s Day IS about Love. But it’s not about commercial, comfortable love that snuggles up and stays home—it’s about love that throws open the door and marches out of our homes, beyond our fences and neighborhoods and into the hurting world to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, comfort the hurting, mother the motherless. Mother’s Day love is dangerous, revolutionary love that unites our one human family and reminds us that we belong to each other and that there is no such thing as other people’s children. Learn more by visiting: http://thecompassioncollective.org
Whatever way that the energy of Mother's Day enters your life today, may it be blessed, may it be sweet, may it be the birth of your next beginning.
With love that travels in every direction,