For about a decade from my mid-twenties to early thirties I was in the midst of a deep love affair with yoga. While listening to one of my teachers, Richard Freeman, I realized my fascination with the experience of paradox in yoga. Yoga is an excellent form in which to physically experience qualities that seem opposite and unresolveable. Grounding while extending, releasing while engaging, focusing while softening, for example.
In the context of yoga, the opportunities to play with parodox are endless. Paradox was part of what kept me so fascinated and intrigued by yoga, even after years of consistent practice.
Then, I had kids.
Paradox became my life, day in and day out.
I’m so grateful I had a language and tangible way of understanding my experience: how something (motherhood) could be so enlivening and depleting, liberating and claustrophobic, all at once. Had it not been for years of studying something like yoga, I may have thought I was going mad.
Everything in my life was now touched by this concept of paradox. Even going to yoga now meant missing precious moments with my children. What used to be purely nourishing activities for myself now came at a price. Everything had a blend of gain and loss in some form.
Being aware of the paradox inherent in mothering was a major step for me. It helped me see that the struggle between work and home, my needs and my family’s needs, was not going on because of some deficit in me. I was feeling unresolved because the experience of mothering for me was paradoxical.
However, understanding this alone didn’t settle me. I meandered for years between two seemingly disparate experiences, gravitating to one side or the other, then back again, hoping I would land in some feeling of balance before too long. Occasionally I would land balanced and content amidst all that I was holding. And then, it would change. So I watched, waited, and watched some more.
I started to practice yoga and meditation more consistently again when my children grew out of the intensively demanding infancy and toddler ages. I thought that going deeper into some of the practices that had nourished me so well before children would help me get to the root of this sense of unrest.
It didn’t help much.
I mean, I felt more aware of what I was experiencing, and that was helpful. Practicing continues to be an excellent tool for cultivating my awareness. But something was still missing.
So I started writing again. I knew I had to dig deeper into my psyche and unearth material that was not becoming conscious through yoga and meditation alone. And what I was looking for finally started to emerge.
I began writing my experiences of pregnancy, birth, and mothering, and how they were shaping the fabric of my being on every level, molding me into a new version of myself. I started to get clear on what I loved and valued now, and what I felt were the most important priorities in my current life. I began to realize how deeply, irrevocably altered I am by the experience of mothering.
I also felt tremendous grief. As I looked over the pages of my words, I could no longer deny who I was now. My identity was completely different. A part of me felt a huge loss. I had gained a family, and lost a well loved aspect of myself. I finally felt the death that began when I gave birth to my son five years before, and how that death completed itself with the birth of my daughter less then two years after that. The part of me that lived life without children was gone, and I hadn’t really said goodbye to her.
It was important that I had spent some years sitting in my experience of paradox as a mother, letting it work on me, despite how uncomfortable it was at times. Doing this wore off the hard lines of knowing and clarity from an old, outdated identity. I experienced how much of how I identified myself before children was no longer applicable.
I was fortunate to be able to take my time, experiment, and sense and feel into life as it is now. In our society very few mothers are allowed, let alone take, this kind of room to integrate the enormity of becoming a mother. It is a privilege to do this work, even though some of us are psychically terrified, or simply do not have the financial, social, relational, or inner resources to do it.
I would love for mothers to feel less fearful of what has been lost, and who they are becoming, as motherhood unfolds. I would love to see us willingly allow ourselves to be transformed and reworked by motherhood, and to feel empowered in that process.
I mean, what if we trusted ourselves so much that we could do that? I think we can.