Sunday, September 20, 2015

nothing i asked for, more than i wanted

These thoughts have been percolating in my head for months now, but I've been too nervous to put them out there. The message feels pretty counter-cultural, though that could just be me, renegotiating what I thought I knew. My words aren't perfect (they never are), and they didn't come easily. As always, I'm still figuring it out, and this is what I've found true, for now.

Recently I started reading Birth Matters by Ina May Gaskin, and she touches so fiercely and deeply on what I'm trying to comprehend and convey. So at the very least, I know I'm not alone. (It also doesn't hurt that Ani DiFranco, my teenage idol, wrote the book's intro.)

Deep breath. Onward.

When I was around four years old, I put together an elaborate Christmas wish list for Santa. I don't remember specifics (though the hard copy may very well be lurking in a box somewhere in my parents' basement), but I do know I didn't receive a single thing on it. "Santa" had already obtained all our presents that year, and none of them matched up with what my preschool heart desired.

Turns out, it didn't matter. On Christmas morning I woke up to a sea of beautiful dress up clothes surrounding the fireplace. They were "nothing I asked for, and everything I wanted!" 

Direct quote right there, via my mom's retelling: "I got nothing I asked for, and everything I wanted!" 

Motherhood, for me, has been a lot like that. Minus the fancy outfits.

I had no idea I could be so deeply satisfied as a wife and mom, that it was possible to find a soul-level calling in motherhood. 

I still feel like I'm not supposed to admit this. I'm not supposed to say that the thing that has taught me most about what it means to be a woman has been becoming a mom. Or that the most empowering experience I've ever had was giving birth, and I'm actually looking forward to doing it again.

I've never been very athletic or physically-inclined. My brand of feminism growing up mostly had to do with wanting to be seen and appreciated for my mind, whereas my body was best ignored entirely. Sure, I picked myself apart with the best of them (feet too big, boobs too big, thighs too big, etc.), but damn anyone else who dared objectify me. Down with the man!

In labor and delivery, though, I finally understood what I was made for, made to do and to be. For the first time, I saw my body as an incredible, powerful gift. My body was capable of successfully growing, birthing, and feeding a brand new human being, and one that I instantly loved like none other. 

Predictably, this threw my sense of self into flux. Not because I was suddenly a mom--that part actually felt unbelievably natural; but because it was utterly counterintuitive to consider my body sacred when I'd lived my whole life half-heartedly trying to accept that I had a body at all.   

It's a lesson I'm still learning: That my body and mind must work in tandem, and neither is better or more necessary than the other in this all-too-human experience. In this way, my feminism is much more rooted in an understanding of the feminine--what it means to be female, body, mind, and soul. The experience of motherhood, of mothering, is an innate part of that.

On a larger scale, I believe our society is craving a similar kind of balance. Pursuing "equality" within a patriarchal structure, where we essentially advocate for women to be treated more like men, does nothing to address or elevate the inherent gifts we bring to the table simply by being female. 

As Edith Stein said, "The world doesn't need what women have, it needs what women are."

I wholeheartedly agree.