Adrienne and Pearl. New Orleans, LA
Who has informed your mothering and how?
I feel that it’s an idea – the awareness of a truth – which has guided me most.
In the early days of motherhood, I felt isolated, and this pleased me. I was content to be sequestered, secluded with my child in a sea of milk-stained blankets, languishing in one another’s arms. I would stare and marvel at her delicious perfection for hours, and I grew comfortable alone together as we were. I cloaked our world in a tight, tender swaddle.
This veil of love was our refuge, and I came to learn that much of motherhood happens behind a curtain. Not just the simple business of at-home life, the preparations to venture into the wide world, the intricacies of your child’s particular personality, but rather even as we move through the world, our babies on our hips, we do so with a protective veil about us and our children.
I didn’t know how true this was until I began to breathe into and submit to the reality of living each day as a mother. I had certainly daydreamed about the possibility, and longed to share my life in that way, but there is no preparation for the transformation that overtakes a woman becoming mother.
Once she was heart to heart with me and the world, it was instantly clear that I’ve never really known a mother. All the images I carried of what motherhood was or should be were fantasy.
Even my own mother.
She and I are exceptionally close, and quite similar in intensely meaningful ways despite deep differences. That said, our relationship had always been rooted in the established dynamic of she-mother, I-child. Falling into motherhood balanced and upended this simultaneously, and I began to see that I was blind to the actual work of motherhood.
This acknowledgement deeply affected me as a woman, and by extension as a mother. I became aware of the veil, and the effort, and the hidden sacrifice, and the incomprehensible devotion. This new consciousness shook my core, and I felt I was more a product of love and careful consideration and best intentions that I had ever realized. I accepted my parents, especially my mother, as I saw them because our children do not see behind the curtain. Mothers create and notice and nurture the magic, and wrap our babies up tight inside this.
Coming to regard my mother as a full, flawed, striving, intelligent, warm, beautiful human woman creature has strengthened my soul immensely, and profoundly informed my mothering. I am compassionate. I see the work. I see the struggle. I empathize. I give support. And I’m not afraid to say, “I need you.” I say it to my mother, to my sister-mamas, and to my child.
The veil is powerful. That desire to protect and comfort and shield is primal and natural. I don’t run from it; I wear it around my child and myself proudly. However the realization that it is present for every mother, and likely different from child to child, is wondrous. That realization has informed me more than anything, and is a deep piece of my mothering.
I mother with intention, and hope, and tenderness. I mother with as much logic as possible, and I mother with my whole heart every moment. I mother with caution, and I mother with tired bones. I am daily informed by mother’s who proudly shroud their babies in the veil, and who are unafraid about pulling back the curtain to support others. I own the name Mama, and I live it with soul and hope and all the energy I can muster. I weave this delicate, magical world for my child stitch by loving stitch.
What life lessons are you hoping to also instill or stray from that you were taught/raised with?
I want my child to honor herself and know her worth. I want my daughter to believe that failure and errors are part of the journey. I hope to instill in my child a sense of being complete through the struggle.
I continue to be challenged by this, and I do believe I was taught to some degree that you “should” be capable of x or handling y at some fixed point in your life. My parents are terribly sufficient and with it people. They saw immense potential in me, and they truly instilled a confidence, worldly perspective, and growth mindset in my heart. But our ideas of how that potential might be utilized were in opposition. I was an actor, I am a Sagittarius, a creative, emotional, and I think this distanced us in my younger years, and caused discord as we sought to understand our radically different approaches to life.
I hope to teach my child that the stumbles, the mischief, the chaos – that is life, and you are building yourself, your truth, your world day by day, moment by moment, choice by choice. Authenticity, ownership and love of self throughout the tangled journey is a beautiful thing. I still work to live that truth each moment.
How has the reality of solo motherhood impacted you emotionally so far?
A child unites two people, yes. A child can, and for me did, illuminate the significant discord in a dynamic. We partnered in the creation of our child, but our shared journey as parents ends there. The reality of is ever-changing. It was instantaneous in some ways, and a rolling, crushing realization in others.
Our relationship had been a rollercoaster of fast love and low dips. I imagine this is true for many women, but I missed the warnings. I excused them. I rationalized, I got over, I stayed quiet. I did not know I was a woman who could, but I did. Honestly, that reality hit me hardest.
I was devastated, floored, stunned, paralyzed by the implosion of my love, but as a mother, I carried on. In a fire, you are supposed to crawl along the floor to avoid the smoke, and as I’ve come out of the haze of the burning of my romantic foundation, I realized that I rolled Pearl along that clean, open space, ensuring that she was unharmed, while I took it all in. The walls of our great divide are lined with our own feelings. As I tore mine down, letting go of being the sole focus of my life, he continued to put his up. I couldn’t understand the decoration of a home burning to the ground. I left it behind. Now I see I was nearly consumed by the flames and I’m thankful to have escaped.
Perhaps it’s because I came to single motherhood through action, as a choice. That is, I left a destructive, desperate situation, and forged a new path. I was terrified! For months, my heart and world were held by fear, ego, and stagnation, questioning myself and my decision. Now, I feel powerful, hopeful, loving each morning because I’m unafraid to breathe into whatever the day brings, and I feel content each evening because I did my very best. The moments in between are often confusing, heart-swelling moments. Those moments astound and overwhelm and bewilder me, but I am in control. I don’t know the word for how marvelously, maddeningly ecstatic this makes me. I can say I am fundamentally, eternally stronger than I’ve ever been. I feel complete and content in a way that’s difficult to articulate.
I know this: Reality is a verb. Love is a verb. Mother is a verb. Motherhood is a glorious, deafening, chaotic, and simple existence, and I think this is may be true for each of us. I often wonder how we trouble the waters of our existence, of the realities we face, and I own that at some moment, it becomes clear there is no other choice.
What lessons have you learned at this point from your daughter that you did not expect?
I have learned to be brave – brave for my child, and braver about embracing the pieces of myself that I was afraid to revel in.
I have learned humility. I humbly set aside my needs, knowing I can care for myself a bit later. I humbly pick food from the floor. I humbly breathe in slowly and calmly as I repeat myself again and again. So often I bend to the will of my child, the universe, my emotions. I once fancied myself a force, a being moving decidedly through the world, but I now own that I am entirely at the mercy of the elements. There is freedom and joy in this knowledge, and I relish the chance to free myself of the demands or expectations I’ve often placed on my shoulders, but it’s also incredibly humbling to submit to life and simply follow the wind.
I have learned forgiveness. I forgive the universe. I forgive my partner. I forgive myself. As a young woman wandering through the world, I didn’t want to give away too much of who I felt I might become, and in so doing, I gave away pieces of myself as I was. I gave away kisses. I gave away moments. I gave away really great shoes. I abandoned ideas, I neglected gardens, I didn’t follow through on opportunities. I have a stack of half-full journals in my home, all begun earnestly, and never completed because the next bright and shiny things came upon the horizon. I devoted more time and energy to mischief than mindfulness. I think I was so focused on the end result, this woman I would become someday, that I didn’t live in the moment authentically, rather I acted impetuously, with uncertainty, and grasping at straws. I put more faith into my potential than the current reality.
I think the carelessness of my youth brought me to my child, and for that, I thank the heavens, and the stars, and the wind, and each late night, and foolish purchase, and third cookie, and short skirt. My daughter has altered my perspective of time. I was not a patient woman. I allow now for stillness, for evolution, for time to run it’s course.
How have your own life experiences as a biracial woman been illuminated since having her?
We took a walk last week in the beautiful, brief New Orleans fall. We walked for almost two hours, down flowering tree-lined streets, through neighborhoods and back again, passing strangers and friends. As our walk led us back towards our home, we passed by the open doors of a corner restaurant. We stopped in for water, and rubbed our cheeks, playfully caressing as we waited for the bartender to hand us our cup.
“She can’t be yours.” He said it with such certainty. It’s a line I’ve heard before, in many variations. Usually it’s a question; this was a definitive statement. This child, open-mouth kissing me, calling me mama, nuzzling my neck, and patting my breasts, could not be my own.
“You must hear that all the time,” he continued, without any realization that the truth in this statement belittled the weight of it. I tried to catch my breath to respond.
“You’re like a walking Maury Povich show,” he cackled, walking towards us with our water. In later tellings of this story, I’ve remarked at the cheapness of this show, and have wrapped some of the sting of this interchange in our not being worthy of, say, Oprah, and a segment on biracial families. I’ve suggested the insinuation that we are a genetic mistake in our coloring is most offensive. I’ve expressed hurt in the dismissal of our matching eyes and cheeks and deep love.
My daughter and I were a joke to that man. He told the story later that a jet-black woman and her white child entered a bar, har-har. Honestly, he may not even remember us, but I recall every instance, every slight, every look. My pocket is full of stories as quick and deep-cutting as this, and I’ve carried them buried in my heart since I was a girl.
Some days I don’t know how to help her move through space as a brown girl because I am still coming to terms with this idea each day. I am still stunned by the casual, yet extreme comments which diminish my entire existence. I am daily pained by the heart-breaking insignificance of the emotions of black and brown women, and the quick laugh with which our worlds and lives and souls are tossed aside. I am consumed by the categorization of myself as a Single Black Mother, and the box this puts me in, the image this presents, the invisible identity it shatters. I have been on the fringes of black, brown, and white communities since infancy. My daughter is too.
But I am a creature of love and kindness, and I want to believe in goodness and growth. I get beat down, but I get back up. I will teach my child that she is a powerful tool. I want to tell her that her existence will break down privilege and destroy stereotypes. I want her to be larger than her color or hair texture or the way she speaks or the clothes she wears. I will tip generously the men and women who cut me to my core, and I will wear my light, fine brown-ness out loud. I will be all this for my daughter because she deserves to know that her heritage is not encapsulated by external perception.
In short, like every mother, I don’t know if I’m equipped to do the job; I’ll do my best.
Have you come to rely on your community possibly more than you anticipated? How have they helped you?
I would be entirely, utterly, and miserably lost without my beautiful community.
In the first weeks and months, I was attempting to keep my relationship afloat to no avail. I didn’t want to talk about life as a mother because it was painful and scary. I was in a fog. I loved my daughter and was giving her every drop of my heart, and I was tightly wound. I had to become fiercely capable on my own which meant embracing aspects of life I had avoided. It meant structure that I had no real idea how to create. It meant relying on the support of others in a way that confused me. I didn’t know how to need others at first. But from the tiny and mundane details to the biggest hurdles, my community has been there.
My sister-mamas who share their moments and worlds. I have learned so much about the possibilities and adventures a mother may have through their beautiful, difficult journeys.
My own mother and father who provide counsel and laughter and perspective. Their parents passed when I was a toddler, so my memories are faint. I always longed for deeper relationships with them, but it wasn’t until my daughter was born that it occurred to me my parent’s might have wanted that as well. They grandparent with such gentle love and attentiveness.
My friends without children who take the baby for a just a moment. I think they enjoy the cute cheeks and tiny words, but being able to take a breath, or be alone, for two minutes! It resets you.
I often spend Sunday afternoons at my girl’s house gabbing while the baby naps on her couch. It’s our weekly circle, and it fills my week with focus.
The loving, warm, attentive, and nurturing daycare teachers who have given me solid and supportive advice for over a year – my world would crash without them. I would give anything to spend my days with my child. I would give anything but the roof over our heads and the food in our bellies. My job gives us both. I daydream about next month, next year, next child, but for now, I feel powerfully safe in my trusting bond with the women who teach and encourage my child each day.
Leaning into the need, the desire for support has allowed me to take ownership of the core of my life: my spirit, my soul, nurturing my child’s belly and mind, my teaching, my familial bonds. I dig deep into this work, and I let my community support me through it.
What role has resilience played in your mothering? What role has vulnerability played?
I used to believe that a resilient person navigated a crisis smoothly or with seeming ease. But a crisis implies a temporary state. It passes, and though your response is memorable, the storm is gone and peace returns. I think true resilience is found in the day to day. Resilience for me means how forging ahead when the moments stack up. Resilience is letting go of what I believed motherhood would be, and allowing for what it is. Resilience is stepping into the sun each morning and washing your face at night. Resilience is carrying on when the storm lingers.
The entirety of motherhood is walking through the world open and vulnerable. I feel so often seized by my emotions, by moments for which I felt ill-prepared, for circumstances beyond my control. I sense scrutiny, and I dampen my joy at times with comparison. I just have to breathe. Each day is succumbing, submitting, giving in, and waking up to do it again tomorrow. Each day is owning small successes, and allowing missteps to be a growth moment. I have been surprised by my own vulnerability, and I have been stunned by the reservoir of strength I have found.
We cannot know our power without struggle, without heartbreak, without implosion of our universe. My child shattered my world, and thank goodness, because the rebuilding is divine.
Do you feel you have a mother wound to heal? How are you healing yourself?
My body. Oh, this body. The soundtrack of insufficiency plays in my head like a soft tune in a film. It isn’t always noticeable, but other times it swells and overtakes the moment. My breasts – how they failed me. After years of calling to the world for admiration, I needed them to nourish my child, and they broke my heart. I wanted so badly to hide them and my heartbreak. Or the pictures. The capturing of my pregnant body was left to me, and I feared the perception of vanity. I kept myself from reveling in the sweet, unknowably glorious pregnant form, and I long now for images to fall into. Oh, love – desperate, honey sweet, shocking, desired love. I wanted always to hold it in my heart, and when it came to my life, I pushed away all that might damage it. The shame I can feel for loving with my eyes closed so tight.
We endure so much. We keep our heads high because we must.
Yes, I’m wounded, and reinjured often. My wounds stretch and open each time I see a woman nurse, a man support his lover, an article I wish I’d read three years ago… it’s constant. I remind myself of the imperfect nature of motherhood, and that no mother is wound-free. Finding peace, despite the injuries, is necessary.
From the moment we release our children from our bodies, we are recovering. There’s no more or less, there just is. There is an immediate separation of your soul from your womb, and a place you never knew existed beneath your heart now aches with emptiness. There are a thousand cracks in veneer of a mother, and I am certainly no different. I daily count the blessings I eternally grateful to receive, witness, and enjoy, for motherhood is, in itself, a wound.
I am healing by bearing witness to my child, and her beautiful growth. She is bright and open and expressive. She is assertive and dramatic. She is her own distinct being. It is healing to be allowed the opportunity to journey with her.
How do you find time for yourself?
This is my work. My child is now fifteen months, and I’ve pulled my head out of the sand of the first year. I am looking around with new eyes, and learning who I am now. My writing, my teaching, my seven-minute drive from daycare to the coffee shop for my morning treat, these treat me well. I certainly relish the time dialed into my womanhood, my adulthood, my non-mother self.
I am learning that time for myself may not mean time alone, however. Time for myself means time spent strengthening that which keeps me solid, and I feel my child is a part of this. For me. Right now.
So we walk, and tell stories along the way. I cook as she plays. I reach out to sister-mamas and sister-friends, and hear the wild tales of their worlds. I read in bed with her feet kneading my belly and fingers pulling at corners. I daydream about the woman I’m still understanding and the woman I will become. And it’s enough for me right now.
Has spirituality played a role in your mothering? Did you find new meaning once becoming a mother? Did things drastically change for you as a result?
I am a seeker – of understanding, of love, of knowledge, of the next idea, next big moment. I have my eye fixed on the horizon. I suppose I always considered myself spiritual, but I was raised in a deeply secular home, and so my spirituality developed into a general sense of interconnectedness. We are exploded stars and Amazon rain water and desert sand and the blood, sweat, and tears of generations. We are in this body, in this lifetime, and we are breathing each other’s air. That tune I’m dancing to is the rhythm of your heart.
And then that baby girl came and blessed my world, and the sun peeked over the horizon and shined its glorious light upon me. My child holds her hands up to the branches as the wind blows. She wakes in the night at times and speaks to the moon in the darkness. She makes me a believer in purpose and destiny. That’s the spirit guiding my life. Looking at the pieces of your body strong enough to hold is humbling. I hated the wrinkle in my nose that forced its way into each smile, and I would often hold back to keep it from popping up. My child’s nose wrinkles when she smiles; it floors me.
Spirituality for me is comfort in your place in the world, small as we are. I feel that with her.
What things do you wish to impart on her at the end of the day?
I want my daughter to know that she is loved, and that love is the driving force behind my mothering. I want her to know that my love seeks to protect, to console, to encourage, to challenge, to support, and to provide for her. I want her to foster her own strengths, and to persevere when challenged. I want my daughter to know her worth, and to be unafraid of her voice, her mind, her desires. I want my daughter to know that my love grows deeper each day, and that it will not fade because she strays from me physically or ideologically. I want her to know she comes from dynamic, difficult people, and that her history and heritage is laced with battles, blindsides, and beauty.
I’m not entirely sure how these lessons are taught, mind you, but I am learning that if you know your truth, you live your truth. Each day, each difficult moment, each evening, I ask myself to stay true to my inner voice, to honor myself, to prioritize my child, and to remain in control of my breath. I do these things so I may live my truth, and in so doing, I hope I infuse our world with this energy.
At the end of the day, I want her to know there is another day tomorrow – full of possibility, potholes, and my infinite, genuine, extreme, blessed joy in witnessing and nurturing her existence.
All photos courtesy Casey McMurray.
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