Motherhood & Privilege: I Am Changed For Good

Baby Ben and Suzi 1997 Early motherhood years where palm trees become a theme.

I became a mother on this day in 1994.

I had been married a year.
This pregnancy was the first that I felt confident I could bring to term.
There were a certain number of pregnancies before this one, but I could not, in those days yet, enter motherhood.

This is the hard truth of my life. I had two abortions during my 20’s for which I had to cross picket lines to enter the family-planning clinic in Louisville, Kentucky. The first time my best friend walked me in. The second, my then-partner walked with me. Both times, it was hair-raising. Both times, the already difficult, heart-breaking experience became more so because of the politically charged nature of abortion.

On this blog, I write about motherhood and daily creative practice.

I write about women’s voices and why it matters that we find and use them.

I know there is a chance that I may lose your subscription to my blog every time I post anything that is slightly political. When I posted about the action steps we could take to counter the countrywide grief about the current immigration policy of separating families at the border, I had an exodus of readers. This topic remains open and deeply troubling. If you want to learn more about how you can help families who are separated go here, if you are a lawyer with skills to support toddlers who are caught in the legal system go here, or if you want to learn about the realities of what these families are fleeing, go here.

I am always sad to see people unsubscribe. I know that your time online is limited and your attention more so. I value the minutes you spend on Rising Forth. When you arrived, at least most of you were gifted my Permission Slip ritual. You took a peek at the work I do and decided you’d like to hang around a while, to see what else I cook up or you are intrigued by the classes I offer or the books I sell. I appreciate your readership and your time, truly.

How do I keep the ever-growing community of Rising Forth engaged?

How can I continue to be a witness to women’s lives in the United States and abroad in a way that inspires and urges you to engage your voice in advocacy for yourself and others?

Do you love the art I make in hand-bound books and want to make your own? Do I give you enough prompt material to nudge you in to daily practice? How about writing? Have you made any moves towards crafting a daily practice that kindles your soul?

Does the work I do here matter to anyone?

I ask these questions genuinely. I know for many of you, the writing and art that happens at Rising Forth has changed the way you live on a daily basis. I see you, meet you at conferences, I get emails from you, or receive cards from you. Over and over again you confirm that standing for the power of women’s voices and making sense of our lives on this Planet by engaging in daily creative practice is worth the time I give to this work. It is time that I spend away from my other writing, time away from teaching, away from my family, away from the bee balm which I studied this morning as the hummingbird burrowed in to every single red blossom on the carousel of bloom.

It matters to me, what happens here. Blogging has changed the way I work in the world. It has put me in contact with women all over the world who want to engage differently in their lives, women who crave more connection to their inner lives, and who want to make a positive impact in the way that they live.

All of this work began with a tiny revolution that arrived on July 17, 1994 at 5:13 AM at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City, when our son Benjamin was born.

When he fit under my chin. Motherhood changes us.

I began to walk this planet as a mother, as a person with my heart living outside my body in the skin of a boy and then in our second child, a girl. I suffered losses, I wept over mistakes, I flew off in rages, and I snuggled, coddled, fed, and delighted in the experience of being a mother.

But this revolution did not only connect me to two small humans. It also connected me to the lives of every single woman who had come before me, and each one who lives and breathes this moment across the globe, who look out of doorways scanning the distance for a particular outline, the shape of a nose and the angle of a shoulder and cadence of gait that tells, yes, they are safe, yes they are near, yes they are well and we can carry on.

Not everyone has this assurance today.
Not everyone is confident his or her children are safe.
Not everyone has access to reproductive health care that is affordable and safe.
Not everyone has the opportunity to stand for women the world over or in our own neighborhoods to assure that they have equal access to civic and public protection.

But most of us do and this is a privilege.

I wager that most of the readers on this blog have access to decent medical care and information about their reproductive rights. I wager that most readers of this blog are not escaping the triangle of terror that is El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, where the lives of women and children are daily threatened by violence. I wager that most readers of this blog do not worry when their children go out to play, will they return.

Yes, motherhood changes us.
Parenting changes us.

Whether we like it or not, we become one of many who cannot look at a screeching toddler without knowing what it feels like to be humiliated in the cereal aisle at Big Y or watch a family walking down a street in angry silence, knowing that we too have simmered threats to our children to behave “or else,” while putting a face on for the world that betrays the stomach churning anger that hides behind the mask. We cannot look at the photographs of children separated from their parents without also wondering what we’d do, if that were us, crossing a border to seek safety and never seeing our child again.

I consider my privilege every time I celebrate motherhood here.
I wonder what I can do today that moves towards safety and protection of families and the planet.

What I ask of you today is this:

If you value what happens here on Rising Forth, please share my work.
If motherhood has changed you, take some time to consider how the experience shapes you and how that affects the stance you take in the world. Write about this in your journal.
If standing with and for women is important to you, then take one small action today. It could be as simple as taking the time to have a real conversation with someone in your world. Ask a question and then stick around long enough for the real answer.

Our attention is tuned by motherhood.

We become keen for humanity in new ways.
When we let our lives be shaped by compassionate care of others, we make room for love.

Happy Birthday Benj. Look what you got me in to.

 

In honor of Ben’s birthday, I am hosting a giveaway for copies of the premiere edition of Little U, Uppercase’s new publication for parents about art and life. There is a small bit by me there, and a little bit about the palm tree story. Please leave me a comment about how parenting has changed your perspective on life, what about you has changed and you will be entered in to the highly rational and not computerized drawing for this gift.

I will email four winners.

https://i.gifer.com/7Far.gif Sparkles for motherhood

Til then, eat the cake.

 

xoS

 

 

 

 

 

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Showing 22 comments
  • Virginia McGuire

    Hi Sweetie, It is a bodacious blessing to be a mom! We are blessed! Lots of love, Virginia

  • Peggy

    “I began to walk this planet as a mother, as a person with my heart living outside my body in the skin of a boy…”

    Oh Suzi, reading your words made me smile with my entire being, and brought tears to my eyes! My own son turned twenty-eight a couple weeks ago. That young man and my being his mother is one of the main fulcrums of my life. The richest lessons of fierce love and letting go have come through him.

    I am truly blessed by our close and companionable relationship – even though now and for the foreseeable future we are a continent apart, and I don’t have the close knowing of his day-to-day life I once did. But all this is as it should be: He is in the throes of discovering and crafting his own life, and I love the parts of it he shares with me. I will shortly travel to where he is, to be able to see and experience his current life in person for a few days, anchoring my knowledge of him in a different way.

    Goodness knows motherhood isn’t for every woman. For me however, it has been the grandest adventure of them all.

    And I so appreciate your own fierce love and honest words –

  • Helen Louise Kemp

    I to became a first time mother in 1994 but on June 4th . My son James is a giant of a man who at 6 foot towers over me I’M only 5 foot 3 inches . I utterly agree that when you become a mother your heart lives outside your body . I don’t regret for a second becoming a mother . I don’t think your being political and I will continue to follow your blog as women need to have a voice

  • Marilyn Bousquin

    Ah, Suzi, thank you for this post, for risking an “exodus” of people from your list in the name of voicing the truth–both your personal truth and the truth of so many women in this world. Thank you for being both personal and political, both of which require so much courage, so much vulnerability. I’m sticking with you like glue : ). And happy birthday to you and your Ben. Much love and sisterhood, M

  • Anne

    Dear Suzi,
    I write from Ireland. I love your work, your activism, your truth that flows from your pen, and I love this post. Motherhood for me is also a privilege one that I’m daily grateful for.
    Ireland has just had a referendum on abortion. After 3 decades of activism the state has cut the umbilical chord with the church that says abortion is wrong. Up to this abortion was a crime. I remember churchgoers spitting on me at the gate of the church during the last attempt to repeal the law. So Ireland has bucked the trend even though money was pouring into our country from the US to vote no for abortion.
    Two-thirds of the population voted to allow women to access abortion in their own country. Courageous women and men (their support) stood up and told their stories. The vote crossed gender lines, urban and rural, and at last, the people of Ireland have stood up against church and state and said yes we want to be compassionate and caring, we want to trust women and their choices, we want women to know that the state can take care of them in the face of a crisis pregnancy. We have sent our women in crisis across to the UK. Making the decision to abort is always a very sad and difficult decision.

  • Wendy Parsons

    Suzi, Thank you for your courage and honesty is sharing your story of how you came to motherhood. I really am moved by reading your blog this morning. You truly inspire and galvanize my own actions.
    For me, becoming a mother to my two daughters when i was 34 and 40 years old forever changed the trajectory of my life and opened me up to an amazing journey of self-discovery that I am still experiencing today — 24 years later as my daughters enter young. Mothering is hard work, and takes a tremendous dedication, service and sacrifice and like all hard work — it has brought me immense joy and rewards. Spending time with my daughters is one of the most pleasurable experiences of my life and each encounter fills my heart with love and gratitude. My role has changed a lot now that I’m a mother to a married daughter. No longer do I parse out advice unasked — but engage more in listening to their stories and saying prayers of blessing for them, asking that they be guided on their own paths and in their own ways to find a meaningful life.
    An wise old woman who was a generation or more older than me once shared that she had a mother who prayed for her and that has made all the difference. I feel blessed that my 88 year old mother prays for me even now and that is a gift I’m passing on to the next generation.

  • Darby Gwisdala

    Thank you for your post that shouts honesty and integrity. It is a good thing to have a better knowing of who you are.

  • Janet

    Whatever is the opposite of an exodus is the thing I am doing.

    Our attention is most definitely tuned by motherhood. I struggle to understand how the universal truth that utterly regardless of how we choose to live our lives, none of us got to this day without a dose of motherhood doesn’t translate to a sense of common humanity that transcends all. I’m glad to have places of refuge, like this, where that’s the given from which all inquiry proceeds.

    xo

    • Elsa L Banks

      I’m with her!

  • Elsa L Banks

    Love, love, love you!

  • Jennifer

    Suzi,
    I have been a painter for 16 years, and a mother for 9. Before I became a parent, I never knew I wanted children. I was honestly afraid of the sacrifice, and too in love with my work/ideas to allow space for relationships that took away from that. And then I met someone who allowed me the space I needed to breathe, while also loving me deeply. And the rest was history:). My children have helped me to regain my senses. To laugh at life while holding it more closely than ever. I know I could have been fulfilled without children, but I am a far better human because of them. My children opened my heart, and as they grow, they leave a silence in their wake that is more powerful than I could have imagined. Now, this is where I listen from. And what comes back is the whole world reborn.

    Thank you for your work here. It inspires me and pushes me to reach ever deeper into my life. Much love and light to you!
    Jennifer

  • Kathy

    I love your honesty and willingness to be vulnerable, Suzi. Also wanted you to know that I read most of your posts, even though don’t comment often. Keep on sharing! xoxoxo

  • Laura Engel

    Suzi, Your words…they warm my heart. Becoming a mother while still a teenager and have birthed 4 sons, your ” my heart living outside my body in the skin of a boy” struck such a cord. Over the years I have been asked several times, ‘ do you regret having been such a young mother and putting your life on hold while raising your sons, before you could even raise yourself?’ Never once have I regretted being a mother. My sons are my pride. My arms. My legs. My skin. My heart and my soul. I count myself as one of the luckiest of women as I was born to be a mother. And as for your brave and truth-filled blog…I feel joy to have met you, and will always be checking your blog. Your honesty and beautiful words are always a pleasure to read and contemplate. Thank you. xo

  • Anne Shopp

    Wow what an honest brave post. I am trying to figure out how to be politically active and not in a traditional way due to heath issues. As a parent I want the world a better place for my children. And right now that doesn’t seem remotely possible!! Thanks for your courage!!

  • Katey

    Thank you for sharing all that you have shared here, from the business of losing (or adding) subscribers, to the heart work of choosing (and not choosing) to bring a pregnancy to full term. Motherhood has changed my understanding of sacrifice and of unconditional love. There is so much more to say, but today I am weary (and that’s part of motherhood, too) and tender and will let that sentence be its own story. Thank you for sharing yours, Suzi.

  • Deborah L Staunton

    Motherhood has humbled me. It has left me bone-weary, worried, and full of self-doubt. It has caused me to question my purpose, to view the world as a place that poses threats to my very soul, and to hold my breath in fear of what may be lurking around the corner. It has also provided a perspective I couldn’t possibly know otherwise, to empathize with other mothers in ways I was incapable before becoming a mother myself, it has washed away my judgement of the differences in the ways we each mother, it has made my own heart as vulnerable as that of a baby, and it has given me two people whose well-being is paramount to my own. Motherhood changes us so that we can barely recognize who we were before and can no longer imagine what we would be like without it.

  • Ali

    Thank you for this beautiful piece. Motherhood has deepened me, increased my compassion and empathy for others, and helped me to live my values on a daily basis (or try to, anyway). Being the mother of a child with special needs has deepened my empathy for everyone considered “other.” It has opened my heart, and broken it, and opened it some more. Being a mother is one of the greatest gifts of my life. I want nothing more than I want to be a good mother to my children. To raise them to be empathetic, caring people who will try to make a difference in the world around them.

  • Barb Buckner Suarez

    SBB: Yes! Your work matters! I read your posts always and I’m happy when I see them arrive in my email. Please keep sharing your thoughts and wisdom and keep encouraging women, especially mothers, to find and then USE their voices in this world. It all matters so much!

    Here’s what I’ll say about motherhood and how it changed me… All babies are now, somehow, MY babies. All Mommas are now, somehow, my sisters.

    I was flying home from Houston yesterday and as I boarded the plane (Southwest, so no seat assignments) I realized that the selection was starting to thin. Not as many favorable options left to choose from. There were plenty of open seats available but most of them middle seats, etc.

    I chose to sure next to the two little boys (ages 8 & 11) that were traveling alone. The older one had tears in his eyes as I walked past and I knew that even though this was going to mean that I would absolutely NOT be watching the movie that I’d downloaded, or enjoy the book that I couldn’t wait to devour, I also knew that there was no way I was going to let those babies be sad and scared for a 4.5 hour trip. I walked back and asked if it would be okay to sit with them. I introduced myself and said I had 4 kids off my own and to let me know if they needed anything.

    They were lovely boys, but boys all the same. The last 40 minutes were exactly what you’d expect, but by then we were good friends and I could tell them, “No feet allowed on the seat in front of you” and they responded as if they were my own.

    In fact, the flight attendant thought I WAS their Momma. She was so surprised that I would choose to sit there and care for them… Did she not realize there was nothing else I COULD have done?

    I love you and your work. Please don’t ever second- guess that!!!! XO

    BBS

  • Fran Dornan

    Hi Suzi,
    I don’t know how to tell you how much your blog means to me. Your honesty, openness, courage, and creativity inspire me greatly and often give me the needed nudge to NOT act out of fear; but from my hopes, dreams, & beliefs. I wish I were more consistent. I’m not. But your writing gives me the needed nudge, the consistent reminder.
    When I became a mother 31 years ago, I had no earthly idea what I was getting myself into (in sooo many ways). One of the biggest surprises was just how ferociously I could LOVE. That took me by surprise.

  • Lisa Christina St John

    As a young mother (I turned 21 two days after my son was born) I was ecstatic about the magic. I was too young to worry about much. I was too in love with this little human to think about anything else. Now my little human has helped his wife make THEIR own little human, and the magic has returned. The amazing strength of a woman’s body, the courage it takes to create a life…mystical, magical, miraculous.
    I am so glad that I had an abortion at 16 years old. I never would have my beautiful family now.
    I am so grateful to Planned Parenthood for giving me the information and accessibility.
    I am forever indebted to the people who came before me that made abortion safe and legal. I promise I will not let you down. I will fight, and I will teach others to fight for a woman’s right to choose.

  • Margie Layfield

    I’m not running from your blog, I’m simply drawing nearer. Abortion came as an option for me, as well. My first husband left the day he found out that I was pregnant. I was devastated and overwhelmed. I’d finally secured my first ‘real’ job, the kind where I could grown, securing a better future for myself. I can recall sitting night after night, crying out for that man to return. When he didn’t, I moved onward to the thought of how I would keep my job and find a babysitter. Thankfully, a good friend pulled me from my sinking waters. And made me realize how difficult my choice would be. I had no car, only an efficiency apartment, $80 each month, all bills paid. Definitely not a starter home; it was a duplex built over an old sagging, free-standing garage.

    I soon flew to Kansas City for the abortion, twelve weeks pregnant.

    Years later, my second husband and I set out to purchase our very first home in late 1979. Within the weekend we finished getting ourselves settled, I took a pregnancy test. Yes. I was to be a mother.

    I walked around haze-like, fretting where to put what. The washing machine and dryer were delivered, the new couch and chair. By the end of that weekend we’de even had J.C. Penney’s out to measure for our window coverings.

    My husband and I were both working, but every penny saved had been shoved into the downpayment. We were living a dream with debt hanging over our heads. We made the choice to abort. All of this sounds so trivial, so easy of a decision. It was heartbreaking, especially in light of my first pregnancy.

    Shoot forward to 1983. Our cat dies. I become depressed. We talk about starting a family, and why not? At this point we had been married almost ten years. I’m almost 32, Hubs is pushing 35.

    In the earliest morning hours of May 2nd, 1984, we welcome our firstborn daughter, Megan. By all accounts the birth went well, but the next few days began a vicious cycle of nerves, joy, confusion. The nurses would encourage me to hold my daughter. I had no desire to. I was exhausted, she was needy. I didn’t feel anything towards her. This was the beginning of my madness.

    I struggled for two months, until I could no longer function. There was no sleep, only auditory and hallucinatory ruminations. I was scared of myself, and I was frightened for the baby.

    Three and a half months in a locked psychiatric institution would be my savoir. My mother-in-law stepped in to the shoes of caregiver. I headed further into the abyss.

    I was given massive amounts of drugs, and counseling, art theraphy and physical exercise. Slowly my head rose above the madness. I became aware of who I was. That comfortable, sterile, safe environment had somehow glued me back together.

    I left for home. With time, I found myself happier than I could ever believe possible. I used to tell my little girl, “Megan, everyday that I awake and see your face, I feel like it is Christmas!” … “Everyday, Mommy?” … “Yes! Everyday.”

    About four years later, and continued theraphy, we made a choice to try again. After several months, and no success, I visited my OBGYN. Thru testing and MRI’s they discovered a small tumor on my pituitary gland. I was given medication in an attempt to dissolve it. I went home crying. My chances of having another child were, “Impossible.” My doctor told me.

    Two and a half years later a miracle came our way. Our second child was on the way, but first we were told that there could be severe abnormalities due to the tumor drug.

    The doctor sent us home with a book about genetic counseling and a pamphlet about abortion. We were shell shocked. The next week the doctor wanted us to begin genetic counseling at Childrens Hospital. We had a few weeks before a decision must be made.

    For three consequetive weeks, we took all the classes. Cliff and I had been given an enormous amount of technical, medical information. What would we do with it?

    Back to the doctor again. “What is your decision?” Hubs and I looked at each other and said, “We want to keep the baby.” At this point the doctor no longer talks about aborting the fetus, but encourages us to continue reading and go thru a more advanced program at Childrens Hospital. It won’t be until my fifth month that I can have an amniocentesis done. We’ll find out then if there appear to be any known genetic abnormalities, we will also learn if it is a girl or a boy.

    Time seemed to drag. Do i start on the nursery, do I tell anyone, and if I do, what do I tell them?

    Also, I begin to consider my younger sister’s life. Her daughter was born missing a piece of a chromosome. She cannot talk and is not able to walk (later, at age 14, she did learn to walk!).

    I wondered if I would be angry, would I be unable to love something so needy and damaged? Yes, honestly, I thought the most selfish, mean thoughts.

    And then I remembered my firstborn, turning six in a few months. Everything about her was precious. Every smile, teardrop, cuts and bruises. They were all beautiful. They were a part of her and her journey.

    I knew then that I had my answer. On August 23, 1990, we welcomed into this world our second daughter. This one showed up with a mass of blond hair. She grew healthy, stubborn, but healthy.

    Motherhood centers us. Some days need to be thrown into file 13, and others are reasons to celebrate relentlessly.

    I came to value the stigma, shame and silence of mental illness. I value it’s broken parts. It’s hushed-up parts and it’s deprecating stares. I take to celebrating them in hopes that I can be a light unto the victim(s) of such heinous madnesses. Had it not been for thise who understood the frail nature of genetics, I dare say that I could be here writing this today.

    I’m greatful, as every mother is, to have been chosen as a parent. There is no greater beauty than our children.

  • Brenna

    Oh, sweet fierce Suzi, your work matters so very much. Thank you for your honesty. One of the biggest lessons that motherhood has taught me is that I have exactly zero business judging anyone else’s mothering, and all the business in the world helping other mamas in any way I can. I used to hear women hollering at their kids in Walmart and think, “Oh, that poor kid!!” Now when I hear a woman raising her voice at a child in a store, my gut response is, “What did that child do to that poor woman to make her flip her lid like that?!?” We all come to motherhood by different paths, and if the rest of us are being as honest as you are here, none of those paths are perfectly straight and smooth. I love Barb’s airplane fairy godmother story above. That is what we should all be doing–helping each other where help is needed, and otherwise minding our own damn business. Thank you for what you do. It is always good to know that you are out there working your magic. I admire you, and look up to you, and am grateful that we connected.