Many mothers of young babies are familiar with the concept of “tummy time.” Experts now tell us that this is a necessary part of parenting a baby. Before the baby learns to turn over or hold her head up steadily, we can help by placing the baby on her tummy so she can practice these skills.
Even though I read parenting books compulsively during my pregnancy and my daughter’s infancy, this was not a concept that was in vogue even eleven years ago. I remember my shock when I was visiting a home that “did tummy time.” The parents put the baby on a blanket on the floor, and she kicked and cried while they cheered and encouraged her for twenty minutes. “Good job!” they said when the time was up.
I remember walking away and longing for the unclocked time of my early mothering: nightgown unbuttoned and unwashed, baby at the breast, my journal, a book, or papers to grade propped between the Boppy and the arm of the rocking chair. Not looking at the clock was one of the greatest joys of that time for me.
As a mother, I could be completely in the present. I could find that joyful Now that the gurus are always trying to describe. Mothering, for me, was enlightenment.
As a writer, however, I lived constantly in the past and the future. I mined my rocky childhood for good scenes. “Jeez, you even remembered the red color of the stepping stool in the kitchen during that fight!” my sister once said. I looked forward to the time (just around the corner, I could feel it hovering) when I would feel I had Made It As a Writer. Thirteen more submissions of poetry might do it. Or writing one more novel. Or applying for one more award.
So here I was, for the most part present and loving in my mothering, and at the same time hurtling myself into the space of Not Now in my writing. Time and space were bound to collide. And this past year, they did.
In June of this past year, my husband was in and out of the hospital three times for complications from a heart procedure. I was, at the same time, taking care of our daughter, teaching a summer class, and writing a novel.
I did it. I did it all. I kept going.
And then a few weeks later, a pain emerged. It was, quite literally, a pain in my ass. And because it was in such an embarrassing place, I ignored it. Then I went to see my doctor and I medicated it. I pretended it wasn’t there.
And I kept going. Like a toddler who refuses to be potty trained, I was rigidly refusing to let go.
This continued for five months. The pain got worse. I drank more to numb it. I ate more. I stopped exercising. I relied on muscle relaxers and sleeping pills to get relief. The “aha” moment came when I was in the process of hiding some pills in my suitcase for a Thanksgiving trip to see my sister’s family. I realized I didn’t want my family to know how many pills I was taking, and at that exact moment, I was hit in the head with a club from God.
Is this really what you want to become? the voice said. Do you want your daughter to grow up with a mother who is an addict? Do you really think you can be the writer and coach you want to be when you can’t even face your own pain?
I threw the pills away. All the pills. The ones in the suitcase. In the night stand. In the bathroom. In the kitchen.
And I sat my husband down on our bed and I told him, “I have been terrified ever since June. I have been so afraid of your death that I have been trying to numb myself from this fear and this pain in dangerous ways. I am sorry.”
He smiled and said, “I’ve known that.” And we hugged.
The pain continued. But now I was facing it.
One week later, I had a colonoscopy, which had been scheduled for months. (I see now that sometimes the medical world is slow so we can learn our lessons first.) I was terrified of my husband’s death, but I was also afraid that the pain might be connected to something bigger and more deadly. The good news: internal hemorrhoids. The other good news: this was ultimately up to me to heal.
And that’s when I started doing “belly time.” It is like “tummy time,” except I am both the baby and the mother now. When I find myself rushing, pushing, projecting into the future or bogged down by the past, the pain will remind me that as a mother and a writer and a human being, I need belly time. During belly time, I lie down on my belly. I just lie there. I feel the way that relaxing into whatever Is allows the pain to recede.
Gradually, I have learned to relax while in motion. While driving. While cooking. While writing. While seeing creativity clients. While responding to an email from an agent.
And this relaxing has made me more aware of how precious my body is. I’m eating more healthily. And exercising every day. And this time, it’s not according to a “plan” or for the sake of an “outcome.” It’s now.
I am grateful to both my mothering and my writing for the healing lessons they have taught me. More and more, I am learning how to Be a Mother and Be a Writer from a place of present awareness, from a place of love and happiness rather than fear. Sometimes, though, I forget.
So, my New Year’s resolution this year: more Belly Time.
I invite you to write an essay, story, or poem about embracing the present in your current stage of mothering. Please email your submission of 800-1000 words to birthingmotherwriter[AT]gmail[dot]com by January 29th. Be sure to put “Birthing the Mother Writer: 2” in the subject line, place the text of your submission in the body of the email, and include a brief bio. By sending in your submission, you agree that your piece, if chosen for publication, may receive suggestions for revision, and you also agree to revise and submit a new version for publication within two weeks.