“I have no right to call myself one who knows. I was one who seeks, and I still am, but I no longer seek in the stars or in books; I’m beginning to hear the teachings of my blood pulsing within me. My story isn’t pleasant, it’s not sweet and harmonious like the invented stories; it tastes of folly and bewilderment, of madness and dream, like the life of all people who no longer want to lie to themselves.”
There’s a certain color that the sky goes when the sun sets over Western Australia. A purpley grey. The olive branches waving gently over the walkway towards our house. I miss this. Heat rises in my throat. The way the seagulls swarm in tangential directions as salty bodies wash the day away, and the sun drops into sea. I miss the feel of this sand in my toes, of this salt in my hair. I miss the comfort of hot showers in this water after a swim against the sun setting ochre in Perth. Wet towels and sandy cars and seaweed. Dry clothes enveloping a body still warm, sandy hair washed with supermarket shampoo and conditioner, scenting for hours. The heat still penetrates the body that swam in that sea. I miss this.
T-shirts the shade of swimming pools. Hoodies and Ugg boots and socks with sandals. A long day well spent. I want my son to experience this. I want my son to grow up an Australian. I want my son to know the particular smell of the night here, the quality of the air as we step outside to drink rainwater amongst the honeysuckle and grapefruit flowers. The swell of the Indian ocean. My chest fills as I realize how much I have missed this place. As much as my childhood home is changed each time I return, there is a magic that hangs over this house, this suburb, this city. The owners change and the buildings are painted over, new businesses start and old ones reposter front windows. It’s still my original home.
I have wandered far, looking for some kind of (replica of this) home. Yes, I have been enchanted by the deer and the hummingbirds and the late summer storms and the three-feet-snowy winters. I have been distracted by New York, baffled by Los Angeles and everything in between, drawn towards the strangeness, the newness, the idiosyncrasies of America. I have followed my heart towards that great land and found many a treasure there, and many, many a friend. How do I explain to myself the deep feeling that doesn’t creep in from the outside, but seeps out from within when I return to this West? How do I quantify the love I feel for this land? My homeland. Do we all feel this way about our birthplaces?
I have written before about this part of the Earth where I was born, arriving nearly 30 years ago at King Edward Hospital in Subiaco. I haven’t acknowledged, perhaps for a decade, how I feel when I am home. How do I feel? Home. How strange that we must leave and return to feel this. How strange that our seeking is so often borne of the origin. How do I reconcile my love for Australia with the rest of my life? If it were up to me alone, I would return to Perth. I would have brunch with my high school girlfriends as we did yesterday, laughing about things only we would remember. I would swim in the sea. I would drink the expensive coffee. I would write and I would perhaps even model again. I would take my son to the desert and the red sand North. I would show him the yellow wattle flowers and the blue Lechenaultia, the banksia and Stuarts desert pea.
I have seen the kangaroos and the camels, the rainbow lorikeets, the pink and grey galahs, the magpies and the lilies and the color of the sand and the rocks in the ocean and the way we walk barefoot and sandy through the drive-in liquor stores, the shiny malls and the way no one has a coat hook nor need for a scarf. I have seen the sights of my childhood, and I yearn for this feeling, to be nearer my parents as I age, to be nearer the people I knew when I was young. I don’t let myself weep, because I know it’s no use being sad. I will leave this city tomorrow, and I will return. Wherever life takes me, I bend myself against the wind towards the shore where the sun sets towards Africa. I miss you Australia. I love you my home. I thank you my life. I give you my heart.
Aug 12th 2014. Julius is 3 months old. I want to remember:
The way he held the hem of that pillow as I nursed him in bed, the one with the matching quilt covered in red and blue stars, stripes, moons and checks. How he looks at things in our house intently, his body pulling away from my shoulder as he arches to inspect the pictures on the wall, the red and white cloth lantern Isaac and I found in Elizabeth Gilbert’s store across the river. He is fascinated by cooking and eating. Watched me stir a pot tonight and spoon mouthfuls into my face. I love the peach fuzz on his upper arms illuminated by day light in a darkened room.
Two days ago he learnt to blow raspberries with his little tongue. Spit bubbles spill down his chin as he sticks his tongue out and blows, then waits for you to reciprocate. He grins and continues this game for as long as possible! Our first verbal communication game. So much fun to be seen and heard by each other. Squeals, shrieks, yells, growls, laughter ricocheting off the rooms. He’s our little Taurean Horse boy, born in the hours of the ox, with Capricorn rising. Four four legged animals are his totems. Sixteen legs. I love them all.
I love being a parent. But saying that doesn’t mean it’s been easy. During the first week of nursing a newborn, I hit blissful highs and tearful lows. At one point, pinned to a rocking chair in our once tidy bedroom upstairs, I relished in the empty bowls and crumpled sheets, the spit up cloths and bountiful pillows that mounted our bed. A glorious mess, I thought. Something was happening in our house. All was full of life.
A few days later, pinned to the couch, nursing a newborn, I felt like my only redeeming quality was breast milk. I didn’t understand then that everything would change. That it wouldn’t always feel so constant, so exhausting. That my baby wouldn’t always nurse for an hour at a time, every hour. That I would one day have longer breaks, that one day I won’t be nursing him at all. Yes, babies grow into toddlers, into children, into teens, into adults. Realizing this constant movement means I can let go whilst simultaneously treasuring the magnitude of Now.
What I didn’t expect to be so challenging is the adjustment we have had to embrace in our relationship as husband and wife, lover and lover. I had heard glimmers of this truth in passing, picked up from segments of documentaries we watched, skimming over that section. That won’t happen to us. How unfortunate. I remember Isaac saying, I won’t be your number one any more. It broke my heart and I didn’t want it to be true.
It is true.
Becoming a mother means shifting from Nymphette to Guardian of the Wellbeing of a Vulnerable Life. It means balancing five spinning plates whilst juggling on your toes. It means online shopping late at night and wearing a baby most of the day, leaving dishes undone and wet washing in the basket. It means realizing that you are a human being who needs to be touched, but not too much! (Your baby will be doing most of the touching.) It means accepting that you cannot give it all, that you cannot please everyone, that your back will hurt, your wrists will hurt, your shoulders will hurt, but they will get stronger. You will get spit up in your hair, bright orange, tumeric-colored baby poop on your clothes, and it will take some elbow grease to get that out. You will wake up during the night and develop new ways of entertaining a constantly evolving human.
You will learn to be spontaneous. You will learn to be helpful. You will learn to be responsive, response-able. You will learn how to wear your baby because it’s best for them and you. You will go for long stretches without food without realizing. You may get incredibly thirsty (and soaking wet) from breastfeeding. It’s likely that you will love your body more after giving birth – mostly because of the respect you will feel for it, producing and then nourishing your incredible new baby. You won’t ever have the same body again. You won’t ever have the same relationship again. You will probably mourn this. You might celebrate this.
I was surprised at how much things changed. But they keep changing.
How do we lovers cope with this unspoken shift, the changing of the spotlight from each other, towards the gaze of a creature you would do anything for? I have wept inexplicable tears whilst looking at my son. The love I feel for him is frustratingly indescribable. But the love I have for Isaac? It feeds me. You will need to be fed. Your partner may feel isolated, neglected, far away. Keep communicating, keep sharing how it is for you. If you feel something spikey growing between you, talk about it. Even if you don’t have words. Start talking. Just share. You will come together one morning in tears, and together the same night in love.
This is what I’ve learnt it means to be in a partnership, to be a parent. A glorious mess. Constantly evolving.
My baby is three months old this week, and I keep meaning to write something down so that I will remember these fleeting moments, memories that may not be stored in a month, or a year. The endless, glorious mess of parenthood keeps everything moving. There is always something to do, something to remember, and yet these are the days I know I will pine for, come autumn, winter, subsequent springs.
I have wondered about how it will be to have other children – perhaps only then realizing how different we each are; how unique our jewel, Julius.
Some of the many things I love about him:
The way he strokes my chest while nursing, sometimes so much so that I have to hold his hand. The way his bottom lip curls downwards when asleep. The tiny, surprisingly deep creases carving such soft little palms. The way he stares into a corner smiling as if an angel were speaking to him in a language only he knows. The long curved eyelashes. Inexplicable dirt already at the edges of tiny fingernails. He laughs as his father dances, little legs retracting quickly, knees to chest, the arms waving about, little fists clenched, eyes only slits, toothless mouth wide. His squeals of delight rise in octaves.
Watching fireflies and fire
A few of his favorite things:
Ceiling fans. Flowers, gardens, fires, the silhouette of trees against the dusk. Being held, carried, or swaddled in a wrap on mumma’s chest. Dreamcatchers. The way the feathers sway subtly in breezes from hidden draughts. Mumma’s milk. Daddy’s kissing, games, and songs. He dislikes clothing. Getting more familiar with hats. Love his ‘spesh’ – a red silk scarf given to him from Daddy (‘the color of my heart.’) Dislikes long car rides. Enjoys distraction, especially when musical. Loves New York City and all the sights and lights. Enjoys being held by aunties, uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers and friends. Stays up late with us and sleeps in late too, sometimes after we’ve left the bed for breakfast. Can currently turn himself from his back, to his side, to his front in one (currently awkward though awesome) movement. Loves talking loudly, swinging, bouncing, hammocks.
I wandered into the kitchen this morning with Dido’s song Thank You in my head. This happens only every so often. Like it were planted by an angel, a spirit, from a parallel universe. And I want to thank you, for giving me the best day of my life. And oh, just to be with you…
Motherhood has grounded me. These days, I’m willing to just lay here and soak up the moment, breastfeeding my son before he falls asleep across my chest, the tree leaves rustling and the blue birds still nesting. I remember when I wasn’t pregnant, I seemed to fly across the surface of the earth, buoyant with all kinds of energies. There will come a time when I have dance parties in the living room again, probably when Julius can walk and dance with us. At this point in time, he is little, getting heavier, and I can only hang him from my shoulders for so long.
I feel blessed to be able to truly enjoy this time. These last three months I have cleared my schedule; there is nothing I need to be doing but attend to my baby, my body, my surroundings. This is how I dreamt it would be. There is nothing more important. When I hear my son laughing with my mother in law from another room, I can put down the dishes and lay down with them. When I hear him crying on another person’s shoulder, I can take him and hold him close to me and his upset melts away. I am his mother. I have never felt more engaged, more excited for the future, more enlivened to create a life with purpose and meaning and direction.
I watched a documentary called Tiny the other day, about tiny homes. I am inspired by sustainable housing, and I am inspired by California, and I am inspired by traveling on the road with Isaac and The Kin. The path is unfolding slowly, and I am in the middle of this inexplicable journey. I feel there are a dozen paths to choose from and instead of feeling daunted, I am thrilled by all the possibilities. What do we want to create? How do we want to live? I am not content with the idea that we need (or should want) a large house heated by fossil fuels, a mortgage, two cars, a nine to five job and kids in an underfunded school. I don’t want to work because I have to pay the bills. What if I didn’t have those bills in the first place? What if my kids didn’t go to a ‘regular’ school? What if we stopped relying on fossil fuels and actually, seriously, sought a personal solution?
What inspired me about Tiny was the idea that when building a tiny home (or even a ‘regular’ home smaller than a McMansion) one has to think about every surface, every space. There is a purposefulness to living this way that really excites me, as well as the fact that you need to live with less belongings. What is all this stuff in my home, and do I really like it or need it? I refuse to buy or use a lot of things that many others in my life still purchase, like kitchen towel, surface spray (we use multi-purpose environmentally friendly dish soap) or plastic (saran) wrap. There is no need to use these ‘convenience’ items when a perfectly good tea towel or bowl with a lid is on hand.
Reuse, reduce and recycle. I have been saying it for years. It’s time to take it to a new level. I want to live in tune with our values, with the vision I have for our child and future children. The time is up for staying uncomfortably comfortable. I felt the wind change a few days ago and I’m ready.
The most incredible week of my life has just passed; perhaps matched only by the week I met Isaac, that summer three years ago when all my hearts desires seemed to have unraveled like fireworks down the New York City sidewalk. Last Saturday I gave birth to a baby boy. He was nine pounds and four ounces and I grew all of him. I labored for ten hours and experienced childbirth in the warm peace and safety of my own home. Julius was born at 1:07am on May 3rd 2014, and he arrived just in time.
I had been overdue for what felt like a year. Having lost a first pregnancy in January of 2013, I seemed to be mimicking the 23 month gestation of an elephant. I had waited to hold my baby for so many months, diligently walking the path, healing my wounds, grieving the loss of potential life and getting up again to try once more. There was fear, there was hope, and there was doubt. But I wanted my baby with every atom of my being, I yearned to be a mother.
My own mother arrived off a flight from Australia on April 18th, one day before my original due date (it was later changed to April 23rd.) She showed us old footage from when I was a child, breastfeeding teddies and doting on my sister. As the days turned into weeks waiting for a sign, the four of us went about our day in much the same manner as those before: Isaac’s mother and mine, and we their first born children, patiently expecting the boy.
By the time the calendar read May, I started to realize that we might not have much time left to have the home birth we’d planned. I tried all the regular natural methods of induction but still no baby. I had an acupuncture session on Thursday. No difference. That same night my midwife texted me. Ready for a try of castor oil tomorrow? Call me before you take it. I said yes, but I wasn’t really ready. I wasn’t sure I liked the idea of irritating my body to get the baby out – castor oil contains a compound which is a smooth muscle irritant – both the bowels and the uterus are composed of smooth muscle, so the logic is that contractions may be kickstarted in the same way the bowels are…
I was awake almost all night (mistakenly) reading internet stories about both the wonders and the horrors of castor oil. I found myself fraught with fear. What if it didn’t work? What if the baby became distressed? The next morning I called my midwife and she reassured me that castor oil is a safe method of induction which her patients have used successfully since the dawn of their practice, that it can be truly effective. Her confidence reassured me. Through tears I worked up enough courage to go for it. I blended raw cacao, coconut ice-cream and 1/4 cup of castor oil and downed the cup. Isaac had a taste. I felt it gave me strength. I had crossed the first threshold.
Within thirty minutes I was pinned to the couch cross legged, meditating through an infusion of nausea. I wore a black hooded sweater, needing the sense of protection, a slight witchiness brewing. Isaac comforted me before running a last errand. I felt rotten. I took a nap and when I woke, found my mother in the kitchen. It was very difficult to trick myself into doing the necessary second dose when my body was obviously trying to get rid of the first. It was working. I’m doing it for all of us, I thought. I climbed back into bed until Isaac returned.
“Do you realize we’re going to have a baby soon?” Isaac said as he leant over me, weak and weepy. I paused. Yes, I could see that there would be a baby at some point. “But I can’t see the path,” I said. Isaac nodded, and at that very moment, I felt something like a water balloon popping between my legs. “I think my water just broke.” I was suddenly wide eyed, a grin spreading over my face. “Really?!” He called my mother upstairs and soon they were doing a victory dance on the landing outside the bathroom door. “I can finally bring out the bunting!” Mum crowed.
The next nine hours were filled with the ebbing and flowing of contractions. I squatted through most of them, feeling like that was the most effective way of doing the job. Later Mum would tell me that it’s also the most intense (and yes, effective) position for laboring. I squatted almost every morning of my pregnancy so it felt natural to continue. My midwife Pam arrived at 5pm when contractions were coming every two minutes and lasting 45 seconds. I was progressing.
At dusk we went outside and I attempted to walk around the garden. I remembered Alanis Morrisette talking about her labor and home birth, how she had only one photo of herself, pacing the dark garden in a black hood. I was there now. I hung off a blossoming tree while Isaac went inside for a moment. Our neighbor was mowing his lawn. Life was continuing as usual and yet I was having a baby. It felt like the most natural occurrence, and yet so often we are shielded from birth. I moaned loudly to match the intensity of the contractions. After several hours of doing that I almost lost my voice so ended up hissing through them instead. I hardly recognized myself.
I remember eating one of my mothers gluten free chocolate chip cookies. I remember the African mask that I labored in front of by the fig tree at our front door. I remember the sounds of my mother and mother-in-law pottering in the kitchen. I remember crouching by the red couch with the lamp on. At some point day had turned into night. I remember asking for watered down coconut water and my mother-in-law bringing me watery coconut milk. I remember laughing with the assistant midwife who I’d bonded with over all my prenatal visits. I remember how she sat with me on the stair well just watching, smiling. She told me that Heather (the other midwife not present at the birth) had sent a text saying “Sophie you’re so strong and awesome!” I felt so supported.
At some point Pam told me I could get into the water. We had set up a birth pool in our living room, right in front of the altar on our fireplace mantel where I have sat almost every morning since we moved here, praying, meditating, asking. The water felt so good. I kept squatting, kept moaning. Isaac was fully present and calm. He would ask me to look at him and keep breathing. I would zone out between contractions, completely relaxed and completely surrendered. I think he wondered if I was okay. Soon I started bearing down, sensing things shifting. Pam checked me and I was fully dilated. I could start pushing. Little did I know these would be the most excruciating moments of my life.
How can a woman explain what childbirth feels like? The experience is no doubt different for every woman, but I’m sure almost every mother can relate to the intensity. I had no idea. I got out of the water at some point upon request of the midwife, but when the smell of the the plastic carpet protection got to me, Isaac and I decided it would be nicer to born into water. I pushed for an hour, which really seemed like twenty minutes. I would later learn that my mother and mother-in-law were sitting in the dining room able to hear everything. I began calling to God at one point. My mother grabbed Madeleine’s hand and squeezed it hard for ten minutes. They sat in silence together as a great cleaving occurred in the next room.
I can’t express the pain nor the thoughts that went through my mind for that last hour. In a situation like that, one cannot return. The only way out is through. I reasoned that this wasn’t going to last forever, but the necessity of pushing into the pain was a test of my conviction. It hurt like hell. I wanted this baby out. Pam, Heather and Isaac encouraged me, telling me how much progress I was making with each earth shattering groan. I’d always imagined I would feel the head emerge, or that the midwives would tell me the head was born. Nothing of the sort happened. I remember the last push though. I remember the way that I summoned up all my remaining strength, bit the bullet, grit my teeth and gave it my all. It was a sort of giving up as well as giving everything, the way a marathon runner flings themselves towards the finish line, hoping it might make all the difference.
It did. Suddenly I was sitting back against the wall of the tub and a baby had appeared, I was holding him, bringing him to my chest, the voices of the midwives firm, reassuring and yet distant. They slipped a loop of cord from his head and I held him close. He was perfect and pink. He cried and a blanket was put over him and everything around me stood still. Isaac was right beside us. A baby. He had arrived. A precious jewel excavated from the mountain of my body. All pain was removed in those moments and I was not myself any more.
The voices became louder and I heard an instruction to get out of the tub. I clung to our baby and was supported as I stepped out of the water. The placenta came soon after and then I was stitched up. I had a first degree tear that’s still healing but nothing too serious. (That was probably what had made the pushing so painful.) The midwives stayed with us until 4:00am that morning. The bond I felt with them both was unique. Not only had they assisted me in birthing our son, but they had stared in my nether regions for an hour as a baby appeared. There’s not many people who know you so intimately! I have a new freedom and love for my body now. Nothing is sacred. Everything is sacred.
The week following Julius’ birth was a heady mix of pure bliss, profound joy, moments of sudden realization (“It really is 24/7!”) and adjustment. It continues to be so. I lay outside on a blanket a few days later and breastfed my tiny baby amongst the violets and the green, green grass. All around us Spring is blooming. Two blue birds are nesting in bird boxes near the flowers. New growth appears every day. The vegetable garden we planted while waiting for our jewel has been sprouting, the trees getting ever fuller with foliage. Such is life. Ever fuller. Ever beginning. I am humbled by these blessings and moved by how fiercely I love this new baby, this new life.
Photos 1, 2 & 5 by Isaac Koren, 3 & 4 by me, and the above by Stef Mitchell
We are on the boy’s time now. Divine waiting – as if the dinner we prepare each night is for someone famous we’re expecting, someone who could knock on the door at any time, someone we’ve never met. We are ready for him at each moment. How do we spend these hours, when so much has been done, so much has been said, so much has been anticipated? It is an incredibly unique time. A pregnant pause.
My wonderful mother is here from Australia for another few weeks, and Isaac’s mother is also here from New York City. Each day Isaac and I wake up next to each other, and we cuddle and snooze as long as we desire. I spend almost an hour before our altar, laden with lilies, gardenia flowers, archangel cards, a rose quartz crystal, Ganesha, our Tibetan singing bowl, the lapis lazuli beads from my Blessingway, and the first dreamcatcher I ever made, hung with an old jangling fertility charm in the center. I made that dreamcatcher one month before our boy was conceived. Magic works.
Mum walks from my brother-in-law’s house through the forest every morning and we welcome her into our home so gratefully. We drink tea and coffee and have breakfast together. I love that we spend almost the entire day in each others’ orbit. Isaac’s mother arrives around 3pm and does the washing up, any laundry, makes salad and salad dressing, her long red hair in a bun at her crown. I’ve been making batches of coconut and almond granola and listening to the stories and advice and conversations of the grandmothers to be. They had only met once or twice before, for Christmas at my sister’s house two years ago, and again at our wedding. They are getting to know each other. It’s a powerful four (five!) that we are.
I take a nap sometime between 4:00pm and 6:00pm and then a walk through the forest to the canal. The flowers are blooming in new places each day. The Hawthorn tree in our garden is full of pink blossoms, violets strew the lawn, the yellow of the Forsythia bushes and daffodils blooms everywhere you look, and the little white hyacinths smell like all the best memories.
When will you arrive beautiful boy? You have chosen a stunning time to enter this part of the Earth. I get the sense that you are just waiting for your stars to align, the stars that you have chosen. Isaac plays piano every night for us and you move to the music. I have been making dream catchers, a hanging mobile of Australian shells. Mum and I watch old home movies each night and we laugh and cry, drink the same tea and eat the same cake.
I am so moved by the beauty of life at this time. With all the time in the world to watch Isaac play piano by candlelight, I weep with a kind of intense joy. When he looks at me for minutes at a time, I weep more. We are at the most incredible, indelible peak. I feel I have left one landscape behind, and I’m camped with my family on the edge of a great cliff, knowing that some day a voice will beckon us to the drop, and we will leap together. Until then, the flowers and the wind and the piano keep us company. We will keep baking bread, boy. Come when you’re ready, we can hardly wait to meet you.
As my baby belly grows ever larger, heavier, I find myself struck by the sense that I am not going to be the me I have known myself as for very much longer. There is an unnameable sadness in this. I don’t know what kind of vortex my labor and birth will be like, nor how much of myself I will need to surrender to the abyss. A kind of death is on approach. I haven’t been afraid of the physical sensations, the journey of intensity, the power of the energy that will move through me, but now I am wondering how completely this experience will transform me and if I will recognize myself afterwards.
I suppose parts of me don’t want to change. I have been like this before. Sensing that something is about to shift dramatically, whether it’s my nuclear family, a period of time away from loved ones, or a change in my relationship with Isaac, I get rather upset. I like it the way that it is. I like what I’ve got here. I remember reading that it’s actually part of our evolutionary makeup to resist dramatic change unless absolutely necessary; the old adage ‘if it works, don’t fix it’ keeps things strong, resolute, enforced from within – working.
I want to meet our baby boy very much, and I want to keep something sacred between Isaac and I. I yearn for his presence and companionship. Perhaps this is because he has been away for several weeks and had just returned for a few days, before flying to LA for a 24 hour Coachella trip. I am home in the silence again. Nine days until my due date. Tomorrow will be eight. Am I ready? Are we ready? Life is an incredible adventure and I think I am having the flutters like before a leap from an airplane, or a beach cliff, from a platform with a bungee cord.
What will become of me, of us? The sweet angel who is with me is my closest companion these days, he is always here. For now though, I want my husband all to myself, to know that things will be better, closer, strong, resolute, enforced from within, working – even amidst such a life changing experience as the birth of a first child. I can’t know what is to come, what challenges await us all. I don’t know what childbirth will feel like for me, but I suppose I am expecting something bigger than I can imagine. This is probably a way for me to engage with my fears and drum up the courage I need to face this unknown, before meeting the boy who is waiting for us.