So here’s the thing: I’m pregnant.
At the time of writing I’m 6 months into growing the physical vessel of a future human-beast-god, a little boy. Conceived on purpose near Summer Solstice, he’s due to make a Malkuth appearance not long after Spring Equinox. Apparently I wanted to play this one close to the archetypal chest because what is happening is a sacred and mythic story – in my body, my family, my psyche. As days turned into weeks of pregnancy, I realized I needed to prepare within myself as much as I needed a nursery.
As I began rummaging through who I thought I was, I realized how uncomfortable I was with dwelling within one of the obvious basics: Mother. Folks have been telling and showing me different stories about “Mother” – the Great Mother, Big Momma, Mommy – my whole life and I just wasn’t ok with the role as I currently understood it. As I didn’t consider myself a natural mother-type, I had a whole lot of ground to cover before lil man got here. Two issues that came up (among many!) had to do with space for an individual: giving the right amount of individuality to a child and retaining the right amount for self.
I first worried that I would fall so deeply in love with my child that I would confuse love for ownership. I don’t tend towards this in relationships, but I’ve seen others struggling with this enough that it felt unrealistic not to address it with myself. Sometimes a mother’s loving support for her child’s success can twist into success created in her own idolatrous image. The two individuals sort of merge into a single unit, the mother’s more developed will running the show. Thus Junior’s ability to walk at 8 months old or win a little league game immediately equals the mother’s own triumph, so much so that neither child nor mother can stand to allow failure.
I’ve also seen how helpful and necessary guidance can turn dominating and restrictive, accidentally denying the child space to discover hirself. Worrying at this possibility I was grateful for voices like my friend Ayele Kumari, Iyanifa and mother, who, with hand on my womb just weeks before I became pregnant, said, “You know this is a portal.” Portals are things that allow others through – not exact clones of the doorway itself. That would be silly. We never assume that the fertile land which nurtures a plant is responsible for making an exact replica of itself. The soil, climate and tending has a hugely noticeable influence but it cannot easily change the internal requirements of the plant itself. It will grow best when it’s, not the care taker’s, needs are met.
More often I see the opposite of this sense of ownership as a chronic form of self denial which discomfits me more. The mother is supposed to sacrifice everything, especially her own happiness and well-being, for the child as a standard. While romantically noble, this image seems brutally hard to sustain and yet it’s pretty much a mainstream norm. Would it be my norm too?
Thinking within in the (wildly simplified) Goddess archetypal categories I first encountered a many years ago of Maiden, Mother, Crone, I knew that I was a Maiden – no one even had to teach me that – and, gods, do I love Crones! My favorite part of the African American culture I grew up with included beloved respect of Elders. I grew up schooled, nourished, protected and encouraged by Crones within blood family then later in pagan community. I haven’t feared “getting old” with so many vibrant examples of what it could be. Who wouldn’t embrace these women that had lived and loved deeply and (sometimes) wisely?
But knowing Maidens and Crones up close, what did that leave Mothers in my mind? I thought of crawling into my parent’s bed with a tummy ache or itchy with chicken pox (do kids even get chicken pox any more?), while mythic Mother doled out miracle cures with steady hands. I also thought of practicing spelling words, aided with homework, criticizing and encouraging habits to help groom into and out of societal norms.
My own human mother is a darn fine one. I’m not sure why I (and society) sharply focused on just the grooming-of-young-humans part of her because my mom was also an RN, a manager and educator of adults, a Master’s degree-having, case study of Respectability Politics, who was married to my equally loving father (now passed) who was a career military, holder of advanced degrees, coach and Red Cross volunteering guy who won community awards. My mom slowly reads one fiction book at a time, knows Black is beautiful, is getting to know her natural hair texture, and thinks she can’t sing (but sings along to everything Motown). She didn’t really teach me to cook until I sought to learn as an adult but somehow never missed opening night at my many concerts, sports events or recitals amidst her own busy schedule. Even as a child, I was proud of my mom. She was/is a full, deep and caring woman in her own right who provided me fertile ground about what a woman and mother was. But what scared and scarred me was how everyone, including herself, assumed she would be the one to sacrifice her own personhood on the impossibly demanding altar of Motherhood. There are hundreds of small and large ways mothers are expected to step back from their own lives in service to others that I wasn’t always sure are necessary. Surely there was more to this than being someone’s maid, babysitter, banker and PR agent.
Turning to the other ways I learn to live and see the world, I searched through a few of the myths and teaching stories about Goddesses/Orishas/Mothers with whom I’m personally friendly. Isis went there as Wife. She was willing to guide, rule, voyage, mourn, and be wrathful as The Wife. Then she becomes Mother and most of her big neo-pagan popular stories kind of go away. It’s all about suckling baby Horus and Being the Throne that he sits upon. It rattled me deeply when I first heard someone say Oshun’s brilliant golden dress started off white. Through grief, lost children, and disrespect it yellowed during hard long wear as she persevered onward.
Then December and the American “Holiday Season” neared and I remembered another story I grew up with. I thought of Mary/Mari traveling in secret, heavy with child and laboring in the darkest time of the year. I remembered the humble Manger scenes of farm animals and stray pieces of hay that nestled at the bottom of the Christmas trees of my youth, my eyes drawn not to the baby Jesus, but to Mary with the angels hovering nearby. I had wondered what she thought of the whole complicated thing and how she was feeling. Many pagan communities I have known tell similar stories of birth each year around Winter Solstice, often focused directly on the Sun Child rather than the birthing and the building to that moment. I found the words to the question my heart was actually asking. What the heck was I supposed to be doing? What internal processes supported the external changes soon to come? Since I wasn’t keen on the idea of personally birthing a human until the last few years (to put it lightly), I had always taken the stories at Solstice metaphorically and turned my attention to other valued birthing goals, like creativity, the next big step in my career or a new version of myself. Now, literally getting heavy with child as nights are getting long and cold, I pair this story with wisdom of my witchcraft: it can be either/and not just either/or. As part of preparation for my son’s arrival I must build and bless myself.
I started asking folks I trusted about their experiences moving into parenthood instead of just how to survive and thrive as an aging youth turned adult. The stories I heard were full of candor, fear, worry and hope which were all a blissful relief. I didn’t have to repeat someone else’s version of motherhood and no one, even those who appeared to make parenting look easy, had all the answers. Suppressing my own interests, strengths and weaknesses in favor of being some kind of ideal wasn’t applauded, matter of fact, they counseled strongly against it as a huge disservice to children. How else would a child learn how to survive making mistakes, having emotions and navigating interpersonal relationships if they didn’t see it actively and honestly modeled from the parent? Instead of a mother or father losing zher personhood, their experience and growth becomes an example to lead another to their own selfhood through their own growth.
Perhaps my gut response that demanded I not try to be some single faceted martyred version of the “perfect mommy” wasn’t so strange after all. The fact that I’d feared it as my only option for so long seems absurd now but that’s the gift of wisdom and experience. I alsohad to learn that I can keep moving forward while feeling vulnerable and uncertain.
I recently found a note scribbled on the back of a receipt in my purse. (You know, messy and impromptu, like life.) Apparently just weeks into pregnancy, I paused to address my unborn while on the go.
You aren’t getting a perfect mommy but you are getting me – and I’m pretty awesome.
I haven’t been dreaming of the moment when I would become a mom since I was four years old. On the contrary, I dreamed about the best version of myself. And I see now, wiser, older, in the process of preparing your Vessel in my body, this best version includes you. I will try my best and try to give you opportunities to become your best self.
-PS – thanks for picking me. I suspect you’re also not perfect and pretty awesome.
What I didn’t see at first, so stuck in my Maiden paradigm, was Mother as Bridge. Isis tried to point me towards this Mystery with her Throne, Oshun through her essence being a deep well of life, art and beauty even in the face of suffering. The learning, living and loving that swept through my “maidenhood” (whenever you’d place that designation) led to this initiatory “mother” place. I had the delight of focusing on self, my animal, intellectual and divine natures, and was able to send down some roots in this world. Then, in order to guide others through their own process, my ego’s choke hold on the metaphorical driver’s seat had to soften. The initiatory challenge posed to me has been to shift from “I” centered questions of “what do I want?” to re-see the world with another person. This could be standing shoulder to shoulder with a partner asking, “What do we want?” or cradle eye to eye with a little one wondering “What do you want? What are you discovering?” In order for this to happen I must be able to blur the boundaries set in place by ego which is humbling work.
The confusion comes when I think shifting from one mindset kills the preceding one. When I hope my husband has a good day at work that doesn’t mean I don’t care about my own! When I wake in the middle of the night with a sick pet, that doesn’t mean they are more important. They just need my energy and attention. And when I try to get my calcium into my diet while pregnant, that doesn’t mean I am solely living and eating for my unborn child. Instead of annihilating the ego and suppressing the animal nature’s drives, these parts of me soften their hold through trust and assume their role in service to the Whole, my whole self, my partnership with my husband, my growing child. Giving focus to one does not erase the others. Paradoxically, it actually demands a level of deep knowing of self to allow space to become more universal, more vast, to be become Mother. I had worried it was “simple” servitude, just another way women quietly assumed a Mammy role. I didn’t realize it was also a sacred calling from and to my deepest Self. “Who are you?” it asks. My dear friend and long time mentor, Karina asks “Who are you?” My unborn cries out silently “Who are you? Who am I?” The answers I’ve found aren’t static, finite or effortless. They are very worth it.
In order to share what I know, set boundaries and allow those dear to me to share themselves back I had to become larger, more vast and innocent in my wisdom to let them into my life. I had to trust that I can recognize what and when to control things and when to let things wander on their own. I suspect raising a child will be this messy, complicated, frustrating and delightful process raised to the power of Motherhood and I’ll never be “ready.”
Nonetheless, we all start right where we are, and I’m a little more aware than I was. I can keep clarifying my own voice, my self softening and strengthening so I have something I’m proud of to share. I can realize I am More and Enough. I can step willingly off and through the threshold of initiation, knowing I am Maiden, I am Mother, I am Crone because these birthed me and I birth them. I said yes to making a human and willingly stepping into Motherhood. This could be one of the craziest and best things I’ve ever attempted.
Reluctant Spider – After a few years of study, Reluctant Spider joined an eclectic witchcraft coven in 1999 and continues in coven and magickal working groups to support her solitary practice. Her personal practice is heavily influenced by ongoing training in Black Heart Feri a lineage within the Anderson Feri Tradition which works well with her mixture of influences that include relationships with LWA and Orisha from the African Diasporic traditions, western ceremonial magic,Unitarian Universalism and a long standing framework of eclectic paganism. She began writing and speaking out in the tense fall of 2014 in Ferguson, MO, when her own positive and negative experiences weren’t being reflected in the mainstream media. Scenting “G!D Fragrance” wherever she finds it, she and her husband live in St Louis, MO with 2 cats and a human baby on the way.