So, we're in a short documentary...

October 22, 2015: When Vee was 4 weeks and 5 days old, we were featured in a short 7 minute documentary along with five other mamas and their babies. Today, it was posted to the internet. The NY Daily News reviewed it and Mashable quotes me and, um, I feel a little nervous. 

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In mid August, I received a Facebook message from a friend of a friend (my high school best friend's ex boyfriend who I've actually never met in real life). His friend, Ashley, was casting a commercial celebrating new motherhood and the producer later wrote that they were looking for “strong, opinionated new mothers.” Well, that’s me! I was a little hesitant to get involved (I don’t support big box stores and the whole culture of consumerism) and yet agreed to do this pretty quickly. Yes, I am a new parent and won’t turn down some extra cash! Also, can’t I be in a commercial/short film and represent the radical side of parenthood, from my experience? I got in touch and after one phone interview at 10:30pm, several written applications and waivers, two Skype interviews (with both me and D, separately) and a personal visit at 7am from the director, producer, director of photography and seven others, within a week we were selected to be filmed for the roundtable of moms and their babies and for a day of filming at our home with a focus on cloth diapering.

I was equally excited and nervous. Though so much was cut from the film (they had to condense 5 days of footage into 7 minutes including D washing fake baby poo from a diaper and serenading Vee with his guitar) I was sure we'd be labeled the “cloth diaper freaks,” a self imposed label. But we weren’t. I was surprised by what an incredible learning experience it was and how transformed I felt after the “roundtable” discussion in the faux living room. During this discussion, I was breastfeeding the whole time, uncovered, and questioned if I should cover or not since they intended for this film to go viral. But I didn’t because I shouldn’t have to. And, I thought, it's important to show people nursing uncovered because breastfeeding is a completely natural and ancient way of eating. It was, along with so much, all edited out. There was air conditioning but due to the little hum it made, the crew had to turn it off whenever we filmed which made it SO HOT and humid. Vee and I may have been wearing the least amount of clothing but we were sweating buckets on each other. Ah the world of film!

The director, Cynthia Wade, warmed us up with questions and discussion about how each of us had been judged by strangers, by family and friends as well as words of encouragement. During the roundtable and in between takes, I felt that I made a connection with all of the moms. We all became friendly and at the end of the close to three hours of filming, we were finally asked how we had judged each another. Oof! According to D, of course I was the first to volunteer. In fact, Cynthia had created a safe space for all of us to talk and be vulnerable. So when she asked how we judged one another, I was right there, ashamed but admitting that I had judged the mom who used the formula and I judged the mom who covered while she breastfed. We had all judged each other. In those moments of judging, I would have that thought and then immediately say to myself Well I don't know her story, I haven't lived her life, I can't judge her and I wouldn't want her to judge me. I mean, that's why we were all there! And while these conversations were contrived on some level in a studio intended to look like a home (and a lot of time spent in the editing room), there were also very genuine connections being made and experiences shared and a desire to build a sisterhood.

Admittedly, I didn’t watch the director’s previous short documentary style commercial for Dove called “Selfie” (and later made me cry!) until after I met her. I did, however, google her and wasn’t surprised to discover that she's a Smithie. Of course she is! During the roundtable and the day of filming in our home, I got to know her and her crew more. Turns out she filmed Savi & Billy’s wedding (of Rev. Billy)! Chatting with the film crew, I also discovered a savvy group of people who were familiar with the evils of Monsanto and the creative community of Bread & Puppet Theater. The director of photography had even made a short film about the vanishing honey bees. Everyone working on this project was doing just that - working to pay the bills. At lunchtime, instead of eating from one of those food trucks you always see with film crews, they asked where the cheapest food in the neighborhood was (which is Dil-e Punjab Deli, between 20th & 21st Sts on 9th Ave).

Later, Cynthia wrote me the kindest email, “Thank you, my Smith sister, for being a part of the film last week. Thank you for your willingness to share your personal journey, and thank you for being the ice breaker at our round table discussion -- your willingness to be open, honest and vulnerable on camera allowed the other women to do the same. Thank you for that.” Oof! What a validation of my early mama-hood! 

In the days leading up to the release of this film, up to today, I've been nervous. I was nervous about how my radical communities would feel about me being in this commercial. Today I'm questioning myself a lot, worried about how I've been depicted in the film, if my hair is “too weird” or if people think I'm endorsing a formula company. I worried that I’d be judged for a film/commercial about judging moms! I absolutely do not support formula companies and at the same time I also don’t judge the parents that use it. There are many reasons why parents make the decisions they do and all of them are hard! Any issue I have lies in the way our historical memory and culture dictates and influences us to make the decisions we do and its erasure of our collective experiences with pregnancy, babies and our relationship with our bodies. I say end our cultural misogyny that pits women, female bodied people and parents against one another. We need to have full comprehensive access, support and education about the power of our bodies, pregnancies, breastfeeding and beyond. But as I re-read Mashable’s quoting of me these fears melt away when I realize that I, along with Yalixa (and Leslie!), helped to bring the often silenced and shamed experience of miscarriage and pregnancy loss to the national and international discussion. 

Thank you to Cynthia, Willa and Ashley - I hope you have a vacation soon and are getting the rest that you need and deserve! Sending so much love to the warrior mamas and their babies featured in this: Liz, Jennifer, Yalixa, Shyrelle and Leslie. It was a pleasure getting to know each of you. You are my heros! 

xo

It Takes a Village: The Courage to Ask for Help

My 13th bowling birthday party: Me, Tak & Jazzy J (June 1995)

My 13th bowling birthday party: Me, Tak & Jazzy J (June 1995)

August 17, 2015 - I was raised by a village. When I was 6 years old, my dad moved back to Trinidad and my mom raised me as a single parent. That was the same year we joined The Community Church of New York, a Unitarian Universalist congregation. Previously we attended The Riverside Church where I was also baptized. To explain what UU is...it’s basically the everything bagel of religions. We have Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Wiccans, Atheists, Agnostics - everyone is welcome. Each UU congregation is different - some are more traditionally religious than others. Mine was very liberal and progressive but I wouldn’t describe it as radical. Located in Murray Hill, it’s still a great, diverse place to raise your kids. The main Hall of Worship is very traditional with cushioned seats bolted to the floor in set pews with a stage at the front where ministers make announcements and preach and are flanked by busts of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Margaret Sanger, Albert Schweitzer and Mahatma Ghandi as well as banners representing major religions from around the world. 

Wearing my UU chalice in the Spring of 1996

Wearing my UU chalice in the Spring of 1996

When I was 13, it was time for me to go through my Coming-Of-Age ceremony. Although I had attended church school (and other activities and outings) regularly from the age of 6, I was the only 13-year-old at my church so I went up to Fourth Unitarian Universalist Society, near Central Park. I knew about this “Society” because I was in middle school with one of member’s sons, J, who was also good friends with my mom. Later we discovered a photo of us at around age 3 or 4 at church school at Riverside Church before our moms had met. At Fourth UU, the pews were moveable and often placed in a circle for worship. It was a smaller congregation and had a homier vibe. Other non-UU kids were excited to be able to play basketball there and other fun things not typically associated with church.

My graduation from 8th grade: Grampy + Rev. Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley, my mentor (June 1996)

My graduation from 8th grade: Grampy + Rev. Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley, my mentor (June 1996)

Our Coming-Of-Age group had 2, sometimes 3 girls and 3 boys. We had two group leaders, and every Sunday we would all meet to talk about our belief system and other religions and white privilege and all the sorts of things a “hippie church” would have you discuss as you enter “adulthood.” Sometimes we met at Fourth UU, sometimes at All Souls (a really God-centric, traditional, large and diverse UU church even further uptown). Throughout the year we went on "Cons," mini sleep-away conferences for Teen UUs in NJ and Upstate NY. Typically everyone smoked cigarettes except for those kids from NYC. We also each had a personal mentor we met with to discuss our belief system/credo. Mine was Rev. Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley who became my friend and even gave me her bible from seminary which I have yet to read. At the end of the year, the boys and girls were split up for our rite of passage ceremonies. These were created by us, our mentors and our families. The boys stayed at Fourth UU and did things like get their feet washed by their mentors. The girls, on the other hand, had what felt like a real adventure.

Maine, Summer 1996

Maine, Summer 1996

We went Upstate (or somewhere in "the country"), and it was beautiful. It was me and E, our mothers, her mentor (mine couldn’t make it) as well as one of the boy’s moms who was going to lead us in a Wiccan ceremony. It was so green and lovely and there was a wandering cow roaming about. At night, we all sat around a fire and made clay sculptures of our fears and later went to the pond and symbolically and literally threw them away. We also danced around a fire to the moon and the goddess. The moon was so big that night. In our separate tents, E and I were to write our feelings, hopes and dreams. I wrote, "When I am faced with a problem, I either react in two different ways. Depending on the challenge, I may prove that I am fearless and dispose of the problem. Other times I will look for someone else (my mother) to get rid of the problem." (My Coming-Of-Age Journal, 6/1/96) I was by myself a good long while until I found a tick and got my mom to get rid of it. When we got back to the city, there was a party, full of women, at the boy’s mom’s apartment where we were given gifts and were celebrated. I remember always wishing that I had gotten the “Clueless” DVD gift instead of “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” Later on we each wrote up and read our Credos to our congregations during a special church service. 

There are many other instances of my UU community village raising me on overnight nature retreats, Special Friend Sundays, marches, parties, church school activities and play dates outside of church. They are actually too numerous to list!

Little Lentil Landscapes II: The Shame of Womanhood, Watercolor, 12" x 16"  May 2014

After I had the miscarriage last April, although at first I was ashamed, at the first sight of the blood, that D and I had told over 100 people we were pregnant at 8 weeks and then lost the baby at 10 weeks, I was relieved. From the email I sent out, people wrote back their condolences. For those that wrote those 7 key words - Let me know how I can help - I wrote back. We sat a radical Shiva for the next two weeks. Friends brought groceries and dinner and sat with me in groups, one on one. I shared variations of my radical miscarriage story and they in turn would share theirs, if they had one. Some had many. Others knew they just wanted to feel with me and be with me even if they couldn’t personally relate to having a pregnancy loss. Friends appreciated being told how they could help and that there was something they could actually do to provide the support that I wanted. The months that followed, when the visits stopped, were particularly difficult as I fell into a postpartum depression until the end of November when I found out I was pregnant with V. Even though I was pregnant with our Rainbow Baby, feelings and emotions are complicated.

Little Landscape I, Watercolor, 11" x 14" May 2014

I knew with this birth/labor/postpartum I would need help. I made an announcement at rehearsal, my radical community village, which I’m so blessed to have and be apart of, requesting help. I started to make a list of people who I felt comfortable with coming and helping out as well as the kinds of food I’d like to eat. The three godparents, D, A & J went above and beyond! Not only did they help us to purge and make this into a home and me, to finally feel like a human being at home, they organized and hosted the baby shower. After D (the papa bear), they were the first ones to arrive and help me labor, feed me, give me sips of coconut water and then take care of all three of us after the birth by making us meals, washing the dishes, sweeping, cleaning up the kitchen and eating areas, shopping for groceries, doing the laundry, and folding the laundry besides entertaining us with songs, music and friendship. D (papa bear) was also doing so many of these things and was in charge of my placenta smoothies (which I miss so much). They stayed from Thursday when I went into the "early" labor until Monday morning (V was born Friday morning).

Little Lentil Landscapes III, Watercolor, 12" x 16" May 2014

A has been in charge of a (short) list of some friends to help us out and created a schedule for visits, food drop offs, etc. The last few days (and week) have made me see that I need to tap into my Courage Reserves and put this Big Ask out there: Hello Village, will you please help us? Someday we will need babysitters but right now, if you live in NYC and are willing and available, are you able to: drop a meal off, do a load of laundry or pick up some light groceries? If you can do one or more things either one time or on a weekly or monthly basis, please send me an email and let me know (I’ll also put you in touch with A. to add you to the roster of helpers). If you’d rather buy us something, our registry is going to be open indefinitely with things that we need and would be so appreciated.

dawn@dslookkin.com

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

xo

HVAC - Heating, Ventilation + Air Conditioning

Venus-vine, watercolor, painted at David + Al's house in the East Village, 5/6/14

Venus-vine, watercolor, painted at David + Al's house in the East Village, 5/6/14

This week HVAC commenced in our home - that’s Heating, Ventilation and Air conditioning. All you need to know is that it’s necessary work that won’t be completely finished until July 1st, with work-folks in and out all day, every day? Most days? Every week? And so I’ve been sleep deprived.

Sunday night I couldn’t sleep because I was so anxious that they were coming to start the work so I took a long Spirit Bath and managed to get 15 minutes of sleep. During the day I wasn’t allowed to be in the apartment so we had the cat locked in the bathroom (in a burrow I made for him in the bathtub) and went to David + Al’s house, last minute. I slept about 2 hours there and painted and had long talks and ate and chilled. That was pretty miraculous (Thank you SO MUCH David + Al!). And then the following day I had 4 hours of sleep and then 6 hours and last night was around 5 or 6.

I am so tired.

They arrive at 6:30 or 7 or 7:30am, it changes every day, there’s a lot of work to do to replace the heating/cooling system, remove asbestos (or did they do that back in March?) and replace pipes bla bla bla. And although I made a decision for myself to go to bed at 11:30pm and created a work schedule to include large blocks of time for yoga, baths, painting, eating, meditation, writing and self care, since returning from Miami, I’ve been a hot mess. No sleep will do that to you! I’d love to nap during the day, but all the rooms and potential sleeping spots are occupied with work-folk working.

Last night I told myself that if they were still doing work, I was going to make room in the bathtub for me to nap with Tumble. By mid-morning they were actually finished and won’t be back for another week! But instead of napping, I’ve done 4 loads of laundry, paid the rent and ran house errands as often happens.

There was miscommunication with several of the people about when the work would start again, so that was a tense conversation and it escalated quickly (or felt that way with loud and louder talking). A lot of people are horrible at communicating, doesn’t matter if it’s by email, phone or in person. I really believe that “I don’t know” is always an appropriate response if it’s the truth.

So after that I found myself hungry but in obsessive cleaning mode where I try to control my surroundings and my life by cleaning, sweeping this time. And I’m bawling. The confrontation brought it on but within seconds I realize I’m crying because I lost my baby. I explained to the person very quickly that I had questions about when they'd return because of sleep deprivation and I lost someone recently so I just want to know when I could relax. And saying that - I lost someone - that’s the truth and it’s a hard truth. Because what is a baby? What is a fetus? What is life? Whose life is more important - that of a fetus or that of the mother carrying the fetus? For me the answers are all true. I lost someone and I am still here and I’m alive and my life is important. I cry and cry and wash my face and put on my homemade moisturizer so I don’t break out all over again and then I cry and cry and the cycle repeats. I’m just letting it out, letting it out till it wants to stop, at least for today, till I want to stop. I sob and moan loudly, that helps. It helps me to make loud, awful noises when I am in the depths of this grief. I have no interest in holding back, though when I felt the tears coming on while I was standing in line to buy groceries yesterday, I just didn’t want to deal with a public that couldn't handle the wide spectrum of emotion that we are born with. Thoughts of putting on the pretend-face, masking emotion, re-enter my mind - that’s not who I am or want to be. It’s so hard to be that way.

Untitled, watercolor, New York, 5/7/2014

Untitled, watercolor, New York, 5/7/2014

And even though I need and know I need to eat my second breakfast and stop cleaning, I stop to write. I know I need to write - it’s been so difficult with all of life’s interruptions. I need to breathe. I want to breathe. I want to feel peace. I hoped to take a 10:30am yoga class but that time has come and passed - besides I need to bring up the rest of the laundry.

I have been so frustrated - I’m planning a fundraiser for myself on May 22nd for me to attend a Yoga Teacher Training for the month of June and I haven’t had time to fully promote the event the way I wanted to. I have a whole blog post about how and why I came up with this idea and it’s mostly written but editing takes time, and oh the time and oh the sleep, Where’s the sleep? Where’s the time? I’m terrified that no one will come or only 10 people will show up. I hear and see my anxieties taking over me like a separate self that I once knew and meet again. I put on music, my special energy music, that reminds me that I believe in myself, that I am in love with myself, that I can do anything that I dream up, that I am capable and capable of anything, and it’s ok. I know her, that confident person who knows things will work out, who thinks like a sage, who is so in tune with her feelings and has become so skilled at communicating effectively her needs and desires and boundaries. Sometimes we’re different people and I look at her and say Can I be like you? Can I have a little bit of your spark? And I remember I am you and I am her. And I do believe in myself and anything is possible because I believe in myself and I am here for me! I am present fully, I travel these rivers of emotions where they take me, the deepest sorrow, the frightening, shouting, screaming anger, and I am sobbing again because it is so hard for me to talk about and feel anger since I’ve been angry so much of my existence on this planet and the last time I had a therapist, it was for anger management. And here I am, simultaneously experiencing my creative spirit, utter joy at living and connecting with everyone around me, feeling the glowing life of Possibility, baking treats (even though I won’t use egg replacements for vegan brownies again!! Ali says bananas are better), caring for my plant babies and for the adopted Thumbelina Park when I pass by on my bike, spending time with friends, all kinds, and feeling really really really happy that Jennifer, who is my accountant and has become my friend, is coming over in a few hours to sit a radical shiva with me, the 2nd round of shiva, and feel with me because that is what I need and want. She was one of many that I emailed - if she couldn't come during those first two weeks after the miscarriage, to please come next month or the month after that because I’ve been here before, experienced debilitating loss, when my father was killed on his bike 12 years ago and I think that finally this year I’m going to create a ghost bike for him...and she wrote me! She initiated the newest wave of this radical sitting shiva. She remembered that I’m still in pain! She remembered that I still need support! The night before the complete miscarriage on April 1st, she was one of the last people I spoke to. We were talking taxes (duh) but I also told her how I’d been spotting since the Saturday before and how the sonogram showed that the baby was alive but I was still bleeding and we were both worried but hopeful. Now we’re just hopeful but there is still worry.

Today when I was sweeping, I sobbed thinking I would have been pregnant at this point in time, I planned for this, though I hadn’t looked forward to being pregnant during HVAC, it had still been a part of my fantasy. And I think, well, what if we try to get pregnant, get pregnant and I have another miscarriage? So many work so hard at convincing me that pregnancy loss happens so often (and oh I know it!) and that I’ll get pregnant next time or soon or someday. And I think now, what if it doesn’t happen in July? What if it doesn’t happen next year? Or ever? I know what you might be thinking but this is not needlessly worrying. These are questions I ask myself - how can I not? I absolutely know that I cannot be prepared for everything, and control almost nothing, but I am allowed to think these thoughts. They are mine. And all feelings are valid. I believe this but I have to say it almost daily to myself and those around me, sometimes a defense, sometimes an explanation. So these are things I allowed myself to think for the first time today and those thoughts - they’re terrifying to me. I continue to live in the present as I do in the past and the future and I am open to the feelings, to the potentials in life, in my life, and to the questions and the unknowns and my own hopes and dreams and desires and also to the disappointments, because those are inevitable and that’s ok and they help make the joys that much more joyful because I know they are fleeting and they are special and - do you get me?

Venusverse, watercolor, New York, 5/5/2014

Venusverse, watercolor, New York, 5/5/2014

5.9.2014 Friday 11:35am

Dear little lentil

4.15.2014 Tuesday 1:48 am

I was going through my thank you cards I had been compiling - I wanted to write special thank you cards to everyone who has shared their incredible kindness with me. At times I’m overcome and crying, overwhelmed with my friends-family’s deep generosity of spirit and am moved.

I keep buying more dollar beautiful thank you cards and in looking at them in my small plastic drawer, I find one that is pink and green and white, like a woodcut of a floral still life but is so alive and majestic. It is this card I had originally purchased for little lentil. It is this card that I was going to write to the baby. But I had also asked myself if I would write a love letter to myself instead. I still have yet to write the thank you cards, but I sat down and wrote this:

4.8.2014 Tues 10:26pm

Dear little lentil,

I didn’t know if this card was going to be for you or a love letter to myself but I guess they are both since your whole celestial existence was inside of my body and it’s difficult to separate me from you.

You told me what to eat + when to sleep + how to feel. You are my inner self, the voice that guides + talks with me. Is that why this has been so difficult? Because you dying was me dying too?

You, little lentil, feel like a dream. I feel like I’ve had to accept that you have gone very quickly. I was still in denial, but I knew.

I loved you so much. Even though I was angry + afraid + disappointed when I first found out I was pregnant, it took me only four days to fall in love. There were many days where I had to make adjustments but I was so happy + so looking forward to meeting you some day. I couldn’t + can’t wait to become a mother - that’s what you taught me. Part of me wants to say I would give up everything to have you alive inside me again but that’s not possible. I can’t change what happened though I am changed. You changed me. I changed when you grew inside of me. And I changed when you died inside of me. You help me to deepen my sense of life and love and how important that is to me. You taught me to love my body and all living things. We are all children of the universe + if there was no dying, there would be no living. Thank you for teaching me what it means to be alive + to be a living creature (among) the cosmos.

Love your mama xoxoxo