My Guide to Personal Self Care and Inner Revolution

Nursing Baby Vee 

Nursing Baby Vee 

1:43am Sun Sept 13th 2015 - Let me get right to it - I haven’t been taking care of myself. I find myself rushing more and more and the aches in my back are returning. I still get in my daily shower but it’s been almost a week since I’ve had a Spa Shower and took my sweet, precious time. I find myself Stress Cleaning + Tidying rather than drawing, painting, writing or darning. If I’m going to be up at 3am after a night feeding, I’d rather make art than clean, though cleaning (i.e. putting things away and sweeping) is extremely satisfying for some part of my brain. I see now how easy it is to not take care of myself. Self care is already challenging and even more so when you have a small mammal creature dressed in human baby clothes to care for - but why? Because they are both work. Work can be fun, work can be a lot of things but it is still work. In the midst of one of my late night/early morning Tidying Sessions, I started this: My Guide to My Personal Self Care and Inner Revolution:

Morning exercises to Journey's "Don't Stop Believing!" 

Morning exercises to Journey's "Don't Stop Believing!" 

1. In order to maintain my sanity, do my self care and put the work into unconditionally loving myself every single day, I must take my Daily Shower. This is about being immersed in hot water. I get on my hands and knees and become that laboring animal again.

2. When I get out, I use the large orange towel with suns on it, gifted to me by DK. This is the one I labored on in the tub channeling the whales, cats, orangutans and rats and birthing people throughout time, remembering that they're always with me, and reminded each time that they are my only religion.

3. When I wake up and before I go to bed, I do my 3 minute floor exercise (lying on my body pillow with my arms bent and raised at my sides) to strengthen my chest cavity whilst singing along to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and petting the cat-baby. I quickly learned that raising a baby is all about creative multitasking. At night, however, I prefer to listen to whale sounds.

Gratitude Postcard for Aijung, Watercolor on cardboard, 4" x 5.5"

Gratitude Postcard for Aijung, Watercolor on cardboard, 4" x 5.5"

4. Put D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does it Feel)” on repeat and write, write, WRITE. Best to write after I’ve been healed by a Spa Shower so the words can flow out though it doesn’t always work that way. My friend, B, coined my style as “Soul Writing” which sounds more complimentary than how I think of it - Mind Vomit.

5. When Vee nurses, paint.

6. When Vee nurses, write.

7. Before dinner, when Vee nurses, COLOR in a coloring book. No thought required.

8. Remember to pee, poop, listen to my body, do not put off having to go to the bathroom when I'm at home especially when I'm feeding Vee or he needs me.

9. Fluids, liquids - drink them!! Especially coconut water and eating watermelon - electrolytes are real and are important!! But don’t ask me what they actually are.

10. Food and eating are important!!

11. No electronics while eating meals together with D.

12. NO (more) STRESS CLEANING. I don't do that shit any more because there are other ways to dismantle my anxiety and give myself the feeling that I have control in my life. I ask myself all the time now Is this a need or a want? Wants, though also important, can wait and only you can do you!

13. Feeding my friendships and relationships through social media, texting, phone calls, emails, postcards, letters, handmade gifts and HANGING OUT IN PERSON.

My local swimming pool.

My local swimming pool.

14. SWIMMING. Lakes are ideal and so is the ocean. I will, however, accept a pool. As of Wednesday, I'm astronautical again. The weightlessness of swimming in water reminds me of space, outer space. A pregnant space traveler not entirely certain of the future. There's excitement and fear. The Fear of the Unknown is powerful but now I know what it can mean to labor and birth. It’s not pleasant though it’s not supposed to be. It's a rite of passage for me, for many women and human beings and creatures of this earth, and out of the fire we step a warrior mother, a parenting warrior survivor.

15. NATURE. We’re going to sit in it today.  

16. Express gratitude through personally written, empathetic responses to people's messages to me, painting Gratitude Postcards (and mailing them) and small paintings on cardboard.

17. Breathing, deep breathing. If pregnancy is a marathon, what is life? Pace yourself! And breathe.

Goddess shrine and Little Lentil's memory box. 

Goddess shrine and Little Lentil's memory box. 

18. Cuddling baby, cuddling D and cuddling our cat-baby - sometimes all at the same time!  

19. FORGIVE MYSELF. Forgive myself every day, all throughout the day. Your mind is powerful. Repeat, “Forgiveness is coming to me easily and effortlessly.” (Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain) Eventually, it will. I can also say Compassion is coming to me easily and effortlessly and I do.    

20. RELEASE GUILT through Daily Showers, writing, drawing, painting, ceramics, exercising - whatever feels healing is Releasing Guilt.

Our cat-baby knows how to sleep! 

Our cat-baby knows how to sleep! 

21. Go to SLEEP at 9:30 or 10:30pm with the baby and then...

22. Get up at 6 or 6:30am!  

Sex and masturbation, while vital to happy and contented living, is not on this list. I’m ok and not ok with that. I’m not doing the vast majority of the things on this list though I’m trying. I’m also quite happy with not being pregnant so if Vee acts as some kind of natural birth control I’M OK WITH THAT.

One last thing! I’m in love with this paragraph from Natural Health after Birth: The Complete Guide to Postpartum Wellness by Aviva Jill Romm: “This chapter is for your pleasure. Your pleasure and peace are the root, rock, and center of what you bring to your family. When you feel rested and replenished, you glow from the core of your being, and this glow spreads warmth and comfort to those around you. When you feel nourished, you are better able to nourish those around you. When your cup is empty, you have little to share; when your cup is full, it runs over to fill those around you. Why nurture yourself? Jennifer Louden puts it well in her guide to women’s nurturing, The Woman's Comfort Book: ‘Because self-nurturing is survival. Women take care of others every day. But how often do we turn our wonderful nurturing ability toward ourselves?...When we nurture others from a place of fullness, we feel renewed instead of taken advantage of. And they feel renewed, too, instead of guilty. We have something precious to give others when we have been comforting and caring for ourselves and building up self-love.’ And as Rabbi Hillel once said, ‘You have a solemn obligation to take care of yourself because you never know when the world will need you.’“ (P.213) 

And now…on to my day/night of Unconditional Self Love and Celebration!

(Editor's note: The writing, editing and posting of this took over a week because PARENTHOOD.) 

My Pillowy Mountain of a Body

Me and Baby V

Me and Baby V

August 25, 2015 - I had prepared myself for a long recovery. I had no expectations of my body “bouncing back” after giving birth so I was surprised when, after constant nursing, a natural birth, swimming daily for months, etc, etc, my big belly became a small pillowy belly in a couple of weeks. I took photos in our long mirror and documented the rivers of pink and purple, my tiger, warrior stripes all over my tummy and hips and thighs. A day and a half after walking this fire of labor, with blood from the birth still dried on my skin, I cried in the shower when I allowed myself to commune with My Inner Wise Self and do some self talk - Your body did this! You're incredible! You can do anything! I rode this surge of divine female confidence for a while until The Fateful Farmer’s Market last Saturday.

Sketchbook: The Ancient Art of Breastfeeding at 3 Weeks 1 Day, pen drawing

Sketchbook: The Ancient Art of Breastfeeding at 3 Weeks 1 Day, pen drawing

We go to this smallish farmer’s market every weekend since it re-opened in May. They’ve seen my belly grow as the snap peas go out of season and we’ve made friends with Barry from Barry’s Tempeh and Aditi from Calcutta Kitchens. I love going to the farmer’s market. The fresh food is awesome (though expensive) and tastes so good and I like talking to people. It’s a very social experience for me.

Sketchbook: Bear Mountain Woman, colored pencil drawing

Sketchbook: Bear Mountain Woman, colored pencil drawing

This was the second time that we visited the whiskey and rum tasting table. I hadn’t sipped any booze for almost a year so I was excited for my postpartum tiny cup of their brew. Jen, who serves and sells the liquor from Van Brunt Stillhouse, is so incredibly warm and friendly. I had my little, tiny cup and hung around to chat.

These two women came over to check out the free samples and realized a baby was wrapped to my chest. Like most people, they were excited to see such a young baby (or shocked, I’m not sure anymore). And then, The Unsolicited Advice and Comments. One woman was floored to discover I had had a totally natural, unmedicated home birth and jokingly said she was afraid of me which I laughed at. I actually liked this because there is something to be revered in a person who has birthed a baby naturally and walked that fiery rite of passage. The other woman... I can’t remember the exact words but something like Well, now you gotta watch that belly and exercise and get rid of it. I couldn’t believe she made a judgement on my 3 weeks postpartum body. My body that was already significantly smaller than it had been when I was the living, breathing home for this rainbow baby. Jen and Aditi, shocked, immediately said I think you look great! We were all shocked. I think most people wouldn’t say this sort of thing but I’m sure it’s on people’s minds.

Page 33 from "The Affirmations Colouring Book" By Sarah Mangle

Page 33 from "The Affirmations Colouring Book" By Sarah Mangle

I’ve had a lot of conversations in my head about this during my daily shower. I’ll hang up fabric over the mirrors and then take them off again. I don’t want to see my face, I don’t want to see my body - I don’t want to judge myself. But here I am, I’m doing it. Looking at those stretch marks, are they tiger stripes? I barely remember that that is what I call them now. Look at the lines, look at my belly. Well, I always had a belly - But Look At It! I have a belly. I have a body. I am a person. I am a person that gave birth to a baby 3 weeks and 5 days ago. How am I supposed to look? How am I supposed to feel about this body? This body that created a miracle. This body that made magic. This body that walked through fire and hell and has the scars to prove it. This is my body. I love my body. My body is earth, mountains, rivers and trees. My body is the site of an ancient tradition of life on earth. I love my body.

Every day is a time for forgiveness

The Hairy Goddess of Love Takes a Spirit Bath, 9" x 12" watercolor

The Hairy Goddess of Love Takes a Spirit Bath, 9" x 12" watercolor

Last night after rehearsal, five of us walked, Jessica, Onome, Lizzie, Ashlie and myself, singing down the street. At the corner of 8th and Avenue C, we sang and we chanted, we improvised and supported each other, sang songs that we knew and made up the rest. This was a gift.

Every day takes courage for self love. And every day is an opportunity to be reborn. It's been a long while and today I had my Spirit Bath. While the hot bath was filling up, I smudged my whole home with sage, blessed with the friendship of birthday love, blessed with my living plant babies.

I rang bells in every room, to the closets, to the guitar. I came to the living room and realized I had created a space for creativity, a space to support myself. This is a space of courage. What is courage? Courage is asking for what you need. Courage is speaking your truth. Courage is owning your story. Courage is setting boundaries. Courage is reaching out for support (a quote from Brené Brown).

Last night I made three signs with this affirmation. One in orange craypas and then in permanent blank marker and then I painted it. This helps me to remember what courage is and believe that I am full of courage. Courage means being open to making "bad" art and "poor" writing and still wanting to share it with the world. Courage means making mistakes. Courage means allowing myself to be imperfect. Courage means embracing myself every day.

Have Courage My Friend (inspired by the inspirational quote by  Brené Brown ), 9" x 12", watercolor

Have Courage My Friend (inspired by the inspirational quote by Brené Brown), 9" x 12", watercolor

In my Spirit Bath I poured lavender Epsom Salts, my large and interesting shells already beneath the water and rang bells around me. I drank and drank my water. I asked myself what was the intention for this bath? I didn't know. In silence I got in and allowed my mind, myself to wander. I cried and cried. I forgave myself for misjudging old friends and new friends too. I forgave myself for misjudging myself. I thought about my father. July 29th will be the 12th anniversary of his death. I cried and cried. Is this Shadow Grief? It is my truth and it is my story. I thought about him and what I can do to honor him this year and honor my own grief. I want to make a ghost bike for him - paint a bike white, have a ceremony and lock it near where he was killed on 34th St. and Dyer Avenue. It's time.

I get out of the bath and notice some soot from my sage stick on the bathroom sink and I tell myself Every time I want to clean something or do something that is not apart of my new habits of living with Spirit Baths, singing, eating and painting and writing, I will take a moment to breathe. Ten deep breaths.

I find that I forget who I am or forget that I am loved. I can be so hard on myself. Every day is a time for forgiveness. And a time for singing. A time for swimming.

My Inner Wise Self Gives a Pep Talk: Shit Happens

The anger takes up so much of my time.

I wake up and I remember that I am here, I have a purpose, I can make choices for how I will choose to live this life. No, I'm not in control but I can choose how I will react when shit happens - there's awesome shit and messed up shit but SHIT WILL ALWAYS HAPPEN.

Are you loving yourself? Like, IN LOVE with yourself? Fuck obsessive cleaning. Fuck all the bullshit. And fuck shame, insecurity, judgement and all the rest. I am here, I am alive, I am fearless, I am a writer - write! Be fearless! It takes courage AND YOU'VE GOT IT!

YOU DO!

It's there. It's always been there. Fuck all the rest, you know what I'm talking about. You're here. You're alive. Live!

What is your purpose today?

LIVE YOUR PURPOSE.

Warrior Survivor, watercolor, 11" X 14", New York, NY (6/14/2014)

Warrior Survivor, watercolor, 11" X 14", New York, NY (6/14/2014)

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

Shaming + Blaming: Unconditional Self Love

Often it is hard to be honest, to get the words out especially when talking about anger and pain. I wrote this to a friend early this morning who has become my pen pal. We are both aligned so deeply with our own feelings and creativity - it is a blessing to have people like this in my life. I share it because this has been on my mind.

Hello R-------,

Thank you so much for your kindness and patience. I don't apologize anymore for "not writing back sooner" only because there are just too many emails and I find in this life I've apologized for too many things, for myself every day. So I am not apologizing, but I am writing back!

Thank you for becoming my pen pal! It's so funny that we've barely spoken longer than a minute or two - I know we will! - it's nice to get to know one another through our writing. I find I express myself so clearly this way and with you.

Thank you for the loving critique of my posts. You're right - it really is vulnerability pouring out of me because that's where courage comes from. In the beginning (in the first week), everyone told me how courageous I was, how brave I was for speaking so openly about the miscarriage (I often find myself almost saying abortion - it was technically a "spontaneous or natural abortion" and I feel like my body is a smart body, a good body because she knew to abort and reject a dead fetus). I didn't believe them - I felt that I had to talk about it for my own sanity and I just couldn't help it. But now I accept and open myself to the idea that I can be courageous. I can be brave. I am brave.

I have to say that there are the difficult experiences of living with loss in your life, grieving and being so open to it, even terrified of the madness of grief (and the accompanying madness of creativity). N------- tells me I'm unhinged and I say Yes I am unhinged! Yesterday was a particularly rough day for me. I feel insane, I feel unhinged, I feel crazy, I feel the madness. I know it's all ok because all feelings are valid. A friend, who had a miscarriage last year, wrote that to me when I announced the loss of our pregnancy and it's stayed with me. I frequently say it to people after I talk about feeling failure, shame, embarrassment, and like an outsider. Everyone wants to "silverline" the hardships (coined by Brené Brown during The Power of Empathy!). I opened a tiny window to this conversation with U-------- and she shamed me for my feelings. I was sobbing and shouting, All feelings are valid! but she comes from another time and place and has her own story of struggle. Everyone has their own story. I have never been shamed so intensely, publicly and on so many levels. Others have said shaming/blaming things to me about the miscarriage and every time I call them on it, for every single person regardless of who it is. At this point, I love myself too much - I mean I actually love myself! I think before I loved myself only a little bit in different ways but now I am in love with myself and that love is unconditional. And this means that I also have a deep confidence in myself to be anything, say anything, accept myself and my flaws, embrace the vulnerability, embrace myself and embrace those around me. But when these people shame me, when she shamed me in front of everyone...she put into words what I'm sure many think and feel. She had the gall to say those things to me - you would be ashamed for her for saying those things! I was in shock. I was in a raw place and the more she invalidated what I was feeling, the more I sobbed. She told me Don't ruin your marriage. I said I'm not ruining my marriage - this is making us stronger! She said, You need to live life and look forward! I said I am living my life! That's why I paint and write every day! And I look to the past and I look to the present and I look to the future - I have so many plans for myself!  She said, Well what if you carried that baby to a full term, to all nine months - and I interrupted Yes that would be worse! And she said, You see?! And again I have to say that all feelings are valid. But it's as if she hears nothing. I shout and cry It's only been a month! Later N------- tells me she didn't realize this. But how long is "long enough" for grieving? I've spoken to so many people who have lost babies in their wombs at 5 weeks and 4 months and 9 months and for those who haven't lost a baby, they have a story to share about their friend, their mother, their grandmother, their aunt. Often I am told it was last year, it was 5 years ago, it was 25 years ago and I still grieve the baby that I lost. That is honest. It is so hard to be honest and we are also so different in our ways and in our grieving (or our non-grieving-grieving).

I am grateful to have the confidence and the language to speak up for myself, to explain myself, to attempt to make myself understood even if I can't be heard by others. And I appreciate those, like you, who are so open to what is happening to me, what happens to millions of women (yes U------- - I know!) because even though it happens and has happened to so many all throughout time and will continue to happen because there is no such thing as just pregnancy or just miscarriage, it is the wide spectrum of pregnancy which includes miscarriage and still birth, it does not take away the sting and confusion and madness of loss and it does not mean my feelings and what I am experiencing is invalid.

Because all feelings are valid.

love, dawn