Somewhere in your town this week, women of all ethnicities, sizes, ages and circumstance walked nervously into a waiting room. Some of them have been there before. Many times before. The receptionist knows their names. For others, this is their first visit. All of them share a single desire: to conceive and carry a child to term. To be a mom. These women are in your life, but you probably don’t know their struggle.
I am a survivor. The unthinkable happened to me. More than once. Statistics say that chances are you survived, too. I see you in the sea of We. I see me there, too.
Here are the things I know about we: Our eyes won’t open until we’re safe enough to see.
Also this: It was not your fault, nor was it mine. No one gets to tell you what did or did not happen to you. Or what happened to me. We are the gatekeepers of our own stories. You did not deserve it, nor did I. Whether or not we told anyone at the time or in the years since has no bearings on the validity or credibility of our experiences. Whether we told or not also has no power to diminish the trauma and unspeakable pain we endured, and continue to endure, even as we seek to heal. Your life matters and you are worth fighting for.
I woke up from those years changed. Trauma changes you, no doubt. I went to a new therapist who specializes in trauma. The plan was to see her for about six months while we processed all the residual terror from the previous two years. Slowly but surely, the storms calmed and then one day the sky was clear. Terrible things weren't happening on the regular. I could take deep breaths again. My "your kid is going to die" triggers got less sensitive and less frequent. We somehow miraculously paid off the medical bills.
The new therapist was interesting. I wasn't sure about her at first, though she came highly recommended. Because so much of the things we went through in those crazy years was centered around our family, we ended up talking about motherhood a lot.
I feel like I need to be very clear here: Beatrice and Hollis and their miraculous entries into my life were the biggest dreams come true I've ever known. I am so grateful to be their mom, and to watch them become. The kids bring me a kind of joy that defies ample language to describe it (and continues to!). Women who have a typical path to pregnancy and childbirth sometimes don't really get this aspect, but the sheer fact that my children EXIST, that they are alive and mine still leaves me breathless after six years. When you are given a gift for which you had, after years of heartbreak, surrendered all hope of ever receiving, your perspective can't help but be transformed. I truly revel in their here-ness, their very presence still feels surreal. I love my kids with a fierce fire.
And maybe that's why I was so caught off guard when my transition into motherhood found me spinning. Parenting is not for the faint of heart. And I've learned it's okay for it to be both beautiful and brutal. I can be overjoyed and overwhelmed by it at the same time, and often am. No one tells you how hard parenting is. If they did, the earth might not be populated. Seriously.
You know how in the middle movie of a trilogy things really, really suck for the good guys? Think about "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" or "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back". In the middle chapters of those epics the story feels like an endless dark battle, and you're not sure what will become of them. That's how the years 2014 to 2016 felt for us.
When Beatrice turned one, we began to try for a second baby. We both felt strongly about wanting another, and a sibling for Beatrice. My fertility doctor suggested we try the old fashioned way for three months. In some cases, conceiving and carrying a child to term can act like a reproductive reset button for previously infertile women. Due to my age, however, she cautioned us to come back in for a consultation if we weren't pregnant after those few months. Come to find out, my body didn't come with a reset button like that. Upon discussion, the doctor recommended we try the same protocol through which I had conceived Beatrice: injections and IUI (Intrauterine insemination). In my heart, I felt sure it would work again. Four failed treatments later, with every unsuccessful cycle my devastation grew and my hope diminished. I could write whole chapters about this, and one day I might, but suffice it to say, infertility is excruciatingly heartbreaking to endure. The price a woman pays is unjustly high, emotionally, mentally, and physically.
I have a confession. Self-care is hard for me in everyday life. Is it hard for you, too?
When I was touring and performing pre-kids, I found self-care on the road to be a serious challenge, one which mostly escaped me.
Self-care as the mom of tiny humans is not really a thing. Although the idea sure sounds nice, sells a lot of books and unused yoga memberships, and produces heavy traffic for HuffPost articles written by people who obviously have never had children.
Self-care while on the road with a tiny human is a UNICORN. The only exception to this: Beyonce. And let's take a minute to accept the things we cannot change as in none of us will ever get to be Beyonce.
Truth be told, Beatrice wasn't the only miserable one on that first and only tour. I was wholly and utterly exhausted. Like all new moms. At least the honest ones. When I realized we weren't going to be able to make a go of it as a traveling family band, it was a perplexing cocktail of relief chased with fear of what that meant for me as an artist and an individual. I felt guilty over being glad to be home. In hindsight, I see how I was learning about my limitations. And let's be clear: I don't love my limitations but I'm at least enough of a grown up to acknowledge that my limitations and my expectations have got to learn how to co-exist and play nice with each other. And maybe if I have managed to be that level of grown up, one day I could advance to the age where self-care was actually possible. As Anne Lamott writes, "Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including YOU."
I didn't have a plan. My therapist tried to convince me I didn't need one, that there are always parts of the tapestry we can't see before we take a step. This is the same therapist who encouraged me to take the "or's" out of my sentences and replace them with "and's" i.e... I can be a mother OR musician vs. mother AND musician. I became better friends with the unknown. I watched on social media as other musician friends became mamas. Surely if they could make it work, so could I? It turns out social media is excellent at showing us other people's highlight reels and hiding their brutal realities. (And never forget dear ones, comparison is the thief of joy.)
Before I had my kids, there was a revelation that had never fully dawned on me: Every. Child. Is. Different. I mean, I'm no idiot, but the extent to which not knowing what kind of kid you're going to have can interfere with expectations and the making of plans really can't be understated. It wasn't until I met my children and loved them in their glorious differences that I truly understood: Making big plans for what your life will be like after you have a baby is a ridiculous concept. Because you don't even know the kid yet. And news flash: That kid and their temperament might not agree with your big plans.
At age 10, I knew I wanted to be a singer and songwriter when I grew up. That dream took its share of beatings along the way and heaps of courage in a thousand moments, both big and small; it took focus and sacrifice; and it took on a number of forms before I moved to Nashville at 20 and started getting serious about writing songs. There was one other dream I had as a little girl: To be a mother. This dream eluded me for so long, and took everything I had to give to make it happen.
Finding success as a female recording artist comes with ready made obstacles. There's the sex appeal prerequisite, of course. And for goodness sake, make sure you don't age. I have spent more hours of my life stressing over what to wear on stage or in a photo shoot then I'd like to admit. Add to this the uphill battle realities of women artists being offered far less slots by venues, festivals, and radio play. For the most part over the course of my career, I have taken these obstacles in stride, and allowed them to make me stronger and more sure of my dreams and goals. But nothing, no single thing has challenged my musical dream more than becoming a mother.
Songwriting has always been a very personal and sacred process for me. Maybe not every writer feels this way, as I know there are those who write from formula and churn out songs methodically. To me, writing songs is equal parts craft and mystery. I often feel lost in the space between songs. Without fail my mind will try and convince me I have penned my last piece and the muse has gone on without me. Could be just another manifestation of my abandonment issues. Who knows.