The Forgiveness Chronicles - Part VII: Wise Women
Updated: Dec 31, 2020
The Forgiveness Chronicles, Continued
Part VII: Wise Women
She sounded faraway but felt close. I could see her clearly in my mind, sitting in bed in her cotton pajamas, her black hair cut short and curly. I had always felt adored when I was around her, something my parents seemed to disapprove of. I couldn’t be sure why, but I suspected it was because she paid almost no attention to my little sister.
“The Lotus,” I said over the phone. “What does that one mean?”
I heard a soft sigh over the line. “Well, Doty, that was always one of my favorites, just like The Star in a traditional deck,” she began slowly. Gramma JoJo’s nicknames always had a flare of sophistication. I didn’t know what a “Doty” was, and I didn’t care. Because the Lotus was one of her favorites, it instantly became one of my favorites, too.
“It means finding serenity amid trouble,” Gramma JoJo explained. “It means that no matter what your current situation is, you’ll find your way out and into calm waters. It means ‘don’t worry.’ Like the Star, it is a beacon of light in the darkness, and if you follow the light of the star, you will always find your way out of the dark night of the soul.”
“So every time it comes up, it means that?” I asked, making notes in my journal.
“Always,” she confirmed, humor tinging her voice. “No matter what level you are reading the card on.”
“What’s the ‘dark night of the soul’?” I asked, my brow furrowed.
“Ah…not something a thirteen-year-old needs to be concerned with, fortunately,” she chuckled. “We can talk about that later.”
“I miss you Gramma,” I said, tears stinging my eyes with longing.
She sighed. “Oh, how much I miss you, too, my precious angel.”
The first weekend in May had arrived, and I returned to the lake with my husband. We had been invited to a hog roast. Foil pans with an incredible amount of slow roasted shredded pork, an assortment of ribs, sausages, and sausages wrapped in bacon - because, you know, there is no such thing as too much pork - were displayed on large tables pushed end-to-end. When I was a kid, a hog roast meant someone went and got a whole pig, dug a pit, filled the pit with coals, buried the pig in the pit, and everyone played horseshoes and drank beer until the pig was done, which took all day. A bunch of folding tables with plastic table cloths displayed an array of side dishes that were a staple of most blue collar Midwestern gatherings: deviled eggs, pink pretzel salad, marshmallows and fruit cocktail suspended in lime Jell-O, pasta salad made with Ramen noodles, cheesy potato casserole, broccoli bits with cheddar and rice, and of course, plenty of pickles. There was always a chocolate sheet cake, a handful of fruit pies, a big tub of the cheap yellow-tinged vanilla ice cream, and a few plastic containers full of cookies. The centerpiece was always the hog: a big, whole animal, crispy blackened skin on the outside with the rich, salty meat chunks on the inside. The hog would be engulfed in steam as the meat slid from the rib bones. Aside from the fact that the big hog had been swapped for a variety of pork, the spread resembled the hog roast of my childhood.
Despite it being Cinco de Mayo, there was nothing necessarily Hispanic about this hog roast, except for maybe the chips and salsa and bottled margaritas on the buffet table. The signature staccato nasal twang of country music wafted out to the buffet from the speakers in the large metal garage, which held a variety of ATVs, the random boat motor, tools, and assorted junk. Golf carts and four wheelers littered the yard, their owners leaning against them with a plate of food in one hand, a beer in the other. While I enjoyed the food, I tended only to pick. We had been invited out on a nighttime ride through the woods, and I was looking forward to it because I had never been on a night ride before.
I went to the car to get some water and smoke a cigarette. I sat with the door open, looking out through the trees. I allowed myself to settle into a meditation.
I am opening my root shakra and allowing the energy to flow. I am healed. I am opening myself to infinite possibilities.
Though the day had been warm, as the sun went down, the Ozark air began to cool. I sat on my husband’s lap in the passenger seat of our friend’s RZR as he blasted Deep Purple and raced into the woods on a narrow trail. Recent rains left the trails muddy. Fat blobs of sludge flew up from the tires and splattered my legs like a Jackson Pollock painting. Brush and tree branches whipped past, causing us all to duck inward to avoid getting smacked. There was a pervasive scent of moist earth and fishy lake water hanging in the air. After about fifteen minutes of bouncing through the woods on rough trail, we came to a clearing atop a bluff overlooking the lake. A couple four wheelers were scattered about, coolers open, and people wandered about with cans of beer in their hands between intense beams of light that left the shadows an inky chromatic black. As I got out of the RZR, I looked up into the sky and noticed the huge orb of moon that hung full overhead. The pale silver glow cast an eerie light over the vegetation.
I was calmer than I could remember being in a long time. I felt at one with the Earth, and slid off my flip flops, feeling the bare ground, damp and cool under the soles of my feet. The moon appeared huge, its silver light dangling like gossamer threads just beyond my reach.
I wish I could just grasp it, I thought.
I closed my eyes. I drew the threads towards me. I reached and the tendrils wrapped themselves around my fingers, weaving their way into my flesh, infusing me with their cool light. I watched the light run its way up my arms, running through the web of veins to the other areas of my body….throat, heart, gut, and the root shakra before dancing down my legs and into the ground, like roots. I could feel my body buzzing. When I opened my eyes, I could see that I was completely alone, surrounded by trees. I had wandered off into the woods, as though summoned. I took off my shirt and bared my breasts to the sky, letting the moonbeams wash into my spirit. I felt wild in that moment.
Great Earth Mother, Great Spirit, Bountiful Moon, I thought, please heal me. Please open my blockages and allow your light into the spaces that have been pillaged by the ravages of damaged men…mend the wounds. Release the trauma, so that I may consecrate this space and my body may be a vessel to receive love, instead of rage.
It was the Hare Moon in Scorpio – a particularly fertile moon in my sun-sign – and I instantly felt a connection in that celestial moment. As if under the influence of a trance, I continued to wander off into the woods further away from the group. I let the noise of their music and voices fade as I meandered deeper into the mystery. I looked up towards the moon, with the lake at my back and the oaks enveloping me, as I instinctively turned my palms up to the sky. I stood there for a moment, my eyes closed, soaking up the moonlight like I would soak up the warmth from the sun. I felt a tingling in my feet, as the energy rose from the core of the planet to connect to my field.
“Beautiful Moon Goddess,” I started softly, barely a whisper. I struggled with what to say next; I was self-conscious even though I was alone. Since my weekend in the woods the month before, I had returned to my life in the “real world,” and the discontent had slowly crept back into my consciousness. I was at the end of my rope, feeling like a wild animal who had been cornered and shoved into a cage. “I have a confession. I don’t know what my purpose is, and I’m tired of assuming I know. Every time I think I have it figured out, and I start down a path and become invested, I discover I am not happy or fulfilled. I keep making the wrong decisions, and I keep getting in my own way. I don’t know what my destiny is. I feel broken, tainted, and lost. Please help me find my way back to Purpose.”
I paused and let go of thought, allowing energy to course through my body. I observed it's shifting ebb and flow, as it wound its way around limbs, digits, and organs. I felt myself immerse deeper into the present moment, allowing spirit to guide me. I breathed in healing until my belly was full, and exhaled the wounds, scar tissue, and toxicity that had built up like a tarnish within me. Silvery wisps of light filtered through my cells, and then I saw my shakras begin to bloom open. I stared up at the moon and watched as her beams entered through the top of my head, and began traveling down my shakra system. My third eye looked like a pine cone that was beginning to open like a flower. Down the electrical highway it went from my throat, to my heart, to my stomach, and then my gut. Finally, the light arrived at my tailbone. I felt the glow and a tickle of warmth. I watched the energy dance and play, filling the dark void with its joy. I imagined a light so bright that no darkness could exist. I was reminded that full moons brought the completion of one cycle so that a new beginning could dawn.
“I am not afraid,” I added. The sound of my own voice shocked me. It had come from my belly as a deep, rich tone.
I paused again. Could it be that simple?
I decided to keep it simple and not ask for too much.
“And so it is!” I whispered forcefully.
I saw the silver light move from my root back up through my shakras and out of my crown, where it concentrated into a multidimensional star. I watched as it gently floated up to the big moon, where the star and moon would become one. The moon would swallow that star and know what to do with my wish, even if I didn’t. It had worked last time.
The Star...last time.
I had forgotten something. After sending the wish off, gratitude had to be given. Gratitude was like the fertilizer for the wish.
“I am so grateful for your healing and guidance,” I whispered up to my Moon-merged wish. “Thank you. Thank you, too, Great Earth Mother,” I said looking down at my toes, obscured but wiggling in the shadows below me.
On that May night, two weeks after my visit to Paula, looking up at the moon, I knew what potential existed. The last time I had told the Cosmos what I wanted but had admitted to being unsure about the details, I had simply promised to trust what was brought to me; to follow the Light. I had been rewarded with finding my soul mate. Perhaps it would wind up working out just as perfectly a second time.
In perfect love and perfect trust, I thought, blowing a kiss to the Moon, and putting my top back on.
I emerged from the woods at Chet’s side, a secretive smile on my lips.
“Where did you go?” he asked.
“I had to take a moment and appreciate the moon,” I answered.
“It is pretty amazing tonight,” he admitted.
I smiled coyly. Everyone was gathered in a circle, laughing and swapping anecdotes.
“The officer asked me how many beers I’d drunk and I says, ‘Officer, I don’t count my beers,’”
a tall man said in his country twang.
A chorus of guffaws followed.
Before long, we were back in the RZR, bouncing through the woods, mud flying everywhere, the cool air beckoning us to sit around a warm fire. The flames seemed to flare and flicker in time to the Pink Floyd blaring from an old set of speakers. None of the skeletons in my graveyard had popped out of their caskets to haunt me that night. Drunkenly, everyone sang along, toasting dirty Kettle One martinis in plastic martini glasses from the lawn chairs circling the fire. A perfect night came to a close when my husband and I retreated to our rickety old camper before falling into a subterranean sleep in each other’s arms. Silver moonlight filtered in through the old windows clouded over with years of moss. As my eyelids drooped with exhaustion, deep inside me, there was a hint of something, a whisper. I shrugged it off, too tired to explore.
Four weeks later, after celebrating the long Memorial Day weekend, where I had gluttonously drank three bottles of Jeremiah Weed vodka, smoked two packs of cigarettes, and never said no to a single Jell-O shot that had been passed to me, I tossed and turned in bed, completely unable to recover. Memorial weekend had come and gone six days ago, but I was unable to function. I looked like a lobster, which was odd, because I rarely sunburned and when I did, it had never lasted so long. My legs and butt were still studded with angry clusters of chigger bites. I felt sluggish and sick to my stomach. I just could not pull myself out of bed. It was as if all the life was being sucked out of my body and I was a big inanimate blob incapable of even making myself breakfast.
Why can’t I recover? Am I sick? Was it Lyme’s disease??? I’m a champ! What on earth is happening to me? My mind raced with every possible doomsday scenario that could unfold, panic setting in.
“Ugggghhhh,” I moaned that Sunday morning. “Why can’t I shake this? I don’t even want to get up!”
Chet tossed off the covers and swung his legs out of bed. He stood up and pulled on some shorts, looking over at me with his blue eyes and a crooked smile.
“You’re pregnant,” he said matter-of-factly.
I bolted upright. “Nooooo,” I protested. “That’s not supposed to happen.”
Without a word, I suddenly jumped out of bed and immediately locked myself in the bathroom, pawing frantically through the bottom drawer for a pregnancy test. Cotton balls, old nail polish bottles, curling iron, hairdryer, old cans of travel sized hairspray…all this shit needs to go! I’ve got to baby-proof everything! Oh my god the poisonous dangerous things in this house!!! I was freaking out as I rummaged. I had bought a few boxes of the cheap pregnancy tests from the dollar section at the grocery store nine months ago when I had interviewed a midwife just in case I ever got pregnant and needed one. I had always known, but to know intuitively and to know intellectually were not the same. There were three boxes of pregnancy test kits. I ripped open all three, peed in a cup, and dipped each stick into the cup, setting them flat on the counter and staring at them with my underwear at my ankles. I couldn’t move or rip my eyes away from the sticks, as moisture crept across the little windows and slowly something began to emerge.
Is that the blue line, or is it just the window? No definitely a blue line…one, that next one…the third. Oh f*%k! Three blue lines! Within seconds, all three indicated I was pregnant. The big, bold, blue lines left no question.
I flung open the bathroom door. “Pregnant,” I said in disbelief as I showed Chet the sticks.
He was backing away from the pee-coated indicators. “I got these for a dollar apiece, though. I don’t trust them. Will you go buy me the real deal?”
He just shook his head and chuckled. “You’re pregnant.”
“I want to be sure-sure,” I said, my hands shaking. I sat the tests on the counter. “There may be a reason these things were a dollar.”
But I already knew. My intellect just wasn't ready. The ego was resisting.
“All three of them?” he started and then stopped himself when he looked at me and saw the terror that must have been painted all over my face. “Okay. I’ll be back.”
As he turned to leave, I shouted after him.
“The really, really good ones. Like the ones that detect early pregnancy!”
He waved his hand at me as he walked away. I heard the door shut, then his feet on the stairs, then the car door shut, then the engine, and he was gone. Silence descended upon me like a shroud. I sat on the toilet and stared at the pee sticks.
This isn’t happening. Wait! No. Stop, Aubs, just stop. Is this the thing? The moon thing? Is this what the Universe is bringing me? My purpose? Oh shit, how is this going to work?
Thoughts swirled at random, zipping around, zinging every crevice of my brain. I swallowed back the dread of having to unpack this logistical nightmare.
You don’t have to figure this out right now. Everything will be fine. Wait! Maternity leave! How much time to take? How much money to save? How am I going to work when I feel so shitty?
Stop. Just stop. Don’t be a crazy person. You have months to figure this out. Just relax.
Oh my god, the schools here suck!
The incessant mind chatter and internal bickering was relentless. I went back to bury my head under the pillows and blankets of my bed.
Twenty minutes later (and it was maybe the longest twenty minutes of my life), Chet showed up with an eighteen-dollar test. I nodded in approval, forced a smile, and snatched the box from him. I ripped open the box and slammed the bathroom door with my foot. No sooner had I peed on the stick than the test immediately registered a little plus sign. Pregnant. Quick and decisive. There was no way to look at it and question. It was so far from ambiguous that I had to admit I was pregnant.
I shoved my thoughts aside for the fiftieth time that morning.
“Pregnant,” I yelled.
“Yep,” he said calmly from the other side of the door.
I sighed. I was baffled by how clam he was. I opened the door and held up the stick.
“What are we going to do?” I asked. I needed answers. I needed answers quick.
“We’ll figure it out,” he said, walking to the kitchen and sitting at the table with a glass of water.
That wasn’t the certainty I was looking for.
“My parents are going to be here in two hours for lunch,” I blurted.
“So cancel,” he said.
“I can’t cancel! I need my mom!”
“You’re not going to wait to tell them?”
“I have to tell them. Mom will know anyway. I can’t drink anymore.”
As soon as I said it, a terrible epiphany dawned on me. “Oh shit…last weekend…the Jeremiah Weed. I pickled our fetus with Jeremiah Weed!”
At this point, Chet just laughed. “I’m sure the baby is fine.”
“It’s technically I zygote, I think…I’ve got to text that midwife and make an appointment like right now!”
Chet got up and hugged me. “It’s Sunday. Everything is going to be fine. Just relax.”
“I don’t know how to relax right now,” I complained.
This is the moon wish. This is my purpose happening. Holy shit that was quick! But it was quick last time. Ahhhhhgggg. Now what?
“You’re right. I need to relax.”
I allowed myself to be held in his hug. I tried in earnest to relax into him, to surrender to his warmth. But…
Relaxation was impossible. I was excited and scared and confused at the same time. I wondered how I would manage to maintain my law practice with a baby. I wondered how I would save up for maternity leave and how long I should take. I wondered how much a midwife would cost me. I pushed him away.
“I need to make food,” I blurted.
“How about I run and get tacos?” he suggested.
Can I eat tacos? You pickled a damn fetus…no, zygote…for f*%ksakes! Of course you can eat tacos…but what if I can’t eat tacos? Eat the fucking tacos already!
He was staring at me. I smiled sheepishly. Thank goddess he cannot hear my thoughts right now.
“Sure. Good idea,” I agreed.
Yet again, I was left alone with my thoughts. I considered a shower, I stood in front of the closet and stared at my clothes, and ultimately, I did nothing. He returned before I could even figure out how to make myself some tea because I was worried about drinking anything but water. I stared out the large front window and saw the white car roll into the driveway.
I rushed out onto the sidewalk, a bumbling mess.
“What’s going on?” Mom eyeballed me. No makeup. My hair was a mess. I was still in my pajamas.
“I’m pregnant,” I blurted.
My Dad just stared at me. “What?”
“I’m pregnant,” I repeated.
“Oh, sweetie!” Mom hugged me tightly.
“Really? I’m gonna be a Papa?!?” my Dad gushed, pulling both Mom and I in for a hug.
“How far along are you?” Mom pushed me back and gave me an appraising look. “Not far.”
“We just found out this morning,” Chet answered dryly from behind me.
Everyone turned to look at him, and then turned back to me. “This morning?” Dad repeated.
“Yep…a couple hours ago,” I announced, trotting into the house and down the hall to retrieve the sticks. I quickly emerged to display the proof. Chet shook his head.
No one wants to see the pee sticks, I thought to myself. You’re being a crazy person.
“Wow! So soon,” Mom said, eyeing them from a distance.
Chet grabbed the sticks out of my hand and threw them in the trash. He washed his hands at the sink and nudged me to join him. “She’s nervous.”
Remembering my manners, I gestured at the table. “Tacos?”
My mom smiled and nodded.
“Aw, this is great news. Don’t be nervous. You two are gonna be great parents,” my Dad said reassuringly, making himself a plate of tacos. “It’s gonna be fine.”
“So we’re the first to know!” Mom chuckled with satisfaction. “Are you going to tell anyone else?”
Chet and I looked at each other uncertainly. I shrugged. “Haven’t really thought about it yet. I just didn’t feel well, took the tests, and am a little shocked,” I admitted. “You would’ve figured it out when you noticed I wasn’t having a Bloody Mary.”
Mom nodded vigorously. “That’s probably true,” she said through a bite of carnitas. "Are there Bloody Mary's?"
My Dad could barely contain his excitement. “You and your sister are pregnant at the same time! We’re going to have two grandkids this year!”
Mom smiled pleasantly. “You know, Aubs, you really need to take it easy. You’re not young. I miscarried at your age. I started menopause early.”
My Dad scowled and rolled his eyes at my mom before looking at me reassuringly. “You’ll be fine!”
My brow furrowed. I wasn’t sure how I would be able to take it easy and save up for maternity leave.
“Back off the stress,” Mom warned, as though she could see it in my face.
Her words haunted me. I had always felt guilty when I relaxed, unable to shrug off the sense that I “should” be doing something productive. That summer was one of the hottest ones I could remember. It seemed like the string of days where the heat exceeded 100 degrees was never ending. The first trimester found me tired every day, possessing little will to work, with a strong aversion to anything lemon. I craved watermelons and Starburst candies like an insatiable beast, and this weird hankering caused me to feel a deep shame at wanting nothing to eat but crappy candy I knew was bad for my - and my baby’s - health. Not exactly the ideal diet for a pregnant woman. Guilt set in, but was quickly overridden by the need for weird, sweet, fruity snacks.
I had called my mom, who reassured me that lazy afternoons on the couch were productive after all. “You are growing a baby,” she reminded me.
It didn’t seem like the air conditioning unit could keep up with the heat. Even though I wasn’t really showing at that point, I was uncomfortable. The odd stretching pains in my sides, my midwife reassured me, were round ligament pain and were normal. I wore loose pajama pants that hung on my hips and soft sports bras with no shirt as I slathered copious amounts of Vitamin E oil all over my belly. My midsection was getting thick, even if I didn’t have a pregnancy bump. My hair began growing. My breasts ached and were so sensitive I could barely roll over on my side or bump them without howling in pain. I counted down the days until I was into my second trimester.
My midwife had me drink an herbal tea several times a day that tasted like grass: raspberry leaf, alfalfa, nettles, and oat straw. Apparently, it had a lot of minerals in it. I choked it down while I longed for a strong iced tea. It was a poor substitute.
Before I had learned of my pregnancy, I enrolled in an herbalism class for ten weeks that summer. I drove nearly an hour outside of the city twice a week for my classes. There was an older Wise Woman who lived in an aging farmhouse on a substantial plot of acreage that she would wildcraft and forage from. She looked every bit of what you would expect: graying, wiry hair that was messily pulled up; faded tattoos; long patchwork skirts and tie-dyed shirts; plenty of dogs and cats, all rescued; piercing, inquisitive eyes that you could feel penetrating your soul; and a broad smile.
“I used to work for Ma Bell,” she started, as we headed out into the field with our baskets. “The corporate life is something I did for a long time, but it wasn’t really me.”
Something inside me stirred. I could imagine myself saying the same thing someday. It gave me hope.
She stopped in front of a large bush. There were three of them, lined up, branches wildly twisting in all directions. It was midmorning in July and the sun was beating down. I was two months pregnant by then. I felt a bead of sweat roll down my back. She stopped and looked at me in my sun dress and flip flops.
I knew what she was thinking…I had not dressed appropriately for the tasks at hand. I smiled apologetically. “Its comfy,” I said.
She smiled back. “Yes, pregnancy can be one of those things where it is hard to find comfort.”
"How'd - " I began.
She smiled. "You have the glow."
She looked at the bushes and chose a spot to begin, waving me over. “This is a gooseberry bush,” she began. “Here’s what the ripened berries look like,” she lifted one, popped it off the branch, and put it in my hand to examine.
The small berry was enclosed in a papery husk that had burst open to reveal a plump, juicy orb. “Can I taste?”
She smiled broadly with childlike anticipation. “Of course!”
I plunked the berry in my mouth. It was tart as it burst like a grape. "Yum! What do you do with these?" I asked.
"Jelly, pie, you know...stuff you do with any berry." She turned her attention back to the bush. “You want to go around the bush, clockwise, and pluck the berries. As you do this, give thanks. When you return to the point you started at, I think you will find there are still more berries to pick.” She gave me a mysterious smile and turned her attention to pushing the leaves away, searching for berries.
I wanted to believe she was right, but I was skeptical and said nothing. I went to the next bush to begin picking. As we went around our bushes picking berries, she told me how the opportunity to run the property had materialized, as though out of thin air, clearing the way for her to retire early from the phone company and manage the large estate, starting her herbalism school. She had been trained by Susun Weed, one of the top herbalists in the country. Susun was a hippie who had rejuvenated many of the old Wise Woman pagan philosophies. To refer to someone as a “Wise Woman” was another way of referring to a Witch. Susun had taught her that essential oils were like concentrated drugs and too much could result in toxicity in the liver. Herbalism was a gentle practice that required subtlety and she had gone on to develop her herbalism practice to be more energetic than physical. She would look at the auras of the plants and try to discern their energetic healing properties.
All the while, I silently kept saying to the bush, I’m grateful for the abundance…I am grateful for the abundance…I am grateful for the abundance…
By the time I had returned to the starting point on my clockwise tour of the gooseberry bush, the basket nearly full, I discovered that my teacher was right: more berries appeared to have cropped up while I was working my way around. By now, soaked in sweat and my cotton dress clinging to my skin, hair plastered to my face, thirstier than a dog, I kept picking, marveling at how many berries I had missed…or had magically emerged during our chat.
“Lesson One: Everything responds to gratitude,” my Wise Woman said, noticing I was on my second circuit of the bush. “Everything is energy. We create through energy. We destroy with energy. This bush can keep producing just through the energy you give it. We have all we need and more. Always. We only need to think it, believe it, and it will manifest.”
I told her about my experience in becoming pregnant. She absorbed it as naturally as a sponge would take on water. “It is the way of the Universe,” she said casually. “You opened yourself up to a possibility and stopped trying to control. Fear creates mountains. When you surrendered to infinite wisdom, mountains moved.”
My basket was now full, and I was back at my starting spot. I pushed the leaves aside, and there were still more berries. I looked over at her and she just smiled.
“Three times around the bush,” she answered, as if reading my mind, wondering how many times I would have to circle. “Three seems to be the magic number.”
I shook my head in wonder. I knew almost no one would believe me if I told them that I had spent a morning in the blistering sun circling a bush three times, plucking all the berries, only to find more berries each time I made another pass. It almost seemed that there were more berries this time than there had been the previous two times. I wondered if I was just that inattentive, if the heat was just that intense, or if the bush was really responding to our energy and the thanksgiving we were showering on it as we plucked. I would never likely know for sure.
“You can choose to believe whatever you want,” she said cavalierly. “No one has to believe you, either,” she added. “But isn’t life so much more pleasant when you believe in magic?”
I looked up. She had done it again, reading my thoughts and answering them casually, as though I had participated in this conversation and raised the subject out loud. She returned my gaze with a smile. I had to agree she was right.
My summer was spent harvesting wild oats, identifying prairie flowers, and learning how tinctures were made, often sampling different concoctions, decoctions, infusions, and teas. She made sure I knew to drink oat straw for B vitamins and marshmallow for round ligament pain.
"When you learn about the Earth, you learn about yourself. When you love the Earth, you love yourself," she taught me. It was true. During pregnancy, more than any other time I could remember, I felt connected. Deeply connected. I felt like the planet was my loving mother, and I bonded with myself and the baby growing within me.
When I wasn’t learning about herbs, I was working short hours drafting motions and lying on the couch, binge watching embarrassingly crap-tastic television. By now, I had been practicing law four years, three of them on my own. I was no longer on the brink of defaulting on loans, making a modest living for myself. I belonged to a mentorship group of female attorneys. The mentorship group was for five years, and like my solo practice, I was three years in. By that point, I had worked for myself longer than I had ever worked for anyone else. My first mentor had been a powerhouse of a woman, strong, elegant, impeccable in every way. She had demanded I find confidence in myself; I probably would not have found the strength to go solo without her. Despite all her excellent coaching, I think she was still frustrated that I wasn't completely amenable to being molded. I refused to wear suits unless absolutely essential and luncheons were not absolutely essential suit-wearing events in my book. All I wore were jeans. She told me she didn't own a single pair, but I loved her anyway.
My practice wasn’t what most people would instantly conjure up in their minds when they would imagine a solo law practice. It wasn’t all that successful yet; by the time I got pregnant, I was practicing in three or four different areas of law, normally billing about 30 hours a week, not billing for another 30, and making just enough to cover my monthly bills, which included a very large student loan payment. I didn’t have benefits. I didn’t have enough clients or work yet to bill full time. I still drove the Toyota Corolla, which was now fifteen years old. The ceiling fabric was loose and dangling; if the windows were open, the scraps would flap about my head. It had nearly 200,000 miles on it by then. I bought my court attire from the clearance section at Target, but now I had doubled my suit collection, something I wasn't necessarily happy about, but that seemed essential. And yet, here I was at each monthly meeting, surrounded by highly accomplished, very ambitious, insanely successful women attorneys who had shattered the glass ceiling and made serious names for themselves. I felt like a skunk at a picnic in my blue jeans, T-shirts, and flip flops. Maybe my parents had let me watch one too many Columbo episodes as a kid; I never really cared about all the fashion and glamour. Back then, I had no clue who the hell Kate Spade was. Every purse I owned my mother had bought for me. She had more sophistication than I ever did.
I wondered how these women had all managed to have babies, stay happily married, and run their practices making the kind of money I imagined they did, all while actively involved in numerous boards and charitable organizations. All I had ever wanted was to be a painter, a writer, and an explorer of nature. I had wound up a lawyer instead, marooned in a world of harsh politics and stringent standards on how to dress and behave, and it had come to feel like I was forcing my feet into two left shoes that were three sizes too small. I had struck out on my own, taking whatever cases came my way, often working as an independent contractor for other law firms. Like most other women, I severely undervalued myself.
I went to the meetings and wondered if anyone else was floundering as I was. None of these women appeared scared or anxious or uncertain about their lives or their work. I wondered, as I noticed their designer handbags, their new BMW hybrid crossover SUVs, their perfectly dyed and trimmed hair, their immaculate toes and fingers with the shiny-never-chipped polish, their perfectly accessorized and tailored outfits, whether doubts plagued them at night, too. I would cross my arms and hide the fact that my nails were ragged and chewed to the nub from constant anxiety. I made no pretense about trying to dress up for the meetings; I wasn’t convinced I was one of them. It almost seemed like everyone took my failure to conform as a sign of eccentric rebellion against some behemoth Legal Establishment, as though I was breaking through the boundaries of societal norms just to make a statement. I suppose I was, indirectly, doing that. But really, I was just Bohemian. I was hesitant to join the club. I might have fooled everyone into thinking I was brilliant at writing motions and briefs or researching complex legal issues and efficiently meeting deadlines, but I was no intentional crusader; I was a reluctant lawyer. If my work was any good, it was a product of obsession and paranoia.
The ethical rules, the potential for bar complaints, fee disputes, malpractice claims, threats to go to trial from opposing counsel, potential humiliation at what I didn’t know (which was a lot) or what I missed (which I hoped wasn’t a lot)…all these alligators loomed large every day at work, waiting to suddenly fly out of the water, onto my shore, and gobble me whole. Did these women worry so persistently, too?
“Back off the stress,” Mom’s voice reminded in the back of my head.
I was too embarrassed to ask these women deep questions about the philosophies behind what it meant to be “A Mother” and how this process triggered creative forces and energies that stirred the core of a woman’s being. How do you balance such deep mysteries of life with the practice of law? This seemed like crazy talk among highly analytical women who were successful litigators. One of my mentors had a scheduled C-Section and was back at her desk within a week. A week. I shivered at my own sense of inadequacy. Most gave me the side eye when they ultimately found out I had planned to have a home birth.
I was more comfortable with quirky witchy women in Birkenstocks whose houses were unkempt and whose skin bore the scars of life. Wise Women. The contrast between the two types of mentorship I got that summer told me all I needed to know about my life: I had one foot in who I was and another in a world of what was expected of me. It was difficult, if not exhausting, to continue to straddle that line.
While my Wise Woman taught me about webs of energy and how to weave creative intention, my legal mentor that summer angrily railed about healthcare as a right, the virtues of vegetarianism, and why she and her husband chose to remain child-free…which I learned was the new P.C. way of referring to someone who deliberately chooses not to have children and that the choice does not make them any less than most of the others in society who do. It wasn’t childless. It was child-free…as in, free from the burdens and inconveniences of having children.
It was a hard thing to swallow, let alone digest, at that point in my life. I had assumed I would never have children. I certainly hadn’t planned on it, even if I had thought about the possibility. I had researched my options…just in case. But to sit at those lunches and listen to this highly skilled, professional woman lecture me on the virtues of not having children, not eating meat, and having government run healthcare at a time in my life when I found myself unexpectedly pregnant with a vegetarian midwife encouraging me to eat meat for the proper growth of my baby and doing all this outside the accepted boundaries of the prenatal healthcare system added to the internal divide between my spirit and the life I was living. I went from the extreme highs of believing anything was possible when I left my herbalism classes to plummeting into deep depressions by the time I left lunch with my legal mentor. Unlike my Wise Woman, who knew the instant she saw me that I was newly pregnant, I couldn’t bring myself to share the big news with my legal mentor. Every time we met, I wondered, should I tell her?
I learned quickly that the best thing on the menu at any vegan restaurant was either a bagel, avocado, and tomato sandwich or dessert. If the place didn’t have a bagel, I ordered dessert for lunch: cashew milk ice cream sundaes with extra vegan caramel and nuts; berry tarts; chewy oversized vegan oatmeal raisin cookies.
“That’s so much sugar!” my mentor would protest.
“But its vegan sugar,” I would reply, as if that made any difference whatsoever. I was not ordering anything that pretended to be meat. I could barely handle lemons. I had a garden at home and balked at eating more than one salad a day.
“Why do you hate veganism so much?” she finally asked one afternoon.
“I don't hate it. Its just dogma. And its not a dogma I resonate with,” I responded, popping a pecan drenched in caramel sauce into my mouth.
“What do you mean, dogma?” she asked.
I looked at her thoughtfully. “My first mentor was a vegetarian. She would host office parties with the most beautiful charcuterie boards I had ever seen. She ordered lunch for everyone, whatever they wanted. She wasn’t a zealot about it. I asked her once why she was a vegetarian, and she only said that where she grew up, the meat sources were questionable and meat of any kind was scarce. She is accustomed to a vegetarian diet. And while she felt it a superior lifestyle choice for herself, she wasn’t about to tell someone else what was right for them,” I answered. “I have friends from all different religious and political backgrounds, too. The more you focus on what isn’t common between you and another person, the more you compare, the more divided you become, not just from the other person, but from yourself. I don’t presume to know what’s right for anyone but me, and sometimes, those closest to me; I’m doing good to just try and be true to myself,” I finished.
“Some things are just universally wrong,” she told me vaguely. Her salad was nearly gone. I continued to lick caramel from my fingers.
“Like what?” I said in between bites.
“Continuing to eat meat when there are nearly 7 billion people on this planet and the meat industry is one of the largest polluters,” she answered curtly.
It wouldn’t be fair to hold anything against her if she didn’t know. “I am pregnant,” I blurted.
She slowly put down her fork and looked up at me and smiled. I couldn't read the smile. “Oh, when are you due?” she asked.
“I am nearly to my second trimester,” I admitted. “I have a midwife. I am planning a carbon-free homebirth,” I said. I'm not sure I was able to keep the irony out of my voice. “My midwife is a vegetarian, actually, and is more of a Zen Buddhist than anyone I have ever met. Her husband is a chef. And her primary concern is for the health of my baby. Because of my blood type, I have unusually high iron requirements. She is always making sure I eat enough protein, meat.”
My mentor rolled her eyes slightly. “That’s different. You have a medical reason to eat meat. Do you know what you are having?”
I was never sure how to answer that question. I didn't know, but I knew. I knew I was having a girl, the same soul that had visited me in the vivid dream. She had even told me her name. "No, we're letting it be a surprise," I said.
There was a look of disappointment. "Oh. Not even a sonogram?"
"Nope." It always bothered everyone else more than it bothered me.
"How will you decorate?" she asked.
"Gender neutral. You know, forest creatures like deer and birds, colors like green and cream."
She only nodded.
“Build bridges, not fences,” the woman who had started the program had encouraged us. “The community of female attorneys is small in this town.” Her voice echoed in the back of my head. Focus on what you have in common. There was a gulf between us, but we spent the next two lunches before she announced she was moving to talk about her dogs, who were like the children she never had. Everyone likes dogs, I thought. I had two dogs myself.
We bonded over our pets, and all was healed.
By the time my mentor left, the entire group knew that I was pregnant. Even once they knew, I still couldn’t bring myself to ask for advice on how to balance it all. I would quietly smile and nod at their congratulations while secretly wondering if my career would survive while my cravings shifted from watermelon into an insatiable urge to devour any and every bacon burger I could lay my hands on. Luckily for my current mentor, she moved and did not have to witness this terrible abomination of diet. For fear of being judged, I remained quiet, contemplative, and reclusive. I spent hours learning to play Mahjong and took an adjunct teaching job at a university I had graduated from. I labored over the lesson plans, inspired by the brilliance of a few of my young students.
One afternoon, while I was laying in the bathtub, watching specks of dust dance in the rays of sun coming in through the window, I was jolted from my reverie by a thud in my belly. I looked down at my stomach, but I couldn’t see anything. I laid as still as I could. It came again, this time as a fluttering that tickled its way from right to left. I drew in a deep breath and gripped my small baby bump with my hands.
“I can feel you,” I whispered to the little life inside of me. “Is that you?”
A wave of joy washed over me. All the negative head trips from the summer dissolved into my Epsom salt bath and a wave of gratitude washed over me. Tears rolled down my cheeks. I wasn’t sure why I was crying, as I stared at my belly, the light shimmering off the water. Somehow the moment was magical, and I was transported back to the night in the woods, watching the reflection of the full Hare Moon ripple across the lake. Something mystical was happening, even if I couldn’t quite grasp it. My body felt more like a special consecrated space, a sanctum, instead of a junkyard full of refuse. I wasn't just pregnant...I was healing.
My midwife arrived that afternoon to visit with me and do her exam. I had made granola bars and chamomile tea for us, set out on some of my prettiest hand-me-down plates, pouring us each a cup while I recounted the moment I had in the bathtub. She smiled warmly and gave me a hug.
“Yes, feeling movement for the first time is common at around five months,” she said. “She probably wanted to scoot down a little lower to feel the warm water.”
“There was something else, though,” I said softly.
My midwife drew back, her nearly purple eyes scanned me, as if trying to discern what I was about to tell her. “What?”
I hesitated. It felt too impossible to describe. “Like…more than a physical presence. It’s like the first time I ever really felt her being,” I said. “Well, at least since the dream.”
My midwife nodded and smiled with relief. “That’s also common. A lot of cultures believe that while the body is being made, the soul comes and goes,” she explained. She leaned back and took a sip of tea. “As the moment of birth draws nearer, you’ll feel her spirit more strongly and consistently. It’s how you will know.”
Her calmness put me at ease. I felt like myself around these Wise Women. I wasn’t odd or crazy; we shared a wavelength and spoke the same language. I relaxed in my chair and allowed a hand to rest on my belly.
“The baby’s brain will send a signal to your body when it’s time for labor to start,” she continued. “It is the baby who determines when labor is to begin.”
I furrowed my brow. “The baby is in charge?” I said, trying to assimilate this information.
She chuckled softly. “Yes, of course. The medical system wants to be in charge and often does take charge. But really, when you allow Nature to take its course, it’s a dance between the Will of the baby coming in and the Will of the mother birthing the baby. You must cooperate as one.”
I shook my head. “So basically, I am a host for a baby who has hijacked my body and is calling the shots from the cockpit?”
My midwife threw her head back and laughed. “It does feel that way, doesn’t it? But motherhood is all about learning to surrender control to something bigger than yourself, and to trust a wisdom beyond your own.”
I sighed. My body no longer belonged to me. I felt another flutter ripple through my womb, as if the baby was confirming this concept. I could control nothing about this process, not really. The only way I could be in control was to surrender, to cooperate with the tiny little human growing in my belly.
As if reading my thoughts, my midwife continued. “You’ll get your body back someday, don’t worry.”
“Yeah, when she is born,” I said, patting my stomach.
She shook her head, a mysterious smirk on her face. “No, it won’t be that soon.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, almost frantic. What did she mean that birth wouldn’t be the end of this?
“Breastfeeding takes another year or so,” she explained. “Your body will continue to serve your little one for at least a year postpartum.”
“What?!” I was nearly outraged. The shock was too much. I had assumed breastfeeding was a commitment I would be making to a newborn. One or two months, tops. I would feed her a couple times a day and be done with it.
My midwife only smiled and gestured to my chair as she took another sip of tea. “Relax. This is the gift you get to give as a mother.”
“Tell me about breastfeeding,” I said in defeated tone as I took my seat. I slumped in the chair and listened. The recommended amount of time to breast feed was twelve months. Babies couldn’t eat much in one sitting, so I would have to feed the baby every forty-five minutes or so. I would have to keep feeding like that for at least the first few weeks, to encourage the milk to flow to be plentiful enough. Yet again, the baby controlled my body, telling it how much milk to produce. Soon, the baby and I would find a schedule, and we would settle into it. After a few months, the feeding demands would gradually decrease, and this was when I needed to pump milk and save it for when I would start to run dry, at around nine months to a year. But that was just how things typically went. I could have a baby that would need my milk longer than a year postpartum.
“If I make it a year, I will be doing good,” I told her.
“You can do it,” she encouraged me.
I looked at the counter top across the room. Jars of dried herbs to make into a daily tea – 32 ounces worth per day – stared back at me. Every day, I drank down a big glassful of chartreuse colored water that tasted like grass clippings. I looked at my waist, stretching and straining below my maternity shirt. I hadn’t worn a normal outfit in months. I had to pee all the time…all. the. time. Sleep was a reluctant companion. I was always tired, yet I couldn’t sleep. And this, all of this, was just the beginning.
As my pregnancy progressed, I spent more time resting, and when I was resting, imagining the things my baby and my midwife had taught me; spinning my dreams into intentions that would manifest. Over time, I slowly began to reprogram my brain just by imagining the easy birth to come, the natural, calm, peaceful transition into motherhood, and shedding of an old skin…the thick coat of accumulated sludge in life that no longer served my higher purpose. Life began falling into place. I was able to save money for maternity leave, and despite working less, I was making more money than I had before. It was almost as if the universe just cleared a path for me in my time of need. While I could never entirely rule out the possibility of instant transformation, I began to realize that real magic transformed each of us over time. Our wishes might immediately set a chain of events into motion, but the process of watching those things unfold might be gradual. Like a Sufi dancer twirling round and round in a trance to find unity with something greater, pregnancy – and the Wise Women who came into my life with it – was its own revelation.
The real magic was the healing that came from the pregnancy itself, because for the first time in my life, I was participating in the creation of life. My body was performing an age old miracle. The transformation taking place within my physical body mirrored a transformation in my soul: from injured to healer.