Monday, September 1, 2014

Leslie Kung is a 30 year old mother of 3 who double majored in English and Philosophy (a million years ago in college), and went on to become a postpartum doula and birth trauma advocate. She also teaches and leads a babywearing group and a birth trauma support group. Interests include tabletop gaming, sewing, writing fiction and poetry, swords, martial arts, belly dancing, reading (from epic high fantasy series to smutty, terrible romance novels), and her three amazing kids.

Musings of a Mama on Labor Day: Kintsukuroi and Discarding Perfection
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 I love stumbling on words from other languages with no English equivalent. Kintsukuroi is the act of using gold to fix something broken, like ceramic cups, bowls, or plates; understanding that it is more beautiful having been broken and repaired. We have no word for this, and no strong cultural theme to this effect. We live in a disposable and replaceable consumer world. If it’s broken, we throw it out and get a new one. (Not all of us, but probably the vast majority of America). I think that living in a consumer culture makes it hard to really connect and be present in our bodies and with our babies and children as we go through the many changes of pregnancy, birth, and mothering. We don’t acknowledge the changes our bodies go through. We don’t see the beauty in each wrinkle, stretch mark, cesarean scar, and grey hair, or find ourselves worthy of care and repair like the Japanese practice of kintsukuroi. Instead, we are taught to be ashamed of our bodies. We are told to hide those tummies, cover up those breasts while they feed our babies, and to diet away our strong fat reserves--the energy our bodies have stored there for a purpose.

We are sold the idea that birth is just something that happens (not something that matters in the long run), and the definition of a perfect baby is one who doesn’t interfere with the life you had before or the life you want to have now. We are sold the idea that we should want a certain body type and that stretch marks should be erased with creams and treatments. We are sold an idea of perfect mothering that looks like hand sewn dresses and pinterest bento box lunches. We are encouraged by the media to think about how to “get our bodies back” soon after birth by losing weight, exercising, even surgery. We are told that stay at home moms are “out of the workforce,” and those who do stay at home are passed over at dinner parties in favor of the lawyer or the dentist. We are expected to bear the rudeness every time your husband’s boss says, “Gosh, it must be nice to stay at home and have all that time.”

This Labor Day, I would like to raise a toast, in a cup laced with gold-filled cracks, to the mothers who toil every day without pay at the hardest job in the world. This toast goes out to the women who labored and birthed their babies; to those who never got to labor and/or birthed through cesarean incisions; to those who lost their little angels; to the mothers at Walmart trying to manage a toddler tantrum and juggle a baby and groceries; to the moms who get off work only to take their second shift at home with the housework and kids; to the adoptive moms struggling with attachment disorder and ‘are you the nanny’ remarks; to the new mom struggling with breastfeeding; to the LGBT moms of the world dealing with ignorance and hatred; and to the mothers out there who think they are broken, who think they are doing it all wrong, who are sure they are screwing up their kids forever. I picture all of us as a huge, smashed tile mosaic, the cracks filled with gold, every single piece a different color, shape, and design.

Everything you think is wrong with you, everything that has happened that made you cry, and every scar you pick up along the way, picture all of these as cracks you put back together with a line of pure, shining gold. The commercials, products and magazines won’t ever tell you this, but you can’t “get your old body back.” There is no turning back time. New science tells us that every pregnancy, viable or not, that a woman experiences leaves her with embryonic stem cells and slightly changed genetic material. These tiny little bits are gifts of love from our babies, and they have been found in the tissues of womens’ hearts experiencing problems and failure, attempting to heal the mothers’ bodies. They have been found in the brain at the site of an aneurysm, and also in cancerous tissues.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t go back. I might ache more some days than when I was 20, and my stretch marks have their own stretch marks--but I wouldn’t wish to get my ‘old’ body back. This one has the lasting signs of three beautiful children and old scars of experience and wisdom.

Once you take a piece of paper and crumple it up, even if you smooth it back out with your hand, you can never undo the crinkles as if they had never been. Once the paper is crinkled, the trick is to see it as more beautiful than it was before. The lines of light and shadow add interest. The paper is set apart and unique in all the world. So are you. There are millions of women in the world, but none are YOU. As you change and grow and move forward, you only get better. Your hard work in the world doesn’t seem to ever end, though. That’s because you are a mother, and mothers are the ones who build whole societies. Without mothers, there would be no people.

After my traumatic birth experience, I often felt as if I were shattered. I know there are women out there who have experienced trauma, depression, anxiety, abuse and more. It’s hard to see the good in the bad, especially when you are sitting in the dark dark places of your minds. I know you feel like you are alone in that dark place, but you are NOT alone. Feeling broken, having been injured/cut/hurt...that’s the low point in the long journey. You might not see anyone else walking the same path and struggling uphill at the moment, but if you call out, someone might hear you and wait up. Someone might be able to give you a hand up and walk beside you.
As a wounded new mother, I didn’t know that I would one day appreciate the struggles I have come through, and how they have helped me grow and change and ultimately to reach out and help others. As a new mom of one child after a horrible birth experience, I also didn’t know that things could get worse. I experienced my first true post partum depression for the first time shortly after my third child was born. It was bad enough that my husband and a friend took me to the ER, and I was admitted to the hospital for three days. More cracks to fill with gold.

Labor day is to celebrate laborers and workers. So take a few moments to celebrate yourselves, mothers. Breathe in, and breathe out. Let yourself be imperfect and beautiful. Love yourself, and know you’re not alone. Maybe you earn a paycheck, maybe you don’t--but mothers are the ones who work no matter what, even when they are so ill that they can only crawl from the bed to the toilet. They usually don’t get holidays off, bonus pay, or compensation for their duties. The strength of their backs and arms are what create and hold together families, and families are the fabric of society, like beautiful and varied patches on a large quilt. Or like kintsukuroi.


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