When I was pregnant, the hardest thing for me wasn't the nausea. It wasn't the hip pain, the bloody noses, the food cravings and aversions, the constant peeing, nor any other physical symptom, although I had many.
The hardest thing was wondering what would happen to my business after my baby was born.
I obsessed about it. Would I want to return to work postpartum? If so, when? And how much? And what would I do about childcare? Would I still want to work from home, or would I rather leave the house and get an office somewhere else? Would I have enough energy? Would I have enough time? Would my passion for my work still even be there? Or would I be consumed with motherhood and have nothing left to give to other areas?
I have several self-employed friends who are pregnant right now (including a client and an employee), and several more considering whether they'd like to be mothers at some point. I see these brilliant women wrestling with many of the same questions, and I know when I was there, I couldn't find anyone who was talking about this predicament. Everything about working moms was about "returning to the office," not about running your own biz, which is a much different animal.
So let me see if I can shed some light on the subject from my own, humble experience.
Welcome to the Unknown!
First of all, get comfortable with the idea that there is just some stuff you won't be able to figure out until after the baby arrives.
I HATED this part. I'm good at planning. You probably are too, which is why you have your own business. Like me, you probably wish you could plan out what your business will look like when you return to it (IF you return to it.) But having a baby will be unlike anything you have ever done before - I don't care how much you babysat, or how many little cousins you have, or even if you used to teach preschool or be a nanny.
This. Is. Different.
And it can't be planned for. Well, not all of it. You just can't know what it will feel like to be a new mom until you are one, and until you see what kind of baby you get. So go ahead and daydream, fantasize, and envision all you want. Then let all of it go and be ready to show up for whatever comes your way.
As most of you know, I got a hard-core lesson in letting go of expectations right from the start as my planned home birth turned into an emergency C-section. In retrospect, I am grateful because it helped prepare me for the long line of things that were nothing like I thought they would be.
I am seven months postpartum now. I am going to tell you what my work situation looks like, because when I was in your place, I was dying to know the intricate details of how the other self-employed moms were making it work. And I don't mean moms of ten year-olds. I wanted to hear about moms of little babies. And again, I couldn't find any who were talking about it. So here you go. You're welcome.
***Disclaimer: I am only one woman. This is only one way to do it. Please take it as an inspiration to find what works best for YOU and YOUR family.***
How Working Works
I started easing back into work at a little over three months postpartum, (although I started thinking about it and missing it even earlier.) I began by searching for a nanny on Care.com. I didn't waste any time at all trying to work without childcare. Yes, I was a little nervous about adding the extra expense, but I just worked it into my budget and moved on. It was a non-negotiable.
I made a list of exactly what I wanted in a nanny and found Darlene within a week. We established her schedule: 4 hours on Mondays, 7 hours on Wednesdays, and 4 hours on Fridays. I looked specifically for someone who would be willing to help out with cooking and cleaning while Rowan was taking a nap, because I knew that getting bogged down with that stuff would really cut into both my work time and my time to be with him. Now my house is pretty much always relatively clean, my laundry done, and my dinners prepped. Not to mention that Rowan gets to play with someone who is head over heels in love with him while his mama is working. It’s a pretty sweet situation.
I decided to keep my home office so I could pop out and nurse Rowan throughout the day as needed. Sometimes Darlene gives him a bottle, like if I am in a session with a client or out at a doctor’s appointment or something when it's time for him to eat. But mostly, I still get to breastfeed all day.
Which is awesome for a few reasons:
One, I get a burst of oxytocin every time.
Two, I can still feel close to my baby even though I am working.
Three, I don’t have to spend time hooking myself up to the breast pump and then cleaning pump parts all day. Mad props to women who do that!! (Do people still say “mad props?”)
And four, it makes it pretty impossible to overwork. Before, I often got lost in what I was working on at my computer and I'd forget to eat, stretch, or just go out and see the sun. By the end of a day like that, I was low blood sugar, cranky, and depleted.
But Rowan now ensures that I stop about every two hours. He is like my mindfulness bell.
Another super cool thing about being an entrepreneur and a mom is that I now have so little time to work. Which means I have no time to procrastinate!
Before, when I hit an obstacle or a challenging patch, I found a way to put off working for days or even weeks so I didn't have to face it. (Hello Netflix!)
Now, every moment that Darlene is here I am aware that I am paying her. And every moment that I have set aside for work is a moment I am not spending with my son. So I sit my ass down at my desk and I carry on, no matter how loud the fear voices are that day. Less time to work definitely doesn’t have to mean that less gets done!
What This Mama is Creating Now
Another thing I wondered when pregnant was, how do self-employed moms' business models change after a baby? Are there certain services or programs that now no longer make sense, or could be done in a more baby-friendly way?
In Mothering From Your Center, Tammy Lynn Kent talks about her decision to return to her practice as a pelvic care practitioner after her first son was born (ok, so there was at least ONE self-employed woman talking about the topic.) She decided that for the first year after her son's birth, she would only maintain her private practice. No touring, lecturing, or other more time-consuming engagements.
This seemed like a good idea to me.
So in January of this year, I opened back up my private practice even though I hadn’t been focusing on one-on-one work for a couple of years. Before Rowan, I had been leading my year-long group program called “The Year of the Wild Woman.” This involved delivering lots of workshops and weekend retreats, as well as going deep deep deep with a small, committed group of women. But I was nervous about my ability to sustain such an intense schedule now with a new baby, especially the weekend retreats part.
So, one-on-one work it would be.
However, it only took a couple of months for me to start yearning for the group work again. I’m grateful to have landed a handful of inspiring private clients this year - truly, I look forward to every session, they’re awesome women - but now that I’ve seen the kind of HUGE results that can be achieved in a group program, it’s hard to be satisfied with anything else.
I often end those private sessions thinking, argh! I wish that conversation could have taken place on a video conference call with all of my other clients on the line! They would have all benefitted so much, and then this woman would have a whole tribe of support to follow through with her goal rather than just me.
The sisterhood aspect can’t be underestimated.
So I started asking myself the question, what would it be like to lead a group program in a way that still got my clients earth-shattering results, but also works for my life as a new mom?
Enter, the world of online programs!
Long story short, I bit the bullet and overcame lots of tech fears to begin compiling my mountains of content into an online program. Then I talked with lots of colleagues who lead successful online programs in order to find out what the secret sauce was that kept them feeling super-personal, even through a computer screen. (Hint: It’s video conferencing! And also things like keeping a bell that represents each woman and ringing her into the meeting each time. And lots of other good ideas I’m stealing.)
One of the core principles of my work is that we women really can have it all. But until I became a mom, I couldn’t get rid of the niggling doubt about whether everything I’d been teaching would still work with a kid (or several) in the picture. So now it’s time to prove it to myself. Here goes!
I hope this blog post has been informative and helpful to those of you who are in the position I was at about this time last year. FYI, I wrote most of it by dictating into my phone while Rowan played with his toys on his blanket in front of me. Then I made the final edits at a coffeeshop down the street from my house while Darlene stayed with him at our house (and did all my dishes while he napped.) Finally, I sent the completed draft to my fabulous assistant, Danita, and she plugged it all into the blog and set it up to send out to the various channels where it gets distributed.
I can’t emphasize good support enough. Every awesome thing you see me produce happened because I am exquisitely supported by my husband, nanny, assistant, bookkeeper, parents, and a whole host of wonderful friends. I can sum up this whole post by simply saying, yes, it’s possible to be a wonderful mom and a wonderful entrepreneur, but only to the extent that you’re willing to be supported.
P.S. If you are also an entrepreneur and a mom, I would absolutely LOVE to hear how you’re making it work. And if you are pregnant or considering motherhood and have more questions that I didn’t cover in this post, let me know! Just leave a comment below!
P.P.S. If you’re interested in my upcoming virtual group program called, “Ignite Your Passion!” let me know that, too, and I’ll be sure you hear about it first when it’s ready to be filled in a couple of weeks, because there are limited spots. Just sign up for my email list below!
P.P.P.S. (I know, the post-scripts are getting ridiculous now. . . I can’t believe you’re still reading.) I just went to the bathroom at the cafe where I’m finishing up this post, which requires walking through the back area where the baking gets done, and there was a mom back there packing up cookies while her 18 month-old boy sat in a high chair next to her! I chatted with her and she said how grateful she is to her parents (who own the bakery) for allowing her to bring her son to work with her. So cool how many ways there are to make working motherhood work.
I found out I was pregnant at exactly this time last year. I remember it was Martin Luther King Jr day because Omar was home from school. He was lying in bed that morning when I peed on a stick for the sixth month in a row. Only this time I shouted from the bathroom, "Hey! Come here right now and tell me if that looks like a second line!" Seven additional pee sticks later with seven faint second lines and we officially started celebrating.
But by the end of the day I also had something else on my mind. What would happen to Professional Wild Woman after I had a baby? My business has been my baby for the past five years. Of course I will love my new baby immeasurably, but I love my work, too. Will there be room for both in my life? And will I still be as passionate about helping women find their voices and live from their inner wildness, or will I only care about "mom stuff?"
Now that my son has been on the other side for four months, I can see that my motherhood in no way impinges upon my work with women. On the contrary, it enhances it.
I once thought that Professional Wild Woman's mission was to help women quit jobs that made them miserable and start successful, life-affirming businesses (like I did when leaving my stressful school principal gig and launching my coaching biz.) And while I'm honored to have walked alongside many, many women as they did just that, I see now that the mission is much bigger.
Professional Wild Woman is about identity. It always has been.
What is our driving, core identity as women in this world? Not the identities that have been handed to us or imposed upon us. Not even the identities that we wear as badges of honor - like wife, mother, writer, coach - but which, given too much power, would box us in and limit our boundless potential.
I am interested in the true identity howling inside each of us, connected to the earth and our ancestors and unaffected by external circumstances like jobs and partners. The identity of Wild Woman.
Because, sure, I could tell you the success story of a client who worked with me to retire early from her teaching career and discover a new passion as a self-employed doula, but she would tell you that her real success was remembering how to know herself and love the journey.
Or I could share the testimonial of a client who worked with me to finally launch her dream business as a chef and children's cooking instructor after years of talking about it, but her true celebration was stepping into her own unstoppable power and creativity.
This work is about guiding women to dig underneath the surface ways they have identified themselves their whole lives and at last claim their true identity as Professional Wild Women. Being a mother has only confirmed for me how truly vital that work is.
Because "mother" is now a huge part of my identity, but it is not, nor will it ever be, the sum total of who I am.
So I am thrilled to announce that I am officially back from maternity leave and ready to see clients again. I have room for SIX women in my private practice; six women who are ready to make 2017 the year they move past their limiting surface identities and boldly claim their wildness like never before. That could mean working together to discover your passion, quit a job or relationship, launch a business or creative endeavor, or simply learn how to put yourself first and use that beautiful voice of yours.
How to grab a $97 Wild Woman Strategy session:
No commitment to go further together is necessary - we'll only do so if it flows for both of us. Plus, we can get a lot of juicy stuff done in one hour - as you can see by the yelp reviews that have made me the #1 rated life coach in Santa Cruz for the last three years.
Choosing to be a Professional Wild Woman is about choosing the most authentic identity of all. Let's choose it together. 2017 will require it.
I lay in bed snuggled warm under the covers in my old bedroom in my parents house. My three-month-old son is happily spending time with his grandparents out in the kitchen so I can sleep in. It is 10:45 AM, high time for me to get out of bed, but I feel a sense of dread and don't yet want to face the day.
Tomorrow we fly back to California. To my husband returning to full-time work after three months of paternity leave. To me spending long stretches of hours alone at home with my baby (when I am not working with my own clients, that is.)
Tomorrow is also the last day of 2016. And as crappy as the year has been for politics and human rights, it was also the most thrilling and in many ways the most wonderful year of my life.
I discovered I was pregnant in January of 2016, and the rest of the year was filled with the excitement of pregnancy, birth, and a new baby. I always had something to look forward to – an appointment with my midwife, a new pregnancy milestone, the start of my maternity leave, the start of my labor, meeting my son for the first time, and finally, taking our first trip back east as a family.
Now all of that is over and for the first time in my life, I don't have anything else planned. No trips, no retreats or workshops to lead or attend, no projects. Raising a baby is consuming enough and is certainly something I am excited about, but it's not really something I can look forward to, per se. Not something I can plan for.
And that's when it hit me. 2017 is not a year that requires planning. It is a year that requires presence.
Becoming a mother has changed me, and it will most certainly change my business in ways I don't even yet know. Rather than designing how Professional Wild Woman will look in 2017 like I would usually do at the start of a new year, I will ease back in by taking a few private clients. I will see how it feels to work with them and allow that experience to inform where the energy is flowing for me next. This requires presence, not planning.
In my personal life, three months of motherhood has already shown me that planning anything with a new baby is impossible. I am much happier when I allow the natural rhythm of the day to present itself to me rather then decide on a schedule and try to force everyone into it.
And I know I have plenty more baby milestones to look forward to, but I find that looking for them often brings anxiety about when they will come and whether my son is on target. Conversely, when I stop reading baby books and instead just look at my beautiful baby, I create the space to be delighted by whatever he's offering in the moment. For example, I didn't realize that babies begin to make "conversation" so early, so was delightfully surprised when this week Rowan began "talking" back to me in babbles and coos, complete with conversational timing and emphatic hand gestures. Beautiful moments like this require presence, not planning.
So in a complete 180 from how this type-A, driven business owner and wild woman usually operates, I will NOT set goals for the new year. I will instead plant my roots in the present moment and prepare to sway with the wind.
My word for 2017 is PRESENCE. What's yours?
Man, 2016 kind of sucked. Am I right? Between losing many great artists, watching the human rights crises unfold in Standing Rock, Syria, and on our city streets,, and witnessing the rise of a fascist global movement of which our “great country” is a huge part, it would be easy to sink into despair and want to spend the entirety of 2017 under the covers.
But we cannot afford to hide, my wild sisters. This is not a time for despair.
Let’s turn to the wisdom of the Chinese Five Elements for what we can do next. I take comfort in knowing that no matter how I’m feeling, there is a place for it on the ancient cycle of seasons (which can be experienced all within the span of a day and do not necessarily have to correlate to the actual seasons.) Locate your current emotional state in the sections below and give yourself a big dose of ancient, elemental medicine.
If you are feeling grief, you are in autumn.
Autumn represents the metal element, referring to both precious metals (like gold) and structural metals (like steel). The emotion associated with autumn is grief, because it is the time of year when nature lets go of all that is not absolutely necessary in order to hunker down for the winter ahead. Letting go often brings grief, but there is great medicine to be found in the metal element as well. In fact, a failure to shed what is no longer needed results in a dispersion and dilution of your energy.
What you can do when overcome by grief:
If you are feeling fear, you are in winter.
Winter represents the water element. It calls us to experience the depths of our fears, but also to tap into the vastness of our courage and the breadth of our resources. The emotion associated with winter is fear, because it is the time of year when things are still, silent, covered in snow, and we never really know how long it will last. Picture a family looking in their root cellar and wondering, “Will we make it through?” Winter is not a time for action. It is a time for stillness and patience. This can feel scary because it can feel like we’re not in control, but the water element also has some of the most deeply nourishing medicine of the whole year if we are willing to access it.
What you can do when paralyzed by fear:
If you are feeling anger, you are in spring.
Spring represents the wood element and powerful, rising yang energy. The emotion associated with spring is anger - but not messy, immature, willy-nilly anger. Not revenge. Wood is about EFFECTIVE anger. Trees are some of the most powerful creatures on this planet, but they are also some of the oldest and wisest. Spring is a time for vision, action, and creative thinking. It is a time to harness your anger and use it for good.
What you can do when all you can feel is anger:
If you are feeling/craving solidarity, you are in summer.
Summer represents the fire element. Our ancestors have gathered around fires for centuries to celebrate, strategize, and simply enjoy each other’s company. Fire medicine reminds us to work together and not to forget joy and play in the process. After all, revolutions are more sustainable when we join forces, right? And they’re much more likely to last if they also include some fun and community. This is a time to access your fiery passion and fan the flames together, with laughter and song.
What you can do when feeling too heavy, serious, or alone:
If you are feeling/craving gratitude, you are in late summer.
Late summer represents the earth element. The emotion associated with earth is gratitude because late summer is the time of year when the earth is the most abundant. Earth, in her great, ancient wisdom, reminds us that she is enough for us - and that we are enough for whatever life asks of us. Although the issues our generation face may feel too heavy to bear, earth reminds us that we need not bear them alone. Earth is wise. She has seen humanity through crises much worse than these. Fall into her embrace and experience gratitude for all we have and all that is possible.
What you can do when feeling despair:
Perhaps the most important thing, my wild sisters, is that we stick together. Did you get something from this article? Please share it on your social media feed. Is there another way you have found to deal with the overwhelming events of this year? Leave it in the comments below.
No matter what, never stop fighting. Never stop standing in your power. Never stop speaking for those who have no voice, and standing in front of those who are in harm’s way. Be bold, be brave, be wild - and don’t apologize for any of it.
The arrival of 2017 brings new hope, and along with it, the re-opening of my private coaching practice after my 4-month maternity leave! Stay connected and inspired along this wild woman journey by joining our email tribe below, and be the first to hear about January's coaching session specials. (No spam. Less than 4 emails per month. We never do anything silly like sell your information. Leave anytime.)
I have a confession to make. I used to be really annoyed by the whole "white privilege" thing. As in, what do you mean I have white privilege? I know that black people have had a shit deal in this country but what do you want me to do about it? I didn't own slaves. I didn't turn the fire hose on anyone in the 60s. I'm a good person and I have black friends and I've dated black men and I'm not racist so this whole race inequality issue is just not my fault OK? I didn't ask to be white. I didn't ask for this privilege. Stop blaming me.
Any other white folks relate? It's OK, you don't have to raise your hand.
What is white privilege?
What I have come to realize is that acknowledging my white privilege does not mean single-handedly taking responsibility for the centuries of oppression of people of color. It simply means acknowledging that as a white person, life is different for me. There are certain advantages I enjoy because I am white, whether I realize it or not.
Why is this simple act of acknowledgment important? Well think of it like this:
Imagine you had an older sibling who was famous. Everywhere he went he got special treatment because of his fame – got to skip to the head of lines, got offered every job/loan/apartment he applied for, got out of speeding tickets, etc. Meanwhile, you are waiting in every line, getting turned down for the same jobs, loans, and apartments, and not only getting speeding tickets, but getting pulled over when you didn't even break any laws.
Now imagine that your older sibling completely denied that this disparity existed. "No I don't get special treatment because of my fame!" he says from the best table in the restaurant - which he didn't even have to make a reservation for - while you get told, "I'm sorry, there are no available tables tonight" by the host.
It would be maddening, right?
You wouldn't necessarily blame him for the special treatment. After all, he didn't do anything wrong by being famous. But you would want him to at least acknowledge that his experience is different, more charmed, than yours. And perhaps, if he really wanted to try and even out the playing field, he could refuse to accept some of the unfair privileges being offered to him, especially if it meant that someone else who was not famous was getting passed over for the same opportunity as a result.
What does white privilege have to do with the recent presidential election?
As a white person, I do not fear for my safety on a regular basis in this country. (The daily fear that comes along with being a woman set aside momentarily for the purposes of this article.) I have no fear of being separated from my family and getting deported to an unsafe or war-torn country. Because I do not look Mexican or Muslim or like any other minority, I will not get stopped and asked for my registration papers. (Although my Iraqi-American husband or half-Iraqi son might someday...) And when I walk through an unfamiliar part of town, I do not need to worry about becoming the target of a violent hate crime.
All of that white privilege allows some voters to overlook the mountains of racist, Islamophobic comments made by Trump and vote for him anyway based on other issues. After all, the race issue won't affect them directly.
And that same white privilege allows other voters to vote for Hillary and then not be inconsolably terrified and outraged when she loses. They can shrug their shoulders and say, oh well, I wasn't crazy about her anyway. You win some you lose some.
At this point in our nation, a black, brown, or gay voter does not have the luxury of voting based on other issues, or of simply accepting this new President with a shrug of resignation. Marginalized people and their allies are not protesting because they are sore losers. Our new president's ideologies are so extreme that the KKK is holding a parade in celebration of his election. The people who are protesting are doing so because they are afraid for their lives. If you do not understand that, it is because you have the luxury of not having to.
If you are like I once was and have not yet acknowledged your white privilege, now is the time, friend. It is time for us to stop acting - and voting - from our place of privilege at the table. It is time for us to stand with, and if necessary in front of, our brothers and sisters of color.
What can you do?
Here are some specific ways we as white people can help:
→ Acknowledge your white privilege
Start by doing some honest introspection. Ask yourself, "How might my whiteness have played a role in how I voted? Or in how I choose the issues I care about? Or in how I have thought and behaved since the election?"
In short, care about people other than yourself. That may sound harsh, but think about how you voted. Of course it is understandable to care about healthcare because of the terrible health situation your daughter went through last year, or to care about veterans benefits because your husband is a disabled vet. But in addition to the issues that directly affect you and your family, consider asking, "How will this vote affect others that I care about? How will it affect vulnerable groups of people who have less of a voice than I do?"
→ Be a safe space
Regardless of how you voted, if you are not a raging racist, make sure the people around you know that. You don't need to apologize for your whiteness or defend your vote. Just let the nonwhite (and for that matter, the non-straight) people in your life know that they are safe with you, even if you think they already know that. It bears repeating this week.
→ Don’t be complicit
Be a person who doesn’t tolerate racism in any form. Don't chuckle at the racist joke. Be bold enough to say, "I'm not down with those kinds of comments" or "please don't talk that way around me."
And for that matter, educate yourself. Because speaking up will likely get you into some conversations, and you’ll want to be prepared to make them open, intelligent, and informed - rather than emotional arguments that go nowhere. Not exactly sure what people are upset about regarding race? Ask. Feel like there’s more to the issues being discussed on social media than you understand? Read articles. Do research. Ask, ask, ask. Change begins when we lean into the discomfort rather than away from it.
Got other ideas about how white people can participate in positive change? I would love to hear about them in the comments below!
Hello from the baby bubble! For those who don’t already know, my son, Rowan Wilder Siham, was born on the new moon of September 30th at 9:32pm, weighing 8lbs 7oz and measuring 20 inches. I am still writing his full birth story and may share it when I finish. But while I work on that I want to give an update on what life is like for this new wild woman mother.
Motherhood has brought plenty of moments of bliss. Moments straight out of the romantic family story book, with my husband and I gazing at our angelic newborn son with stars in our eyes for him and for each other and for the beautiful life we have created. We laugh at his funny faces and smell his delicious baby head.
There are also plenty of moments of exhaustion-fueled anxiety and desperation. Why the hell is he still crying? We have already done all the things. Is he sick? Is he dying? Is he not bonding well? Does he hate me? Does he hate being alive? Will he ever, ever stop?
Overall, moving from maidenhood to motherhood has not really been anything like I thought it would be. (For example, I used to write a blog post every Tuesday morning after breakfast and before an afternoon of clients. THIS blog post took me two weeks of multiple five-minute increments to finish. Working mamas - I bow to you!)
As for the actual birth journey, I imagined my strong, feminine body showing me what it is truly capable of as I moved bravely through natural, unmedicated labor. I visualized a powerful, all natural home birth, perhaps with my baby sliding out into a tub as his father and I cried tears of joy at his arrival. I pictured lying my newborn on my chest luxuriously for his first hours until he breast-fed on his own and we could at last cut the cord and send my perfect placenta off to be encapsulated.
What I got was prematurely ruptured membranes and a load of meconium that sent me straight to the hospital before contractions even began. What I got/ended up choosing was every medical intervention the hospital had to offer – from nitrous gas to a full-on epidural. What I got was an unplanned C-section where I was too busy throwing up to even kiss my newborn son when he came out, let alone breast-feed him. And finally, I got a placenta so full of meconium that it was black and in no condition to be consumed.
(Factoid: Meconium is the baby’s first poop. It’s supposed to come out after he is born. If the baby poops in the womb, it’s usually a sign of fetal distress. The vast majority of home births are smooth and safe and require no medical intervention. Meconium is one of the few things that are a one-way ticket to a hospital transfer.)
I felt peaceful about each of these things as they unfolded along the way. Really, I did. I accepted the early transfer to the hospital with surrendered grace. I gave myself full permission to utilize medical interventions and still, in retrospect, feel like each one was necessary and helpful. And when it came time to face a C-section, I felt in my heart of hearts that I had given natural birth my absolute best shot. I agreed with the doctor and my midwife that it would be unsafe for me to continue trying for a vaginal birth 36 hours after my water had broken, 24 hours since I had eaten anything, on one hour of sleep, and with a rapidly rising fever and a baby whose heart rate kept dipping.
But even though I flowed through each stage of my son's completely surprising birth with presence and acceptance, all sorts of other feelings have unfolded within me in the weeks since.
Having a C-section means a much longer recovery time. It means that most breastfeeding positions are unavailable because they are too painful or put me at risk of having my tender belly kicked by my flailing newborn. It means a gigantic, unplanned hospital bill on top of all we already paid to our homebirth midwife (and guilt about birthing in a way that brought so much debt to our family.) It means that I am not strong enough to wear my baby yet, so I must watch my husband wear and carry him pretty much everywhere we go.
Sometimes it feels like my son is bonding with my husband more than me. Sometimes it feels like I was born without the ooey-gooey loving-baby gene - like I was made to raise a child from middle-school age and beyond and am just not cut out for this baby gig. Sometimes, in my lower moments, I even feel obsolete - like I could just walk out on this whole thing and as long as my husband had a bottle, my son wouldn’t even notice my absence.
All of this has me considering the question: what makes a mother a mother? Is it pushing a baby out of your vagina? Is it breastfeeding? Is it being the one your child craves more than dad - more than anyone? Is it knowing just what to do when your baby cries? Is it feeling instinctively “motherey” and nurturing?
If so, I’m screwed.
I got the maiden archetype down. I rocked my twenties and early thirties - leaving not-right-for-me husbands, traveling solo, starting businesses, generally being a badass and doing whatever-the-hell I wanted with my life. But the mother archetype? Not so much.
I never considered that I, Melanie, the "Professional Wild Woman," would enter into motherhood with so much medical intervention. I was ready to write a moving blog post for you all describing my beautiful, natural birth and encouraging all of you women to trust your wild, perfect, strong bodies. I was excited to become an advocate for home birth.
But the message I have for you today is different. It is not one encouraging homebirth OR hospital birth, but encouraging love and acceptance for all mothers, however they enter into motherhood. I am humbled to my knees and will never again judge a woman for how she decides to bring her baby into this world, how she decides to feed him after, or - barring outright abuse - pretty much any parenting decision she makes. This is the hardest work on the planet, from what I can tell so far. So hey, you do it however you need to, sister.
My son spent the first three days of his life in the NICU for an infection and a collapsed lung. My doctor explained that if we had gone through with the entire home birth as planned, he would have been rushed to the hospital in an ambulance and might not have made it. Turns out that my body is wiser than I ever could have imagined. It knew exactly what to do and where I needed to give birth most safely. Your story will be different and just as perfect whether it happens in your bedroom, in a hospital room, or in the forest. And you will be just as much of a mother.
This week, the short season of “late summer” comes to a close as the fall equinox approaches and autumn takes quietly over. Late summer is a fifth season that we westerners aren’t accustomed to recognizing, but is the most important season in the Chinese Five Element model since it honors the element of earth, that on which all other elements are based. Metal, water, wood, and fire all reside within or depend upon the earth for their existence. Earth is the nourishing mother from which all life springs forth.
Late summer is an especially vital season for awakening wild women because it calls us to harvest our gifts and acknowledge our abundant enoughness.
Think of the cycle of seasons like the cycle of breath. Beginning at the spring equinox, we inhale, rising with the yang energy of spring and summer, riding the growing fullness of breath as we envision, create, and tend the projects of our life and work. Late summer is like the pause at the top of the inhale, the moment to recognize fullness and celebrate all we have accomplished. Then we begin the long exhale of the falling yin energy of autumn and winter - shedding, letting go, and resting before another growing season begins next spring.
If we skip this late summer season, we miss the most delicious time of year. We lose the opportunity to recognize our accomplishments, acknowledge our badassery, and dwell in gratitude for all the ways we have been provided for by the earth and supported by our human communities. We risk going into autumn and winter with a scarcity mindset - not because there hasn’t been enough, but because we haven’t stopped to see it.
As my coach, Jaime Lyerly, says, “Humans don’t have an abundance problem, they have an acknowledgement problem.”
This particular late summer season, I find myself in the unique position of quite literally embodying the round earth element in my body. At 39 weeks pregnant, I am abundant with life, juicy with the fruit of a 10 month growing season, ripe as ripe gets! It was a perfect place from which to lead the culminating retreat of my year-long group program a few weekends ago, called “Harvest Your Gifts.”
Rather than teaching new content or setting new goals, I guided the women in the group to use the entire weekend to bask in all they had accomplished thus far. Each got a section of the weekend to have a personal graduation from the program. This included being honored by the group and sharing a “grateful gift” with us as a way to take on leadership and blossom fully into her newer, wilder, brighter self.
We were cooked a delicious brunch by Tammy Hart, owner of the brand new “Urban Farms Kitchen Collective,” led through an open house of female healing stations by birth and postpartum doula, Ana Hernandez, taught powerful breema self-massage techniques by expert bodyworker, Soizig Le Boulch, guided to embrace our identities as full women beyond motherhood by coach and women’s group facilitator, Jenn Johnston, led in a Zumba dance by savvy businessowner and mother extraordinaire, Heather McTavish, and led through a grounding yoga class by experienced massage therapist, yoga teacher, and wellness coach, Aura Wilson.
The amazing thing is that the majority of these women weren’t even in these careers when they started the wild woman program a year ago! And if they were, those careers looked nothing like the beautiful expression of their unique wildness that they are today. These offerings truly were expressions of the giant, courageous steps they’ve each taken in their lives and work. Witnessing them in their power was overwhelming in the best kind of way.
In addition, we took a whole morning of our weekend to learn about the earth element by getting our hands dirty at the Homeless Garden Project. Being in this local garden of eden was a great reminder that the earth really does provide all we need.
So in the final moments of late summer, wild woman, how will you acknowledge your accomplishments? How has the earth provided for you this year? How have you been abundantly supported and loved by those around you? Take a moment to pause at the top of this full, delicious inhale before exhaling your way gracefully into the spare season of autumn just ahead. Fill your basket to bursting. When the cold, dark days of winter arrive, you will be glad you did.
As for me, I think Imma go have this baby.
If there’s one fact that never changes about bodies, it’s that they will always change – especially women’s bodies. Even if we never carry a baby in our wombs, our bodies change drastically throughout our lifetime simply because we are physiologically capable of doing so.
From the time of our first breast buds and moon blood of maidenhood, through the fleshy, expansive time of motherhood (or the potential for motherhood), to the wise, powerful time of the crone, our bodies go through as many seasons as mama earth herself.
Like any woman growing up in a culture that obsessively exalts one body type over all others (thin, thin, thin), of course I’ve had my share of body woes. At 5’2,” I need to get every pair of pants I ever buy hemmed. (Why men’s pants are sold in varying lengths and women’s are sold in just one will continue to baffle me.) My boobs are gigantic. Even after a breast reduction surgery 10 years ago, they grew back and are just, well, huge. My hair is fine, I have dark circles under my eyes even with plenty of sleep, and my weight fluctuates between 130-190lbs. on any given year of adulthood.
See how easy it is for me to rattle off the list of all that’s “wrong” with my body? I bet you could do the same. But really, it’s not what’s wrong, it’s just what’s different than the one, single image we have been presented with over and over and over since childhood.
Which brings me to the first of many ways that pregnancy has been fantastic for my body image:
When I change what I compare myself to, I change how I feel about what I see in the mirror.
Since becoming pregnant, the type of media I consume has changed. When I shop for clothes, I’m looking at maternity websites, with models who are bigger and wider than non-maternity websites. When I read blogs, I’m reading about pregnancy and motherhood and seeing images to match. And when I participate in chat boards and online communities, it’s with other, real, pregnant women posting selfies of their real, growing bodies. Without even realizing it, my brain started seeing fewer images of skinnyskinnyskinny and more of round, fleshy, expansive. I subconsciously began loving my curves as a result, maybe for the first time in my life.
What this means for after pregnancy: I commit to being a more savvy consumer of media. What would it be like to consciously fill my awareness with images of real women’s bodies?
I have become comfortable with a body in a constant state of change.
One day I was covered in hormonal, pregnancy acne. Another it morphed into a beautiful, pregnancy glow. Some days I can’t poop at all, some days I can’t stop pooping. Today I have so much energy, I want to walk and swim and play. Yesterday I could barely take a shower without feeling breathless and exhausted. And don’t even get me started on the unbelievably fluctuating sex drive. (To hubby: “No way - back away from the vagina,” to “OMG when are you going to be home I’m having a sexmergency.”)
At 35 weeks pregnant, I’m finally at the point where I wake up and say, “Welp, guess this is the body I have today!” I’ve tried to coach myself and my clients into this level of acceptance before, but when the body you have today feels the same as the one you had yesterday, it can be difficult to see it as new. On the contrary, this body really does change every day. So I am confronted with the never-ending challenge of self-acceptance. Again. And again. And again. I could fight it, or I could lay back and enjoy the ride.
What this means for after pregnancy: I commit to loving the body I see in the mirror each day, or at least accepting it as is. What would it be like to approach my body’s changes with fascination and awe?
I see my body as useful, not just sexual.
A few weeks ago, my mom posted some photos on Facebook from our recent family vacation in Virginia Beach. This was one of them:
In the past, I would have immediately thought, “Yikes! Look at my wide arms! I have to take this photo down and make sure my mom doesn’t post any more without asking me!”
This time I thought, “Aw, look – the first time I met my new cousin!” Then I noticed my wide arms, but immediately chose to see them as strong instead of “fat.” Those arms will be great for carrying a baby!
Pregnancy has reminded me that, contrary to what our over-sexualized culture would have us believe, my body is not just for looking at. It’s for running, building, creating, holding, cooking, nurturing, climbing, loving. It’s for growing and sustaining life. And newsflash – that takes FAT. And muscle. And strength.
What this means for after pregnancy: I commit to focusing on the many amazing uses of my body, not just its sex appeal. What would it be like to celebrate my strength and finally be free of feeling ashamed of photos of myself?
Paradoxically, this kind of radical self-acceptance will probably make me the sexiest I’ve ever been.
Will you join me in this quest to accept the body you have today - every day, to consume media more consciously, and to celebrate your body’s usefulness, not just its sex appeal?
Here are some fantastic links that my therapist shared with me at the beginning of my pregnancy. Looking at them has been like rubbing healing salve on an old, body wound. I hope you enjoy them as well, you gorgeous goddess you. (Note: They contain lots of skin. Not safe for work.)
The Shape of a Mother - a blog and photo gallery with stories of real pregnant and postpartum women and their real bodies
My Body Gallery - a super-fun site where you can look up images of real women with your exact dimensions (not pregnancy related)
Nothing but Light - beautiful photography project by photographer Anastasia Kuba, again, of real men and women’s bodies (also not pregnancy related)
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It’s been quiet over here in Professional Wild Woman blogging land, but certainly not quiet in my life. I’m finding pregnancy and impending motherhood to be such dynamic states that I can barely even catalogue all the new challenges and curiosities, let alone sit with them long enough to compose a coherent blog post.
Thus, the list of unanswered questions grows by the day, piling up like the stack of newborn onesies in the corner of our bedroom.
What is this crazy-beautiful-uncomfortable phenomenon happening in my body? Every single part of me is affected – my blood, my breathing, my hands and feet, my energy level, my thoughts, my dreams, my sex drive, my emotions, the fluids coming out of every orifice – every orifice – my muscles, my bones, my priorities, my focus, my taste buds. . . I mean, who even am I anymore?
How will I be as a mother? I’m driven and successful in the arenas of education, career, and business but am I nurturing enough? Am I patient enough? How do I know I’m cut out for this?
Will I be able to balance a business and a child – hopefully someday at least two children – without having either suffer? Every time I sit down and try to envision how it will work, I see blankness. I just have no idea. I feel like I’m jumping off a cliff in an unfamiliar land with a blindfold on. I graduated high school in three years, became a middle school principal by age 27, traveled all around the world by myself, and started a successful business, but I’ve never done anything like this before.
I don’t have answers to any of these questions. But this week I got a big ol’ dose of perspective when both my uncle and grandmother died – from different sides of the family in completely unrelated, unexpected deaths. Bam. Boom. What??
My grandmother’s death especially struck me. She was a feisty, 4’11” Italian woman with a generous heart, an endless supply of hugs and food, and a quick, wit. It is from her I have always felt I inherited my sassy wild woman side. She spoke her mind and lived how she wanted and didn’t apologize for any of it.
It has been difficult to watch her mind decline over the past ten years or so. During many visits, she seemed like a shadow of her former self. But there is one thing she never stopped being, one role that her brain held on to with ferocity and unshakable instinct: mother.
In my workshops, I often make the point that we humans are the only creatures who ask ourselves the question, “What is my purpose?” Elephants and otters don’t wake up the morning wondering what to do with their lives. Why? Because they already know. “And the truth is, so do you,” I say to the women. “It’s just that your innate, wild knowing has been trained out of you by a culture obsessed with the taming and boxing in of women. Find your way back to your inner wild woman, and she’ll show you your purpose.”
I guess it’s time now for me to apply the same logic to mothering. Just like my mother and grandmothers, and their mothers before them - just like the elephants and otters – some part of me knows exactly how to grow this baby, and will know exactly how to mother him when he’s out.
Thank you, Grandma. Go boldly into the light knowing you leave behind a legacy of delicious, sassy wisdom that I do not take for granted. Give my little baby boy a hug as you pass each other in the ethers, will you? I’ll make sure to tell him all about you once he’s here.
As I was composing last week’s blog post, An Open Letter to My Unborn Son About the Recent Tragedies Committed by Men, I asked my husband for his input. “Hey babe,” I said, typing at the dining room table over our morning coffee, “What do you as a man think it’s important for our son to know about masculinity?” He began rattling off scads of wisdom and I began furiously typing notes. Pretty soon it was apparent that he had too much good stuff to say to simply be quoted in my blog post. He needed a blog post of his own.
So for the first time in Professional Wild Woman history, here is a guest post by a MAN (gasp!), my husband, Omar Munir. I hope you enjoy his insights as much as I did.
I am so proud of you. How can I be proud of you when I don’t yet know you? Because I know what potential you have, as I know what potential man has. I know the greatness and subtle tenderness that man can give, like water to the earth. So if women bring life as the earth does, then men can feed that life like water does. Water can be a powerful force that in extremes can devastate, but when in balance, with a softer touch, water can nourish the gentle greens and even move big mountains with a slow and steady stream.
There are some things you need to hear that people in our society might not share with you.
All men have both the masculine and feminine within them. It’s just that most men are ashamed of the feminine, believing it’s somehow weak. The truth is that when you are balanced with both, you have the strength of truly great men… Men who don’t take things personally and instead, act on their principles. Men who take the time to hear and understand very different view points and find a way to work together. True leaders who break through the barriers of domination and bondage. These are men who have the subtle, gentle touch and fierce strength to endure great hardships and come out the other side whole and complete.
I like the image of the yin and yang symbol of taoism. It is a beautiful, simple representation of the masculine (yang) and feminine (yin) energy in us that swims back and forth. The masculine or yang in each of us is what allows us to push forward and use our strength of will and determination to achieve great things in our lives. You can see this in women as well; you can see this in your mother. This force allows you to express yourself without being caught in the shame and fear of others. It allows you to take bold steps in your life, as your mother and I have in our lives before we met each other, and in the life that we now share together. So take bold steps in what you believe is good and right and true for you. Speak up for yourself and what you feel. Follow those feelings and find out what you can discover about yourself and about the world through that expression.
So with anyone, especially those you find your heart is interested in, be bold yet be patient and take the time to find out about this new and different person. Learn about those differences. Don’t be fooled by boys who are too afraid to express themselves so they express the fake stories shown by men in movies and tv. Too tough and distant, too cool to open up. Those boys grow up sick with feelings stirring in them that they never let themselves express. Don’t be afraid. Be bold and be receptive to what your feelings tell you about your thoughts and fears, and do the same for others.
Having women mentors is a blessing for a man in this life. Find role models for both the yin and yang of your being. I was so lucky to have many female mentors throughout my life. I learned more than most of my friends and peers about making connections with people. It was from women that I learned to be strong - not head-strong but heart-strong. You may have already learned this from your mother as she is truly your first women mentor. Learn from her and from others. A man can be just as nurturing and creative if he takes the time to do so. You will find that your touch is powerful when you are subtle and nurturing. You may have already experienced that from me. It’s almost innate to fathers to share that gentle and strong nurturing touch. When you offer it, you will feel the soft subtle strength within moving through you.
So what is your duty here, my son, what can you do? Well, you are not responsible for others, they must find their own balance. But just as I have shared with you the slow and steady strength of my water in balance that you may be nourished by it and moved gently in the direction that gives you greater opportunity and harmony in your life, this is how you can be in the world as well, so that others will find the same value of living together in harmony and cooperation. This is how the world heals, by healing ourselves and finding balance in our own masculinity.
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What type of wild woman are you?
Hello! I'm Melanie Munir, founder of Professional Wild Woman - a women's empowerment business dedicated to helping women who are tired of feeling either "too much" or "not enough" to connect to their inner wildness so they can create work that allows them the fullest expression of their unique voice. Welcome!