Aside from the subtle sway of the grass and distant slow movements of the sheep and cows that gnaw on it, stillness surrounds us. We here a trickle of water as we look out over a small body of water. There’s a grass hill where the animals graze. I’ve never felt so at peace. I’m doing everything in my power to take in this scenery and stamp it in my memory. I never want to forget the stillness of this moment. My hand rests on my round belly. My head rests on his shoulder and tears steam slowly down my cheeks.
I had a panic attack a few minutes earlier. My anxiety levels had been climbing as we got further into our month in Europe. Walking around Westport – a little town nearby with shops, and pubs and restaurants – I kept feeling like everyone was staring at me. As my pregnant belly grows, I’d become more and more insecure about being the center of attention all of the time. We got back to the Airbnb and I lost it. Sobbing, hyperventilating, and no idea of why these emotions were coming out. The hormonal shifts of pregnancy were a tough thing for me to tolerate.
He recommended we go for a walk. I left my phone behind, to unplug, clear my head. When we step outside, a look to the left shows Crough Patrick in the distance. We take a right, toward the water. We pass more sheep, more countryside, farmland, tractors, beautiful estates. Grass, grass, grass. Wildflowers. I picked a few flowers and pressed them between the pages of the many books I purchased a few days earlier at a bookshop in Galway. Today, one of those flowers rests on my bed side table, to promote that stillness, that subtlety, that peace.
We stopped walking once we reached the water. Sunlight reflects off the green grass, pastel shades fill the sky. So many colors, so many feelings at once. I hug him and we’re just still. Standing there, taking the scenery in, letting the anxiety out. For a brief moment, I wished I had my phone, to snap a photo. I decided to try to take in as much of that scenery as I could, in the hopes that I would never forget it. I hoped I could remember this feeling when I went into labor in three months. I wanted to go to this happy place when those contraction pains hit me.
Change was on the horizon. I clawed my way out of that anxiety attack, and ended up here, taking in one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve witnessed in my life, shedding actual tears brought on by that beauty. Those really low places can lead you into a contrary place of stillness. Trust those low moments, stop resisting, and surrender; that stillness will find you if you let it.
My hair is a little crazy (most likely unwashed) and I haven’t got a bit of makeup on. Who knows if I’ve even washed my face yet. My child is on my hip. She’s looking off into the distance thinking about what she’ll crawl after next. I’m examining this photo and thinking about how this could definitely be looked at as a less than perfect selfie. If I would have taken this photo a couple of years ago, without the baby in it, it definitely would have been deleted. Actually, I probably would have known better than to even take it because who actually takes a selfie, knowing that they’ve just woken up and haven’t even put on makeup yet? Oh yeah, that’s right, a mom would take a selfie like that when her child, who usually hates bows, has got a bow on her head and she doesn’t seem to mind it. For whatever reason, you keep buying new bows and each day testing out whether she’ll tolerate them, only to pull it off immediately when she gets fussy. But not today. So now you’re looking at your front screen with a proud smirk on your face thinking, “look at how beautiful she is.”
Since becoming a mom, my priorities have changed drastically. My tolerance for certain things has increased (the imperfect selfie, a cluttered home), while my tolerance for other things has decreased (unfulfilling friendships, boundaries being overstepped). Some people associate becoming a parent with making sacrifices and settling. In my experience, I have definitely made sacrifices but I’ve also taken some really positive actions.
The first example I’ll use can definitely coincide with the term “settling”.I have always been extremely resistant to the idea of buying a house in my hometown. I’ve had the fear that if I buy a house here, I’ll never leave, and I’ll never step out of my comfort zone to see what else the world has to offer. I’ve realized a couple of things. First of all, buying a house here does not necessarily mean I’ll never leave. Rent is crazy expensive so we could always rent it out while we live elsewhere. It’s actually a really good investment that could give us the means to move in the future (think about that!). Next realization, family = home. Since my child has been on this earth, I’ve realized that she is my world. Anywhere that I am with my family, is home. So, I’m okay with the idea of moving across the country together but I’m also okay with staying where we are. I’m no longer worried only about what is in my best interest but also, my daughter’s and my family as a whole.
When I think about the term “settling” the idea of making excuses comes to mind. I often guilt trip myself for not being more involved in current events and failing to be aware of what’s going on in the world. I tend to make excuses such as, being too emotionally exhausted from being a mom to think about all the bad things going on in the world. Or, I don’t want to hear about child sex trafficking because that hurts me too much now that I have my own child. I’d rather not discuss politics and upset people because I’m too busy focusing on my child to have an in-depth debate with someone I barely know.
Some might argue that these are valid excuses, but I think it’s an area where I need to step up and take more action. I’m realizing the importance of being involved, now more than ever. Certain current events are hard to think and talk about, especially when you have a baby, but it is so important to stay involved so that we can educate our children. As parents, we are given the power to impact the next generation and we need to use that power wisely. We need to raise more change makers and more advocates so that our society can continue on the positive trajectory that it’s so recently started on. I’m proud of where our society is headed, but we’ve still got a long way to go. In order to teach our children to form their own opinions, question everything, think critically, and never be afraid to speak up about what they believe in, we’ve got to do those things too!
In the same way that some expectations have decreased, other expectations have increased. Ever since becoming pregnant, I started to question every relationship in my life. I was so emotional throughout pregnancy that I no longer had the energy to handle people who were emotionally draining and didn’t reciprocate the support that I offered them. I started to analyze whether people were true to me or whether we had just stuck together since we had known each other for a long time. Luckily, I’ve found that most of the people in my life still have a place there but I’m constantly on the lookout for any type of violation of my personal boundaries. I’m constantly defining those boundaries to myself and always speaking up if someone oversteps, even if that means hurting someone’s feelings (you have got to advocate for yourself, because no one will do it for you!) I also keep my guard way up when I make new friends. As much as I don’t like to make the excuse “I don’t have time,” a fake friendship really is something that nobody has time for.
My next example also began during pregnancy and can be summed up in two words: emotional awareness. Becoming a mom might cause some to think about their own childhood and upbringing. This process can lead to uncovering some unresolved trauma. I’ve realized how important it is to discuss the thoughts that you try to push away from the surface, in order to find peace with those thoughts. If you never process your emotions then you will just pass those scars on to your children in some way, who may continue to pass them down for generations. By practicing emotional awareness, I am hoping I can promote a culture of openness in my family. I want to discuss things and face them directly, and always be open and honest with each other.
It is pretty common knowledge that women are emotional following childbirth. A shift in hormones along with adjusting to a major life change can cause a lot of feelings to come to the surface. Processing these emotions can be tough. When I noticed that I wasn’t only out of the “fourth trimester” but I was 7 months into being a mom, yet I was still experiencing heavy emotions and drastic mood swings, I realized that there was still trauma there that needed to be addressed.
I took action in the form of journaling, meditation, exercise, and discussing these feelings with those around me. Often, these practices brought my pain closer to the surface, making them feel counterproductive. I would come back from a run crying, thinking to myself, “why do I feel worse?” I kept pushing forward, staying aware of my feelings and talking about the things that came up as they did. Finally, I feel somewhat healed, but I’m realizing that some of this trauma has rooted itself in me as a scar that I will live with forever, and that is OK. I want to set an example for my daughter. I think that if I practiced emotional awareness from a younger age, I could have avoided a lot of painful mistakes in my life. But that’s okay because those mistakes have made me who I am and led me to exactly where I am right now. I also want to teach my daughter that she will still make some mistakes too, because she is a human being and we can’t be perfect. I just want to make an example of myself, in the hopes that she can do better.
So, what does settling mean to you? Are you making sacrifices? And is that a bad thing? To me, settling means finding a place of comfort and staying there. So, by that definition, I don’t feel like I’ve “settled”. I do feel like my priorities have changed and that I’ve made some sacrifices. I’m striving to act in the way that best interests my family. I’m noticing the areas in my life where more action is needed and I’m giving myself recognition for the actions that I have taken since day 1 of being a mom. Also, I’m working hard at finding a balance (I may not be reading the New Yorker cover to cover in one sitting but when I get free time, looking into what’s happening in the world might be more beneficial than scrolling Instagram). And finally, no, sacrifice is not a bad thing. Sacrifice is an honor, just like being a mom is.
I have a couple of small tattoos on my body. The majority of them serve only an aesthetic purpose rather than having a deeper meaning. The tiny moon on my inner arm reminds me of my sweet sister and the day we got matching tattoos together. The olive branch is, well, little more than an olive branch (I like olives, okay?!) The flower on my shoulder is there because, hibiscus flowers are something beautiful that I’ve noticed a lot throughout my life, due to being a native Floridian. But the little line of script on my back – also the first tattoo I ever got – holds the most sentiment.
“I will always love you” written in my father’s handwriting. It was the result of scanning an old birthday card, making a copy, and bringing it into a tattoo shop at the age of 19. That birthday card and tattoo, in addition to a few photographs, are some of the scarce memories I still hold of my father who passed away when I was 11 years old. Five years later, I’m walking into a tattoo shop with a new, meaningful line of script that will be engraved on my body, and today I’m sharing the story behind it.
Fidatti del processo
On June 30th, 2019, Ray and I were in Florence, Italy. The plan for the day was to go see the statue of David (you know, that famous naked guy). Unfortunately, the regular tickets to see the statue were completely booked. I thought to check Airbnb to see if there were any guided tours to see the statue. We ended up finding a tour, led by a man named Mario, a native Florentine with a passion for his home city, and the art and history that it holds. He was well versed in Michelangelo’s work and was determined to help us look at David and see so much more than just “that famous naked guy”.
Michelangelo’s David is located in the Accademia Gallery. When you first enter the large room there is a sort of walkway that leads to David. The walkway is bordered by a number of other sculptures made by Michelangelo. These sculptures appear unfinished. Mario pointed this out to us, asking, “what do you notice about the other sculptures?” The point that he really wanted to make was that Michelangelo’s motivation behind David was not about the result, but the process.
Mario told us that upon completing David, Michelangelo had been frustrated with the fact that people were so focused on the statue, they were missing the point. So, Michelangelo began creating sculptures and stopping midway through to show the artistic process. To show the art emerging from the marble, fighting its way out in a sense. Mario used a number of analogies to point out that in all parts of life, it is the process that matters, not the end result. It is during this sort of “in between” phase when the awakening occurs. He pointed to my pregnant belly (I was about 6 months along at this point) and said that the pregnant woman is a beautiful example of the creative process, “no longer one person, but not yet two.”
We were in Europe for another 10 days after this experience in Florence. When we returned to the states, I was definitely in an “in between” phase, to say the least. As Mario had so beautifully stated, I was no longer one person but not yet two either; I was patiently waiting for my daughter to arrive. I was also in between the stages of “nursing student” and “nurse”. I had passed my boards and was ready to work, but I was so far into my pregnancy that the idea of applying and interviewing for jobs sounded exhausting. I decided that I would continue waiting tables until I went into labor and then plan to start my career as a nurse after having my baby and taking a few months off with her.
Dragging smelly bags of garbage out to the dumpster, dealing with annoying drunk people, filling up that disgusting mop bucket and sometimes leaving with barely any money for the day was a serious process that I needed to trust. It wasn’t easy. I saw all of my colleagues beginning their careers, and here I was, extremely pregnant and getting yelled at over burnt French fries. I was a nurse. I had worked my butt off for four years to get these credentials and here I was, filling up cups of tartar sauce for $5/hour.
Mario’s words really spoke to me. On the tough days I would bring myself back and think about how every experience in life teaches you something. I knew I was growing through this process. I knew things would fall together. The day after I gave birth to my daughter, I got a phone call. I was literally still in the hospital, so I didn’t answer. It was the manager of a job that I had applied for a week or so prior. She wanted to interview me. I called her back and she told me to just call her when I was ready to work. And just like that, everything was falling together just the way I wanted it to.
Today I am almost 7 months into my career, my daughter has grown so much and I’m in more of a rhythm as a mom. I am pretty much where I dreamed of being back then. I am comfortable at my job, I am confident working as a nurse, I am financially stable. But some days still, I don’t feel like I am exactly where I want to be. I was reflecting recently on Mario’s words when I had the realization that once again, I need to trust the process. This time last year, I would have loved to be where I am right now. I was dying to start my career. I was so nervous about being new at a job again, after having worked at the same restaurant for 7 years. I wanted to find that place of comfort. And today, I am there. Yet still, I am looking forward. I then realized that it had almost been exactly one year since I saw Michelangelo’s David and I couldn’t help but remember how moving of an experience it was. This led to the decision to make a tattoo appointment for June 30th, 2020 to get “fidati del processo” (italian for “trust the process”) tattooed on my wrist.
These reflections have led me to ponder a couple of things: Are we always trusting a process or do we eventually reach a goal? Should I be more present and stop looking into the future? Or, is it good to look into the future so that we never settle and get too comfortable? Thinking back seems like a healthy way to put your life into perspective, but I also believe that focusing on the present moment is a great practice as well. Share your thoughts in the comments!