I really loved “Literary Mama”. I agree wholeheartedly that a woman has to make her own way in the mommy woods, as Lizbeth Finn-Arnold beautifully stated in Out of the Woods. I have written for years, though not as a serious writer. When our oldest son was seven, I had a very intense and beautiful dream about him that sums up my feelings about mothering as a journey. There is something very mythical about the mother quest, like Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey, but let’s call it The Sheroes Journey, shall we? I prefer a more feminist story craft. In any event, I wrote about this dream some years ago, my son is 14 now. I would like to share it here as much as I can recall, as it fits nicely with the Literary Mamas, especially Barbara Crooker’s beautiful, aching poem “The Blue Snake Lies Curled in My Bowl Like Oatmeal”, and Finn-Arnold’s Out of the Woods.
“There is no greater beauty in this universe than that of my children”
In my dream, my son, who is seven, was playing the in the surf on a beach with white sand. I kept walking out to him, brushing his blonde hair back from his eyes, the warm breeze blowing all around us. I kept asking, “Are you doing okay? Do you need Mama for anything?” He said he was ok, just playing, and I kept walking back about ten feet to the edge of the water. The water was blue and clear. Suddenly, the lights went out; the sun literally went out. It was dark, pitch black, and parents were screaming and everything became completely chaotic.
I stood up, and a profound sense of knowing came over me. I closed my eyes, ironically, yes, in the dark, and listened for him. Within just a second or two he said, “I’m over here.” I heard him, but I already knew where I was going. I listened, not for auditory sounds necessarily, but for the pull in my belly, in my heart, the magnetism of him. There was a feeling of being wrapped in something and gently pulled by it, like some sort of silent and reassuring tether. Yet, I felt it from the inside, and I knew I could only access it by closing my eyes, that the seeing I needed was inside of me. The vision I needed was not via the use of my actual eyesight. The feeling was so deep, so real, and it drowned out all other noise.
“I cannot let you go my child, my love”
I put my hands out like a sleepwalker and kept my eyes closed. I was guided right to him. I never once felt lost or felt one bit of fear. I did not open my eyes until we got back to shore and the sun came back on. I felt no fear, nor did he. He knew I would find him. Closing my eyes in the dark to find him and when I did, he had not been afraid. The seeing that I needed was inside of me, that vibration, that knowing, the pull of mother to child.
“You, my poemchild, whose smile is all my sonnets”
It’s weird to explain, but this dream reminded me of the mythical tale of the handless maiden, the girl who regains her hands after having her baby, the healing that children bring. I deeply identify with the way the handless maiden in this variation is healed by literally reaching and turning toward her baby, rather than away (as my mother did, and there is no healing to be found there.)
My favorite reading that I have ever found of the tale was on Midori Snyder’s blog, and she recounts her first experience with “A Father Cuts Off His Daughter’s Arms,” but I cannot recall when exactly I first read it. In this version, Snyder recounts “a widowed father relies on his young daughter to perform his wife’s household duties of cooking and cleaning after she has passed away.” When the girl reaches puberty, he attempts to coerce his daughter into filling the sexual role of the mother who has passed away. The girl absolutely refuses and is greatly disturbed by the event. Her father takes her into the woods and cuts off her hands as punishment. He leaves her there to die.
The maiden is rescued and brought into the homestead of the rescuing family. She is bathed, and the family realizes that even without her arms, she is beautiful. The maiden marries their son. Yet she has no arms, and when she has a baby, things become especially problematic. “She returns to the woods and begins a second journey, ascending and descending the endless forest until, weary and thirsty, she comes upon a lake. Having lived in the wood for many days with her child, the woman stops by a stream to rest and refresh herself. As she bends over the water’s edge, the child slips from her back and falls into the water” (Armless Maiden blog by Midori Snyder).
The handless girl shoves her mutilated stumps into the cold waters. When she does so, her hands instantly grow back. When I first read this it made me weep. It’s exactly how I feel about my journey from surviving sexual abuse at the hands of my father, my family’s denial of it, and my eventual recovery and thriving, even in the face of my memories. They don’t haunt me anymore.
My therapist related this story to me years ago. That is so powerful. That is what I mean by healing for and through one’s child. It can apply to partners too. The line between what we do for ourselves to heal and what they do to help us is barely tangible, yet incredible all the same. We tell our boys all the time, “We love you because you are YOU.” The shame I have carried over my own mother’s maternal inadequacies, my father’s outright betrayals and abuse, this dream pierced through that and I awoke with a knowingness, a belief not just in, but about myself that I had not fully experienced before.
I would like to share my own literary expression of how the birth of my first child changed me deeply. I wrote this a few years ago and saved it.
We are all born with an inextinguishable light inside. Abuse is a sacrilege against the blessedness of an innocent child. Sexually abused and raped from ages 3 to 10 by my father, I could not see myself as I truly was for a very long time.
When I met my husband, he reflected to me something different, and when I gave birth to our first son, my image of myself as I knew it transformed further. A deep knowing stirred in me; this abomination I endured did not destroy my innate light but had only blinded me to it. The birth of our second son profoundly deepened this understanding.
Giving birth dilated me in body and emotionally in the heart. Through my baby, I was opening my heart to myself too. When the nurse rolled him into my room and handed him to me, everything became silent, my vision narrowed and I could see only him. He was pink, with oceanic indigo eyes, rosebud lips, silken vanilla skin. My body caught fire. My eyes met his stare. I could not pull my gaze from him.
I wept, Every hair on my body stood up. Rushing with ecstasy, a feeling of wholeness and holiness immersed me. I did not put him down for 3 days, he nursed then slept in my arms. I awoke at 3 am. the first night. I looked at him and saw a halo of light. A vibration emanated from him. At this moment it hit me, at 21 years old, this light in him existed simply because he existed. It was the intuitive light of birth, a birthlight we all possess. Suddenly, I looked into the mirror of him, and he reflected me my inborn goodness, my birthright to my own light. I thought, “I had this, I was just like him.” I felt a whooshing in my belly, an echo of remembrance that I too was once a tiny girl baby with an intrinsic light that no man could kill. That no abandoning mother could kill. I, in those revelatory morning moments, had an epiphany, I only thought I had lost this light.
Sexual trauma creates a tremendous fear of my children ever feeling anything like I felt.
I have persecuted myself as a mother, thinking any mistake meant my kids would be traumatized. I am hyper aware, even paranoid regarding my children’s safety. I am completely bewildered how anyone, especially a mother or father, could sexualize their child. I don’t understand it. I never felt the need to idealize either of my parents. This is a blessing. It has saved me much pain and anguish, as many who do traverse that path end up unable to feel the righteous anger, the mental and emotional separation, the boundaries that come down. It is, in short, empowering to look at abusers as they are. But it is also painful because we are born loving our parents. To have to see the reality of what they are is painful to say the least. However, becoming a mother showed me that my birthlight was always within me. I am capable of keeping my children safe. The tapestry of their lives is totally different than mine was. I now see my light, and vow to protect theirs eternally. That is the unexpected gift of my trauma.