first fig

my candle burns at both ends…

Month: November, 2007

Healing through Motherhood

This was posted a couple of months ago at Feminist Mormon Housewives. It is the epilogue to my first post “Waiting to be healed.”

I never thought much about being a mother. Of course, I always assumed I would be one because it’s just what you do, but motherhood was always an ambiguous concept that I refused to think about. I was focused on graduate school and the brilliant career I was going to have as a feminist historian. And then I got married and graduate school didn’t happen but pregnancy did.
All of a sudden, I found myself in a situation that I had never thought about, not even imagined. I was so conflicted, knowing that I should have been happy but feeling so incredibly inadequate. I couldn’t be a mother; I had no mothering skills at all and I didn’t like babies. More than anything, I was afraid that I would pass on all my insecurities to this child. I did not want to let my own frustration with life damage him the way my parent’s had me. I felt myself falling into the darkness that consumes. The hopelessness inside me was overwhelming, almost as if I had been buried alive. Pregnancy released the painful memories from my childhood that I had worked so hard to forget about. The loneliness and fear I had felt as a child came crashing down on me until I could hardly breathe.

The waves of hopelessness pounded me for months until one Sunday, sitting in Sacrament Meeting, I heard the Lord speak. “The child will heal you.” I felt a wriggle in my womb as if the baby I carried was trying to assure me of this truth. Something other than myself knew that being this child’s mother would provide the balm to my weary soul. A calm in the storm came and so I waited.

The day of my delivery arrived. It was long and exhausting. I had chosen to have my baby in a birth center so I could have a natural childbirth. I wanted to feel every contraction, every movement. I wanted to touch the power of womanhood. As I transitioned, the pounding waves came again, but this time they were physical and primal. I pushed for two hours; wondering through each contraction whether this would be the one to snuff out my life. And then I felt Her. The love was unbelievable. I was surrounded by my husband, mother and father, sister and two midwives, but theirs was not the only love I felt. My unnamed Mother, the one that I had so often longed for was with me, stroking my damp hair and holding me through the pain. I could not voice Her presence but I know She was there.

That night, as my husband lay sleeping, I tried to calm my beautiful newborn son. As he fussed and cried, I felt the familiar panic rise up in my throat. I saw the sadness in his big, blue eyes and I did not know how to comfort him. Tears came to my eyes as I felt my inadequacy; but without thinking, a simple tune escaped my lips. My crying child quieted. As I sung those cherished words of the realization of a Mother, my son, the child sent to heal me, looked at me with the deep perception that only newborns posses, as if to say, “I know, Mama. She is with us.” I felt Her presence and Her overwhelming love for me and my son. She has been with us ever since, whispering in my ear, lovingly instructing me how to be a mother. And that has healed me.

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An Introduction to First Fig

So this is my very first blog. As you can probably see, I created First Fig about a year ago but I spent that year deciding whether I was brave enough to have a blog. (Also I was having a baby but that’s neither here nor there). Now that I have decided to be brave, I thought I would tell you a little bit about myself and my co-contributors.

About mraynes:

I am a Mormon feminist and have proudly claimed that label. I graduated with a degree in history with an emphasis in women’ history and women’s studies. I want more than anything else in the world to go to graduate school but the time is not right so I am supporting my husband through his doctoral program by working at a domestic violence shelter. I am the director of domestic violence services; basically I help women become independent through counseling and providing them with resources. I also facilitate groups both at the shelter and in the community. Recently I became a mother and it has been an amazing experience. Eventually I would like to go back to school and get my doctorate in social policy and social welfare.

About weasie:

Weasie is the middle sister. She is currently a junior at BYU, studying Anthropology. Right now she is preparing to go to Africa in January. She will be doing an internship in Tanzania and hopefully she will be able to give us updates every once and a while.

About rayness:

rayness is the baby of the family; she is the most beautiful and smartest of the three of us. She is a freshman at BYU and studying Political Science. rayness is a constitutional scholar, she can tell you about every Supreme Court decision ever decided. Her life goal is to be a Supreme Court Justice.

Hopefully my sisters will have enough time in their busy schedules to tell you more about themselves, they are amazing! Anyway, we are really excited about this and we hope you enjoy our blog.

How I became a feminist

I have been feeling nostalgic since Halloween. When I was little, my mother used to dress me up as important women from history; one year I was Helen of Troy and the next I was Emmeline Pankhurst (I know there’s a big difference). This year I felt like being ironic, so I showed up at the ward’s trunk or treat as a Stepford Wife. I had a pink, floral, 50’s style dress on with a cardigan, apron and pearls. My name tag read “Mrs. Brandon S. Matthews…Stepford Wife” (this allowed my husband to go as himself). Honestly, I don’t think a lot of people got it, perhaps it would have been different if they had known that I have only partially taken my husband’s name and I am the breadwinner in the family. And of course, people now associate Stepford Wives with a horrible Nicole Kidman movie.

So you’re thinking, Okay…this walk down Halloween lane has been fascinating, but what does it have to do with how you became a feminist? I’m glad you asked. So there I was, walking around looking like Stepford Wife, holding my squirming baby dressed in a red M&M costume that I had stayed up till 4 a.m. hand sewing (I know, the ironies never end) and I ran smack dab into the man that made me into a feminist! Awkward! The last time I saw him, I was nineteen and telling him that it was ok that he hadn’t called me for four months and had broken my heart.

Immediately old memories started popping up, like the time he told me that “a college degree was only a piece of paper for a girl” or that “women have no history outside of their husband and children”. But my favorite was when he said that families with too many girls in them were “weak”, knowing I came from a family of all girls. Oh how I wanted to use my hard won assertiveness to fill this man with shame, but all I could do was stand there. He, on the other hand, quickly maneuvered a little pirate and his wife dressed as Miss America (I kid you not!) as the little boy asked, “Daddy, why aren’t we stopping at that one?” I heard him reply as he walked past me, “Because there is nothing there.”

The anger hit me in one huge wave and I wanted to scream at him, “Do you know what you’ve done to me!” But the nicety that has been socialized into me as a Mormon woman, the same nicety that allowed me to absolve him of his jack-assery towards me at nineteen, took over and I walked on to the next car. But not without reflecting on the road that this man inadvertently put me on.

I grew up in a pro-feminist home; I mean, my mother dressed me as Emmeline Pankhurst for goodness sake and my father is the kindest, most Christ-like man on the planet. I grew up reading Little Women and Anne of Green Gables, I identified with the strong female characters that I read about. I remember telling a little boy in 4th grade that I was a feminist (all I got was a puzzled look, how many 4th graders know what a feminist is?). When we got those ridiculous lessons in Young Women’s about homemaking and husband-keeping, I laughed at them and thought they were completely irrelevant to women of the 21st century. It honestly never occurred to me that some people still viewed women as less important than men. So I was completely unprepared for my first serious relationship with a man who happened to be a sexist.

A year at a church school had completely indoctrinated in me the importance of getting married and fulfilling my role as a woman as quickly as possible. When I went home for the summer to a new state and met that handsome and confident newly returned missionary, I was a prime target to be easily manipulated. I changed myself to fit what this man wanted; I pointedly ignored all the wonderful things I had been taught by my parents.

But nobody can change who they are completely and when we got back to school and I started taking a Women’s History class, the core of who I am started stirring once again. I remember talking to him about how women had been oppressed throughout history and he told me that I didn’t know what I was talking about and that I should keep my opinions to myself. Those words hurt me deeply but I didn’t say anything because I thought I was in love with this man and I wanted to keep him happy. After that, he never called me again. I think that he probably realized he was loosing control over me and so he cut his losses and moved onto a more malleable girl.

After the initial grief at the loss of my first love, the anger came. Anger at myself for changing who I was. Anger at men for being such jerks. Anger at the church for giving men the privilege of being jerks. Anger at God for allowing women to be oppressed by His sanctioned doctrines. I had a crisis of faith. It doesn’t matter right now how I got through that, I’m sure that I will talk about that at some later point, but a series of tender mercies were given to me and I am mostly at peace.

Like I said, I am mostly at peace and have a wonderful, happy life but I am not unscathed from my journey through feminism. Being a Mormon feminist is often a painful, lonely lot. I am much more cynical than I was at nineteen and I tend to see the worst in people, especially men. I won’t lie, there are days when I want to scream at that man, “Look at what you’ve done to me” because the journey is so hard. I know that I will spend the rest of my days fighting men like him and keeping my daughters safe from their sons. I will never fully forgive him because I will never fully be at peace, that is the lot of a Mormon feminist. But most days I am grateful for the road I am on and the awareness and complexity in my life.