According to my mind, most of the time, I am a 37-year-old female named Gina Tang who needs authentic creativity to thrive. I have three daughters (with two fathers between them), and a few straggling succulents. I call myself writer, dancer, poet, artivist, teacher, student, lover, friend, mother, daughter, sister, healer, servant, hostess, partner, employee, and on down the line.
The point of this question seems to poke deeper.
Because these are all roles; ways to interact with the world, and all of its moving parts. These are parts to play. These are parts of who I am.
So who do I think I am?
Who I think I am, according to my mind, cannot possibly be right all of the time. Because my mind is informed, shaped, influenced, and molded by stories, beliefs, judgments, opinions, conditions, and on down the line. External, even arbitrary, forces.
Without shame, I would go as far as to say that my mind has been damaged by society. I'll think I am wrong, unworthy, misplaced, stifled, inadequate, unwelcome. I'll distract and devalue myself rather than lean into a full trust of life, and my inherent right to play.
Then I'll snap back awake and remember:
I am a distinct expression of whatever-god-is. Love. Spirit. Life Force. I am a cellular event, exactly like a star, brilliant and temporary flash of light, body-mind extension of The Big Hand.
I can change my mind. The definitions around how I experience myself may grow and expand. There are wormholes, everywhere. I'm in a conditioning compost-bin.
I am an experience in the making.
I am a living example.
I am being human.
I am full of surprises.
I am a force of nature.
My current household is an apartment. It has lots of kitchen cupboards and walls full of inspirational words and images. But too many people share a bedroom and I feel like a cooped falcon. We plan to move soon.
The vision? A house to share with a few more people--chosen family, aka "community." We enjoy mindful living, a big yard, organic gardening, creative collaboration, and nice laundry machines.
I'm holding this house in my mind as I look for a job, fingers crossed, mind open.
Words that describe my house-holding style:
Kid-friendly. Art-heavy. Food-driven. Growth-oriented.
My home is reasonably clean, considering children. My home is safe. My home is filled with musical instruments, singing, movement, and imaginative play. My home is welcoming and open. My home holds the full range of human emotion and experience. My home is a place to be totally authentic and self-expressed. My home is a place of celebration, education, exploration, and fellowship. My home evolves, as we do.
I could go straight to the super-obvious: my shoulders neck jaw.
But with space to sort this out, I'll zoom in on where I've been mentally and emotionally tight. That's the root of shoulders neck jaw, right?
Some of the mental tightness is super-obvious, because it was 100 degrees today. I don't function in high temperatures unless I'm in a highly controlled environment, like the sauna, or a hot yoga class. Heat wipes my brain. Like, all day: where did I park the car? where can we get more water? how can this child be hungry again? please don't make me stand here waiting for you in this heat while you change the clean socks I gave you into mismatched pairs of varying sizes and thickness.
So I'll dive into what's been emotionally tight. The biggest tension in my emotional life is Keith. He's the father of my two youngest kids, and a super-obviously good human being.
We've been in love with each other for seven years, this lifetime. In each of those seven years, I experienced chronic and acute emotional pain around things he did or said. I wanted to pull away many times, but I'd always seem to recover.
Over a year ago, however, something shifted. I stopped wanting Keith to touch me. I felt anxious and gnarled in my stomach whenever he did. It was like suddenly, this strapping young man who I used to really enjoy cozying up with is a clumsy, clumpy, cramp in my side. Like, all day: are you kidding me? where are my boundaries? what am I doing here? dear god let him latch elsewhere so we can "just be friends."
In the interest of protecting the deeper health of our connection, and after exploring, at great length, the potential and actual triggers for shut down in my chakras, the over-expenditures of oxytocin, the nature of projection, and the trauma of my younger selves, I broke off the monogamous committed romantic aspect of our relationship.
It feels liberating to explore and occupy space as a single adult female. I started dating again, and met someone. I'm loving the experience of an untangled intimate exchange, even if she and I don't spend a lot of physical time together. It's all good on paper: each party privy because transparency is a pillar of real-relationship-building. And it's all good in conversation: Keith says exactly what I'd need to hear in order to feel like I can still root down, drop in, open up and be my un-tethered self around him. He's compelling, and he's daddy, so we co-habitate as we co-parent. We aren't sexual, he offers support, schedules are shifting, things might/should get better.
But things don’t always feel right and I HAVE BEEN TIGHT IN MY OWN HOME. That's the issue. My nerves. And that's on top of everything else that full-time mothering of two children no older than four delivers, in heaping doses. No wonder I've been feeling so self-protective, even self-destructive at times (though gently, and in moderation, because mindfulness). It's like trying to take the knot out of a very delicate chain. Seems to soften, then harden. Can see it, but can't quite get in there. Using a needle--my inner compass pointing me to my true north--to weedle between the lines.
Awareness makes the change. It also breeds gratitude. How am I continuing to be awesome? How am I maintaining consciousness? What's working, and filling me up? Soular Power, or Fossil Fuels? What can I do/say/think/feel to explore and express my truth? How does my current tension point me to deeper freedom? I'm growing forward!
This open mental, physical, and emotional posture promotes muscle tension release, increased immune function, enhanced cognitive capacity, and a healthy appetite for food, sex, rest, etc. With the heart forward, shoulders release down and back, and the mouth, more prone to smiling, heals the jaw.
So my job is to keep speaking out for myself, and to take action as it arises. To honor my truth and take my time. Not to drive with the emergency brake on, metaphorically speaking. To stop bracing against the flow. Listen in, open up, get loose. My body knows the way through this.
Once again, the question comes as coincidence.
I'm steeped in that dynamic process known as "job hunting." Although I've had many jobs, this is the first time I've ever "hunted" for one. My other jobs more or less fell out of the sky. At most, I reached up and plucked.
Plus, I don't actually think I've worked full-time in one role, at one location. I've certainly never been on salary. I've been a career freelancer, free-styler, and free spirit. I've made much of my adult life work for me in a way that supported travel, flexibility, creative control, and unlimited days off.
Until more offspring arrived, anyway.
With two kids four and under, I'm accustomed to intense working conditions, long hours, and politics. I can analyze and adjust, with or without feedback. I'm able to multi-task endless high-priority projects across departments under pressure, without sacrificing quality or attention to detail (most of the time). My apartment even feels like a cubicle, albeit well-personalized.
But the motherhood job, though essential, pays nothing. In fact, it costs quite a bit. So I'm looking for another job that pays me enough money to afford the job I already have: keeping me and my children safely housed, healthily fed, and adequately resourced.
On one hand, I'm excited about the opportunity to go away each day, and then come home happy to see children I've missed (rather than just being happy to take an uninterrupted shower). I'm excited to leverage my talents and to be challenged, to sharpen new skills and make new connections. I'm excited to be financially independent.
On the other hand, I'm dreading the pressure. I'm dreading early mornings and commuting and closed-toed shoes. I'm dreading corporate norms across the board, really. I'm dreading "selling out" on myself as an Expressive Artivist. And I'm dreading the loss of being so close to my kids, of watching and knowing and feeling their every adorable and appalling move.
So, I ask myself: Who do I work for?
My family? A company? Society? A client-base? A manager?
While I might answer affirmatively to each of these, a deeper occupational clarity knocks. Perhaps I work "at," or "with," or "in consideration of" the above entities. And at times, I might find myself squirming in a belief that I am not free to do as I please.
Let me be clear, then:
I work for my Self.
I work for my dreams, visions, and goals.
I work for my Soul.
I work for the present moment.
I work for the creative pulse of Life.
No matter where I am, what I do, or how I stand,
I am fully employed by The Big Hand.
May I rest in peace.
UPDATE: A week after the original writing of this answer, I am calling off the search for a full-time job. I interviewed with my top-choice company and processed my impressions. The result is that I’m committing to living out my value of creative freedom. I will be the sole owner of voice.
Expect to see much more of me than expected.
The answer to this question depends on how sarcastic I'm feeling, or if I've gone over an edge somewhere.
Barring those variations on humor, here's what tickles my funny bone right now.
Rose, age 2, getting SOOOOOooooo excited and happy over the simplest things. Like me bringing her a crayon. "Thank you Mama!" she says, in total rapture.
Same Rose has a quick and quippy way of saying, "Bye bye Mr. Buttface!" She's pulled it out at some choice moments; most recently, when we dropped my mother off at the airport. I tried to look stern.
Lily, age 4, demonstrating the dance that bees do when communicating with other bees. "This is The Round Dance. It means the pollen is close!" Lily orchestrates a sequence of circular movements with the air of a 70-year-old former ballerina.
Lily has also been creating environmental education videos. Apparently, she has a strong activist gene. I don't know that I've ever seen anyone so young demonstrate such conviction. Here: A few gems on YouTube for viewing convenience.
Rose’s sad face. She pushes her lips out as far as they’ll go, in a tight little “O,” and pulls her eyebrows down toward her nose. Then she hunches her shoulders around front and hangs her head. Again, I try not to laugh.
That time when I heard Rose's voice coming from the bedroom: "Milky, milky!" Upon investigation, I found her sleepily trying to pull Lily's pants down.
I'll hop back to this post periodically to add more funnies. These memories are worth their weight in gold when the kids get older.
Long story shortest:
I am composting my shit.
Long story short:
I first became pregnant by accident at 22 years old. My lifestyle was unsuited to motherhood. When I found out I was pregnant, I dropped all illicit activities. I studied Reiki while eating cereal and watching cartoons.
The infant stage was easy; I was still nesting and recovering myself. By the time Kayana was one-and-a-half, I was ready to fly. I went back to school and started moving my life forward. Still, the first few years were really rough. Yelling. Fighting. Punishing. Flipping my lid.
When Kayana was about six, it started to shift. Such a relief! I was convinced that one child was enough, thank you very much, no more kids. Then I met Keith, and got the crazy idea that having kids with him could be a good thing. Having spent a lot of time, by then, exploring holistic health and mindful relating, there was so much I wanted to do differently. It would be healing.
Fast forward to now. I have a 13-year-old, a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old, and a baby in the spirit realm. I have moved through depression, addiction, despair. I’ve lost so much hair--am still losing hair. But I’ve shed skins. Stripped off codependence in relationship, dropped anchor. Eaten my shadow, as they say. Sometimes it’s one heavy meal, other times I'm shadow-grazing all day long.
Beyond cultivating the capacity to be present with constant challenge and change, my motherhood journey is about unwinding generational programming. Sitting with my triggers and then choosing a new response. I knew it would be hard to dive into my childhood wounds via the mirror of motherhood—but it’s much harder than I imagined. The emotional and mental exhaustion is my biggest struggle when I don’t have enough space or support to deeply rest. Without that deep rest, I sometimes find myself feeling depressed.
I’ve learned over these last few years to let feelings of depression wash through me without pulling me under. I watch sad, dark thoughts go by— like an old biplane pulling a tattered announcement through the sky behind it. I’ll read it (don’t we always?) and then decide that No, that doesn’t apply to me. I am not actually a horrible mother. I am not really going to blow this joint and go live in the woods, in a tiny home of my own, where I can live with my pain in peace.
I turn away from these treacherous thoughts and sink into my heart, into my softly-stretched body. I feel my jaw relax, and my shoulders drop back. I remember that I am safe, and sound. I look within, I look around, my sun rises, and I love.
This is a great day for Question #2, because I have a giant heat blister on my lower lip. It looks like herpes. I've been eating too much food, too late at night, and my belly sticks out farther than my newly-emptied breasts. I haven't showered yet; my sticky neck makes looking down uncomfortable.
No, classical standards of physical beauty don't apply to me right now. And you know what? I care less than I ever have. Maybe that's one of the perks of being 37 and having three kids. Maybe it's spiritual growth: I know, in the core of my bones, that beauty is love and love is God and God is me and therefore I am beauty.
I feel beautiful when I see with the eyes of my heart.
I feel beautiful when I take a deep breath and look at the sky.
I feel beautiful when I smile at a stranger.
I feel beautiful when I write poetry.
I feel beautiful when I show up for my friends and family.
I feel beautiful when I speak my truth (no matter how ugly).
I feel beautiful when I am dancing.
When do you feel beautiful?
At first glance, I'm sitting in a hot little bedroom surrounded by clean laundry, dirty laundry, naked dolls, unopened mail, and water bottles. My nervous system is about 67% fried. I'm looking down the barrel of another long evening in which various puzzles must be solved: dinner-time, bed-time, tooth-brushing, clean-up, and connection with the kids' father, Keith.
I could go deep into the details of where I am now as it relates to my environment, my health, my body, or my state-of-mind. I could describe my position on the overall path of my life, or how far down my to-do list I am.
Instead, I'll zoom in on one particular time-space point:
Right now, at 4:30 pm on August 26th, 2019, I commit to blogging my way through "Motherhood Express: 40 Questions for Newborn Moms." I'll speak to one question per day, for better or worse, rain or shine. Because while my mothering skills present on a spectrum from excellent to dreadful, telling the truth is something I can do consistently.
I should add that I've journaled and video-logged my way through The 40 Questions many times. I've worked alone, in partnership with other mothers, and in group settings. I believe in the power of self-expression completely, and have felt the positive impact of every question I've answered, every time I've answered it.
I commit to blogging my way through the questions so that there will be a written record of this process on a platform other than my own copy of the journal, various notebooks, text threads, and napkins.
I commit to exposing myself, hard truths and all, because motherhood in America is a gold mine of pit falls.
I commit to sharing Motherhood Express with moms because we need all the space (and the grace) we can get.
See you tomorrow.
Somewhere around two or three years postpartum, many parents start thinking of another baby. Such adorable things this little human does, and says! What a rewarding journey this has been! Sure, it was hard at the beginning—but everyone survived. Why not do it again?
And if it’s happening again, it might as well be now; they’ll be close enough in age to play, and you increase your odds of having at least one child who will care for you in your old age.
That, and your friend’s baby at the park last week was so sweet-smelling and cuddly in your arms that your ovaries started working overtime. Now you’re coursing with hormones that make your mate look sexy.
Pregnancy flies by because you’re so busy with the sibling-to-be. You’ve already got the big stuff, like a car seat (somewhere in the garage) and a baby swing (also somewhere in the garage). You already know how the nursing, bathing, diapering, teething, feeding, sleeping, not sleeping, biting, soothing, rocking, rolling, and bumping goes.
This should be easy. Right?
Here’s What to Expect When You’re No Longer Expecting
From the very second a new baby is born, everything about your prior reality splinters to the floor. Now there is another person whose primary need and desire is to have your total and complete present-moment attention at all times. The demand on your bandwidth has suddenly multiplied.
The pre-existing child, with whom you’d come to enjoy a close and rewarding relationship, is slowly realizing what it really means to have “A New Baby!” and is forming a deep-seeded sense of competition and scarcity while throwing tantrums and generally pushing your every known button.
About those buttons. God forbid your inner child gets activated and you start projecting your own childhood trauma and drama, only now the stakes are staggering because you’re imprinting upon your innocent children, destroying their angelic perfection, likely laying the groundwork for depression, dependence, and dis-ease.
Partners, if pictured, attempt to serve and protect but have no real frame of reference for what it takes to care for fully-dependent-yet-completely-divergent human beings around the clock. And, God forbid your partner’s inner child gets activated, too. All sexiness evaporates. You feel lonely, even though you’re surrounded. You don’t feel seen, heard, or met in your relationship, even though you’re in it together.
As the new baby gets bigger, there finally comes the ability for the siblings to play. This part works out great, provided your definition of “play” includes every kind of fighting imaginable. Fighting over two inches of couch space. Fighting over the color of a spoon. Fighting over goddamn air—essentially, whatever they both come into contact with at the same time.
What You’ll Want at the Ready
Compassionate Self-Acceptance. The best you can do—cliché but true—is your best. Let it be enough. Commit to radical self-acceptance, or sink in the quicksand of criticism. Radical self-acceptance embraces even the hairiest of stories and circumstances. Feeling frumpy or out-of-shape. Resenting people you love. Peeing, a little, in your pants. Dropped balls and things forgotten. The dark thoughts.
Community. Thanks to the individualistic ideals of modern society, motherhood is often tackled in relative isolation. This has never been a good idea, but now isolation will more or less destroy you. The sort of compassionate self-acceptance described above will support you in being transparent and vulnerable, so you truly feel seen. Support from family, friends (and the occasional stranger) is essential. Do not hesitate to fall back on your networks. Hopefully, your nets work. If not, reach out for help.
Pillows. They can be punched and/or screamed into. Your toddler doesn’t underestimate the validity of a good scream, and neither should you. It’s like a pressure release valve. (You can also scream in your car, if you ever find yourself alone in it.) At other times, pillows can be made into cozy piles for reading books, singing songs, or building forts. Note: books, songs, and forts should be kept at the ready, as well.
Water. You’ll need to drink a gallon a day. Especially if you’ve turned to wine, which is a popular choice, but not recommended as it stresses an already-taxed nervous system. Small bodies of water, such as bowls, baths, or kiddie pools, will entertain (and contain) children nicely when you need a change of pace. Finally, water itself is an excellent role model. “Be like water, my friend,” said Bruce Lee—who may or may not have been able to flow with the art of being at home with multiple small children.
Expert Advice. You might like winging things. This approach, also known as emergent, experiential, or experimental parenting, is deeply valid. That said, a few well-timed nuggets of wisdom from parents who are in a position to be objective can come in handy. There are many compelling conscious parenting guides out there. A few great ones include the works of Daniel Siegel, Shefali Tsabary, and Janet Lansbury.
What is the single best thing you can do to help yourself use these (and infinite other) life-saving tools? Cultivate a habit of slowing down and breathing deeply. Let yourself make one choice, answer one question, and solve one crisis at a time.
By Gina Tang
According to current reports, more than 20% of women in the modern Western world suffer from postpartum depression. The American Academy of Pediatrics claims that postpartum depression is the number-one most under-diagnosed obstetric complication in America, making actual rates of depression (often accompanied by anxiety, OCD, and psychosis) even higher. Many women don't know whether their "baby blues" qualify as actual funk, and for those that do, many don't reach out for help because social conditioning makes mothers feel guilty for being anything less than glowing.
Research from renowned social scientist and physician Dr. Gabor Mate links maternal stress to depression and dis-ease in humans. Life is designed to thrive. We seem to have gone sideways.
Postpartum is not merely a period, at all. It is a portal. A gateway to transformation. And since transformed people transform people, restoring the potency of the postpartum portal may very well save the world.
Let’s raise awareness around the potential of postpartum, in hopes that we might more efficiently harness its power. Let’s look at postpartum with open eyes and ask, “What is happening here? How goes it, really?”
Please note: every pregnancy has its own postpartum thumbprint (and, every pregnancy has its own postpartum). There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to being human, or bearing humanity. May these generalizations serve as a point of departure in your own personal journey.
Seven Features of the Original Postpartum Design
1. We are meant to listen in.
If there is one thing a new mother is wired for, that’s intuitive wisdom. Her body essentially streams with raw intelligence. It holds the basic blueprint for how it is to be here now. With this most fundamental sensitivity level turned all the way up to maximum, we feel more clearly than ever what is working, and what is not. Followed, of course, by choice: Will you be open to feedback from your body-mind? Will you let it guide you?
2. We are meant to be supported.
To be held as we learn to hold. To rest, and to restore. It’s a different mode of operation, a perspective and paradigm for experience: to be held, versus holding. Held is passive, Hold is active. Yin, Yang. In cultures with high rates of social success and well-being, new mothers routinely spend their first 40 days being totally cared for in every way. You’re as fresh as the baby, and probably as wrinkled. You get low lights, soft voices, gentle touch, and much, much more.
3. We are meant to be nourished.
After releasing an entire human baby from one’s abdomen, eating a lot of cold cereal and crackers is, quick frankly, tough sh*t. Unfortunately, this—along with pizza, sandwich crusts, and a variety of food-like nuggets form the foundation of many women’s diets in early motherhood. We do not receive the highest-possible-octane fuel on earth, even though we are doing the most essential job on the planet. (Tip: there are entire branches of study dedicated to holistic postpartum nutrition.)
4. We are meant to move freely.
The body desires fluency. Learning to walk with new wings means finding balance from scratch, and it’s difficult to dance that dance when we’re rigid. We must spread out, seek resonance, make contact. Drop into our hips, smack lips, do all the things bodies do when coming to their senses. Trauma tightens us down and promotes rigidity, stifling the flow that nourishes our growth.
5. We are meant to fall apart.
Whoever you were before giving birth is dead and gone. Expect to mourn her loss in some way, shape, and form. There is shedding skin, slippery ground, burning ash, cracking crust. We need space, place, time, and trust to let the process change us. Blocking its progress creates kinks in our power lines. Suppressing, denying, avoiding, or escaping our discomfort only makes it more destructive.
6. We are meant to be together.
Women regulate each other’s nervous systems and balance each other’s hormones. Newly conjoined to an infant, we need mirrors that reflect a reality in which we are not the only one of our kind. The witnessing presence of others who share the same sensations generates connection at a cellular level. We feel seen, heard, met--and not for a single moment isolated.
7. We are meant to build new systems.
The ability to arrange our structures to better support the evolving profile of our lives is a basic human freedom. We reserve the right to opt-out of outdated subscriptions. If a given institution no longer serves the best interests of our selves, our children, and the earth, we are compelled to re-imagine and re-design according to the real needs of our whole beings.
A Simple Call to Action
Postpartum depression is now so common that many people conflate the words, assuming “postpartum” refers to depression itself, as in, “She has really bad postpartum.” If we simply nod and politely move on to another topic, assuming the doctors (and their medications) have it covered, then we abandon all hope.
The normalization of dis-ease is the most immediate threat to our species. We cannot afford another generation of humans who are conditioned for denial, disconnection, and co-dependence; whose basic attachments have been tampered with because our mothers struggled to be present with us.
Healing starts with the mental, social, emotional, physical, spiritual, and environmental health of mothers.
Please, keep the conversation going.