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“We are continually shaped by the forces of coincidence.” —Paul Auster

A nurse with a tidy, silver bun introduces herself and leads me into a little, curtained room. She drops a plastic bag on the bed where I will place my clothing after I’ve changed into the soft, hospital gown with the pastel pattern and the ties in the back. She is wearing a snug-fitting, lavender nursing outfit with pink, Puma sneakers. Her top has a band that snaps at the neck and leaves a little opening of skin in the front above her chest. 

Her necklace lies in the bare space and its shape reminds me of another piece of jewelry I recently noticed. It was worn by a woman who I sat next to in meditation on the day leading up to my surgery. She placed a large, rose quartz wand on the table in the center of the group pointing it toward me and when we were finished she offered me a piece of dark chocolate in a shiny wrapper for grounding purposes. She explained how the circular, bronze-toned pendant hanging from her neck was filled with intricate, geometric figures. The patterns within were each meant to correspond with the body’s own unique, inner geometry. 

Afterward, I sunk into a fluffy chair, holding a warm cup of tea. My friend who invited me there, sat across from me under a giant image of a white bird painted on a wooden board with words written across its wingspan. This sky. This sky where we live is no place to lose your wings. So love, love, love. 

Among the many things we talked about, there was one image that stayed with me. It was the vision of what happens to a caterpillar when it transforms within its cocoon into a butterfly and how first it must become within its container, like soup. The caterpillar then completes its metamorphosis into the colorful, flapping magnificence for which it is known. Even beyond its opulent contribution of beauty, the butterfly goes on and works diligently in its vital role in our ecosystem. 

The nurse’s unusual name, Sabrina, her presence and the details of her life seem strangely familiar. The story of her seven brothers and two sisters and the family compound on Mt. Desert Isle. A former life as a heart-transplant nurse. Her ex-husband, an anesthesiologist, who she said would have approved of the team caring for me. 

There is an overlapping texture to the details about her when I recount them now, as if something has happened twice. It might just be a remnant from all of the drugs. Or maybe there has been a blip in my experience of time, an inexplicable glimpse beyond the usual, linear way of seeing things. Or, I may just be coming late to the realization that Sabrina was possibly the same nurse who helped me a year and a half ago when all of this began—with the removal of a bleeding, milk-duct.  

I have a small scar where Jonah’s first tooth landed repeatedly when he nursed. He never bit me, but his tooth would rest in the same place again and again until after endless hours of nourishment, he finally wore through my skin creating a small hole. It was painful and brought on more than one bout with mastitis. I imagined it would be something I would remember intensely. And yet, it only rose to the surface of my mind with the appearance of blood in my bra.

If I compressed my breast in just the right place—in the way I used to in order to begin a flow of milk—a single, crimson droplet of blood appeared. It wasn’t clear where it was coming from which seemed to be a good thing, the absence of a sinister source. Keeping an eye on the area seemed reasonable. 

I did not worry. I withdrew my mind from this part of my body. I considered the experience evidence that most alarming symptoms amount to nothing. I was resolute in living with as few visits to sterile rooms as possible.

A radiologist slips through the curtained entrance and shares her plan to inject dye into my breast. I assumed all of the painful things would happen while I was already under and in the operating room. Sabrina had already injected anesthetic into my hand, so she could be rough with my tiny veins and, we could still be friends. Now more bee-stings.

The hot surge of fluid enters and then dissipates three times and then on the fourth the needle seems to stretch out long and pierce all the way into my chest cavity. When I flinch, the radiologist comments about how inexplicably one of the shots always seems to be more painful than the rest. She just never knows which one it will be. I’m not sure what to say. I just release Sabrina’s poor, flattened hand, which she’d offered to me and I’d taken.

Operating rooms do not appear in reality in the way they seem on television. They are more crowded, overflowing with equipment, and at the same time kind-of bare, like a very clean garage. Besides the acquiescent posture of lying on your back while everyone else is bustling around you under bright lights, your perceptions are skewed further by the quick absorption of drugs, drunk up by your veins as you are wheeled in. 

A see-through green mask is placed over my nose and mouth. I am invited into the brown eyes of the anesthesiologist as he leans over me. The picture on his ID reflects a much younger version of himself. The horseshoe necklace my surgeon wore when she came in to see me earlier is nowhere to be found. I remember considering the paradox of her chosen pendant, knowing how little reliance on luck exists in her profession. I can’t see her, but I might hear her. I’m inhaling deeply now a breath of vapors that will transport me to another realm. 

My first awareness of a return to consciousness is a swell of nausea coupled with big, wet tears pouring down my cheeks and a small sob caught in my throat. Like the rebound from a hard, double-bounce on a ping-pong ball I reenter the world, slammed back in like a rag doll. My eyes resist opening, and I am perplexed as I swim around an odd interior, spinning with darkness and the presence of this unexpected, emotional release. One of the nurses says to another, they did a lot in there, as an explanation for my blubbering. I can’t quite put my finger on what I’m feeling. If I had to name it, I’d call it grief.

The nausea has its grip on me as I travel home along dizzying, country roads. The sky is grey and overcast but all the variant shades of green have finally blended together into one vibrant line of emerald, like velvet, soft along the horizon. I’ve got my head propped on my arm, so I might escape my terrible predicament through sleep. Every time I begin to drift off, I jolt awake, my arm collapses, my head spins and my stomach threatens to empty. I think I might need to lean forward and grab the tubular, vomit bag in my purse that the nurse gave me along with my refilled, Styrofoam cup of ginger ale. 

The front garden is wet, fuchsia azaleas and lavender petals brightened by droplets of rain, the Buddha statue like a fresh, clay sculpture. I make my way into the house through the garage and open the freezer, grabbing a beaded, ice pack prepared in advance. I place my purse on a bar stool and bee-line for my bed upstairs.  

I stop in the laundry room to retrieve the freshly-washed, floral pajamas gifted from my friend. She knows, from her own experience, I will need the button-up top. I try to fit the petite sleeve over the mammoth, hospital bra strapped around my bandages. I give up, trying to imagine how they got me into the velcro contraption without my participation. 

The ice fits nicely into my throbbing armpit and rests across the front of my chest. I’ve poured myself into bed, feeling nearly liquid, like the caterpillar in the thrusts of transformation. I fall into a deep and resounding sleep.

The window in our bedroom is cracked open, its evening. Except for a soothing, drizzle of rain everything feels so still and quiet. I hear the click of a car door through the window and suddenly downstairs the doorbell rings repeatedly in the way only a child can announce their arrival.

The hum of parents talking softly travels upstairs along with a few notes on a wooden flute. I’m surprised no one stops the impromptu tune. It’s a sweet sound and I think about how Adrian’s teacher recommended this particular model instrument because of its gentleness on the ears.

Jonah crawls slowly into the bed with me, creating a wide circle to avoid any tender parts, ending with his face near mine and his legs sprawled out behind him. Adrian stands, balancing on the wooden edge of the bed frame hovering over me. We put our faces together. I tell them how well I am. They share their delight at having experienced many of their favorite things, all in one day. They smell ripe from food and fun and earth, leaving me as abruptly as they came to be cleansed and to collapse into their own, bed nests.

I sleep for much of the next day, sinking into the splendor of rest without qualification. I only get up to eat raisin bread delivered by a friend and to change-out my ice pack. Around mid-day, in a dreamy haze, I vaguely hear the doorbell ring, but ignore it. When I come downstairs a few hours later I see a vase of flowers wrapped in plastic sitting on the porch. I’m careful to open the door without knocking the delivery over and also not to stretch the underside of my arm. I use scissors to slice through the plastic and reveal a colorful display of flowers, so well-arranged they could be artificial.

Upstairs again, I venture to start a very small and light load of laundry and look at a few papers on my desk. The doorbell rings again. I walk slowly down the stairs, careful to maintain my balance and notice a woman through the glass in the door who is unfamiliar and holding something bright in her hands. I wonder if she might be selling something, although it is so rare to receive unsolicited visitors at our house, down at the end of a peninsula. 

I open the door in my mismatched outfit with the new floral pajama bottoms and still with the same top from the previous day. The woman standing there reaches her hand out and shows me a bright, orange, silk butterfly perched on the end of a metal stick. She explains how it was supposed to be included in the original, flower delivery. She has driven all the way back out to our house to make sure I received it. I tell her it really means something to me that she made the extra effort and that the butterfly arrived. I especially liked that it arrived, separately. 

I close the door, walk over to the counter and place the ornament in the vase, noticing the way the butterfly matches the lilies. I go back upstairs and climb back into my cocoon, wondering what it all means.

“Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’m nestled in a silent, dark bedroom nursing my son Adrian, now 20 months old. He’s been awake since dawn and I’m preparing him for a mid-morning slumber. I find my breath as I let go of my thoughts and discover the moment with him again. It is a choice to be with him or to be in my head. I choose to be with him. I notice his body soften, his chest rising and falling with mine. After a while, I open my eyes and look down at his beautiful features. A sliver of light peaks from behind the shades landing on his silken cheek. His wild hair is outlined. His ears still little. There has been talk recently about it being time for me to stop nursing him. My chest tightens in those conversations – especially the ones heavy with “shoulds.” Although Adrian’s love of nursing disrupts my sleep, I don’t feel hurried. I need only look at my big-boy Jonah – now almost four years old – to know the preciousness of these moments of tender connection. Besides, I don’t know if I’m ready to forgo the laughter our family enjoys when Adrian goes running – oh-so-joyfully – through our house yelling, “deeeeet deeeeettttt!” This is his beloved word for nursing and I know that this merry sound will be missed. I also rest assured that when the time is right, I will know. I am listening for his whisper, for him to tell me that he is ready, that he has had enough. I haven’t heard it quite yet but I know it will be here in good time.

I had the pleasure recently of leading a Mindful Mothering Workshop. It took place over the course of four evenings in one of the coziest yoga studios in Southern Maine. In that time, one mother discovered that the emotional outbursts her young boy was having might be mirroring her own attachment to things unfolding in a too-particular way. I was so touched by this mother’s profession of love for her son. “He is my heart, my first real love,” she confided in us, her palms coming to her chest with emotion. She didn’t have to explain this feeling to us. We knew. Another mother spoke passionately about control and the way she felt compelled to hold things together in her household, in her mind, just-so-very-tightly. We applauded her when she came to class late one evening because she had been so wrapped up in being with her children. She released control and it was so beautiful. We laughed with her at her description of suddenly realizing that she was supposed to be somewhere else. We knew this feeling too! A third mother shared that our time together had allowed her to slip into the space behind her thoughts discovering a wisdom there to guide her day-to-day in the decisions she made for her children. She created a magnificent birthday cake to celebrate and honor her son – for all that they have been through together – from this powerful space behind her thoughts. With her littler one, she discovered a profound connection in peeling an egg with him in an unhurried way.

On my drive home from our first class together on a pitch black country road – lit only by my headlights and the moon – I contemplated whether I really have what it takes to help mothers in the way that I was envisioning. An old perfectionism in me was creeping up. I hadn’t been pondering long when all of a sudden there was a giant bird flying in front of me. Its wing-span was at least the width of my windshield. Upon seeing it, I slowed my car quickly and then realized that this enormous being was about to land on the road right in front of me. I slammed on my brakes. A stack of books between my children’s two car seats came flying forward with a loud crash onto the floor. I sat in the darkness of my car in amazement as this incredible bird slowly landed and then turned to look at me. There was a space between the landing and the moment when this beautiful creature languorously turned its head to look at me. To my amazement, there before me, was an elegant, white barn owl with golden eyes. It took my breath away. I looked into his eyes, almost not believing what I was seeing, and knew that I’d been visited. This moment was anything but lost on me. Just as quickly as it had appeared, the owl vanished, up onto a telephone wire, I think. I drove home in a state of complete wonder and amazement, my senses heightened, attentive to every curve in the road. I felt elated. I felt blessed. I felt on purpose.

Accessing The Moment with your Children Through Your Senses

My favorite friends are those with whom I may skip the small talk. We almost never discuss shopping or our hair. We may not know where the other went to college or how our bills are getting paid. We may speak every few days or every few years but when we come together our conversations quickly launch into explorations of universal truths, the meaning of life and our reasons for being “here.” I have a special place in my heart for these friends (and family members). It was a friend like this who I was sitting with recently in my driveway while the three children between us created chalk art and squabbled over a big wheel. Our conversation quickly turned to the philosophical. A storm cloud rumbled in the distance and in between our shared thoughts I assured my older son Jonah that he was safe. Thunder is just a sound after all. It was the perfect segue into a question I had wanted to pose to my friend regarding coming to mindfulness through our senses. Are my methods of accessing mindfulness with my own children too simplistic to share with the public? After our discussion she assured me that they were not. We agreed that small tweaks to how we live and act as mothers can create momentous change.

I use many methods for coming back to the moment with my children when I find myself operating on autopilot. I am particularly susceptible at these times of unconsciousness to speaking carelessly, not meaning what I am saying, becoming frustrated, generalizing and generally not enjoying the moment. This is not who I want to be as a mother and so when I feel this way I know that I must quickly change my state. The approach I have found to be most powerful to bring me back to my self, my highest self, is to use my senses as a guide. As I described this to my friend I asked her to become engaged and truly experience our surroundings in that moment. With the storm coming more near now, on an increasingly blustery summer day in Maine, our eyes, ears, noses and mouths had more than enough stimulus to draw from. I asked my friend to truly see the giant puffy clouds before us, growing like mountains as we spoke. We listened with heightened attention to the many birds chirping near our rural home excited for the impending rain. Then we took deep breaths together, inhaling the crisp, clean air relaxing into and enjoying this process. We raised our hands up toward the sky, stretching and genuinely feeling the wind on our fingertips. We didn’t exercise our sense of taste in that moment but my friend was getting the idea and looked at me excitedly and said, “I already feel different.” “I can better see my daughter as a part of the Oneness just from having listened to the birds.” I do not move through this senses exercise myself without finally acknowledging my most important sense. My sixth sense. In times of stress or unsettledness I almost always tap into the energy that is all encompassing and that I know will support me through any situation big or small. I call to my angels. I call to my grandparents who have gone before me. I call to my highest self to come forward and assist me. All of these things combine with the new energy brought to me by my senses and bring me back to a newer, fresher, more brilliant perspective of the two little ones before me and I experience them with love anew.