It is Sunday and I am talking on the phone with a woman who suffers from what I call the “Not a Good Enough Mother” dis-ease. She questions, labors and moans over her imagined inadequacies. Her teenage son is like a wild horse. Perhaps some memories linger at a cellular level of a war his ancestors fought or a memory he learned to forget about being bullied when he was little. He bucks and kicks refusing to be gentled preferring instead to scar himself on the barbs of a fence he imagines others have imposed around him.
I hear a sound from the meadow. I think it is a train calling and I dismiss it. The voice on the phone of a mother moans and cries over her every flaw blends in with the sound from the meadow. The cows come wandering over from another meadow about this time of day. Evening is coming and the grass is cool. I hang up having done my best to echo the voice of the mother who tells herself she is not enough every minute of every day until she cannot bear the feeling of her own skin against her bones.
“You are not alone,” I tell her. “Gentle yourself. Find some quiet and release yourself from the ligatures you hang yourself with.”
“I want my mother,” she says.
“Mother is always here,” I say. “All you need to do is call. Go outside, find a tree or a stream or a rock and listen for the sound of her comfort.”
The bellow comes from deep within. Long, deep and loud. It is not a train. It is the cows. They are eating and communing in the fading daylight, but one stands apart, bellowing in a different tone. I decide to go outside on the deck to do my yoga. It is then that I notice her. Something is hanging from her vagina. I wonder if it is possible that she has caught something on her tail but then as I move closer to the edge of the meadow that it is a piece of her insides. She wails in pain and pushes, her ribs expanding for breath, her tail lifted in anticipation of pushing the rest of what was hanging outside of her onto the grass. She looks around at her rear end to see if she has been successful.
I watch in amazement as she continues to eat in between what seem to be contractions, this piece of her insides protruding from her vagina. I look to see if she has a swollen udder. When I was nearing the end of my pregnancies, my breasts were swollen but not yet full of milk. Her teats were small, neatly tucked up against her belly. I thought perhaps cows were different than human mothers in that way and continued to watch her roam, then stand still, raise her tail and push with all her might, groaning and crying. The other cows looked up from their eating when they heard her cries, tails swishing, unconcerned at the rhythmic cycle of pacing, pushing, mooing, checking and then returning to eating. The baby was awfully small. If in fact it was her calf that was contained in the sac she was trying to push all the way out, it was hardly bigger than a human baby at full term. I went to the fence and she looked at me with the whites of her eyes showing.
“Mooo…oooo,” she implored. I rolled up my sleeves ready to climb under the fence and pull her baby out. I’d never done such a thing, only read about it in “All Creatures Great and Small,” by James Herriot. I wondered if she would trust me. She paced again and then stopped bracing herself, ribs expanding as she gave a fierce push and then laid herself down in the grass. I thought this was it and waited for a wet calf to raise itself on wobbly wet legs from the grass. But the cow got up again with the grayish sac still protruding from her vagina. She ambled toward the far end of the meadow where there were trees and more bushes perhaps to offer her some privacy or protection. Then I noticed a coyote entering the meadow. It sat down and watched the cow as she paced back and forth under the trees as the dusk settled in over the meadow. The sentry of death, a watcher, an opportunist waiting to perform his role as Nature mother’s us all into doing. Some of us resist, some of us know better than to resist. The cow, now on her knees was surrendering. Having noticed Coyote sitting and watching, his tongue out and panting to appreciate the change in the smell of the air upon the moment of a birth or a death, the cows sang in unison and gathered around their fallen sister to guard her as she moved through her sacred ceremony.
My woman friend cried for her mother, dead one year ago today. She was an Irish woman with sparkling blue eyes who never gave herself permission to leave. There were no kindred or sisters to sing as she mustered the courage to sever the marriage that held her in a perpetual reenactment of domination and submission experienced at the hands of her father. Her women friends, chosen during her masquerade as the happily married mother, could not abide when she stepped out of her costume and revealed her naked flesh. Standing with her hands open, shoulder blades lowered like a bird’s wings when open to dry in the sun’s warmth, her scars were visible. There was the jagged and mean scar nobody else could see. The one he tore inside of her when she was only eight disrupting the fragile vessel that would survive the assault and bring forth five babies. There were the scars of partial amputation and re-attachment left by the uncertainty of belonging to anyone. When parents vanish into the wilderness of addiction, or they disappear into the void of misguided ideas of success or they appear only in illusions when love seems available but is like trying to capture a snowflake, children will attempt to re-attach. They will take their little sewing kits and with rudimentary skill and the behemoth of a severed body, they will sew and sew through the night and into the day, taking each stitch with determined hands.
My woman friend took each stitch with her fourteen year-old hands shaking when her mother finally left the father. She had to re-stitch a self that mattered, but without her mother’s presence to guide her hands and tell her that sometimes, it is actually better to heal from the amputation. She was left with pieces and parts of herself scattered about and holding the needle and thread aloft, she knew not where to begin. The pieces do the best they can to share a blood supply and knit themselves together as part of a whole, but the scars left behind are rough and uneven, like a canyon cut into the earth by an intruder.
The cow was standing up now. Her tail did not swish and she was perfectly still. Her sisters stood in a circle around her in ritual silence. The cow stood over her dead child in a small flattened part of the clearing. The little one was hardly bigger than a small dog, its fur just barely developed and its little nose covered with a soft, silvery layer of baby hair. As I knelt down to see if the baby had any sign of life, the cow took one step back uncertain as to whether she should run away. But she remained and actually took a step closer, leaning down to smell her baby and then looking at me. I read her expression as any mother might.
“Was it something I did wrong? Am I not a good enough mother that I could not hold my baby long enough to bring it into this world alive?” I couldn’t help projecting my own human female feelings onto this mother as she wept over her baby.
“It’s okay sweet girl,” I said. “It’s just one of those heartbreaking things.”
There was nothing else we could do for her. She wasn’t bleeding and she was standing. Her sisters would stay with her and keep the coyote away at least until the mourning period had ended. It was nearly dark now and we turned to walk back to the house. She stood there over her baby for many hours until we could no longer see through the darkness. She would remain with her child.
The cries of women who suffer from the madness of questioning themselves and shaming themselves is suffering that can be quieted in the company of other women who have made the conscious choice of stepping out of their armored suits and costumes to open into freedom from shame. The wounds created by others can be covered up and reopened time and time again until it becomes apparent that the healing comes from exposure to the breath of self-love and the warmth of light. Self-love is learned in mothering hands; in the company of a circle of scarred women who see each jagged ridge line and each fault line crisscrossing her geography as a marvel of her landscape.
The death of a wounding story isn’t painful when we no longer fear we are nothing without our wounding stories. When we reveal a scar without hesitation, it means we have healed. The stitching we have laid down in conscious work is strong and resilient and even if we are torn open, we know how to weep for the trauma and then call upon our Mothering selves to help us take up the mending one more time.