My daughter Hazel was born on a November afternoon. Just over two weeks old, my own individual role as mother is too young to comment on much here—I am thinking too much and too little about what it means, adjusting to my little one’s schedule, feeling like my boobs are going to fall off from my breastfeeding efforts, and loving in a new way. (It’s amazing how excited one can get about ‘poopy’ after baby has been struggling for days, isn’t it?)
But when I am lying in my bed, sometimes at night, I find myself amazed and grateful for the community it took to bring my daughter into being. I was pregnant but I also had a pregnant community. I labored with community; and what I am learning, is that my motherhood is also a function of community—something, for me, that would not have been possible without the many, many people who supported Hazel and me through the process of new birth.
Hazel and I didn’t meet for the first time until the morning after her birth. After laboring for 18 hours, momma and baby went into distress as my body stopped progressing at 9.5cm, my cervix starting to swell. I had to have a C-section, and Hazel, who was overdue, breathed in meconium in the womb, so had to be taken to the NICU right after delivery. I couldn’t see her until I was able to get into a wheel chair the next day.
One of the most amazing occurrences and gifts I have received in my life happened on what was one of the most terrible days of my life. Uncomfortable, feverish, learning new things about pain that I hadn’t before been aware of, exposed, I was scared—but I wasn’t alone.
I had a whole community…
My twin sister and the loved ones who held my baby’s hand when she couldn’t be held in anyone’s arms.
My in-laws who fed me and our community day after day, bringing me a special dinner in the hospital and feeding my growing family for days even after we came home.
The nurses that literally helped me go to the bathroom, as well as to handle labor and the pain of recovery, and taught me to feed my baby.
Members of a local church who made the small quilt for Hazel that shaded her crib from the hospital lights—they make them for all the NICU babies. We got to take this small shelter and act of love home with us when we left the hospital.
One of my dearest friends who made us dinner the day we came home—a supportive visit that was just one of many she’s been making for months.
My older sister who labored with me, supported my choices and reassured me when things didn’t go according to our hopes.
My mother who sat with me in the hospital, ran errands for us and stayed with us for a week after we came home.
My husband who was and is with me through everything; and he cried with me that first night and held my hand in my sorrow that I couldn’t hold hers.
The lactation specialist who we met at the new parent resource center days after we came home, whom, hearing a little of our birthing story, said she wanted to take a moment to honor what we had been through. A witness to many mothers, this woman, a stranger, laid my feelings out to me. She recognized the loss I felt, as well as my feelings about my own body. She told me that I was not what happened to me—that what happens to us does not define who we are as mothers.
All of the loved ones who celebrated with me, held my daughter and me, and welcomed Hazel into this world.
…And this is only a small fragment of the community of my daughter’s birth.
The traditional notions of the divine that I grew up with imagine God as a solitary, individual being who creates the universe, alone, though with love. Many feminist theologies and thealogies challenge this notion of divinity. It is too like the Western individualism and hierarchy of its progenitors, honoring and even deifying those traits and historical characters that maintain kyriarchal oppression.
However, while I tend to embrace feminist notions of relational divinity, I did not know how to personally relate to images of a “relational matrix,” or “web,” even though these metaphors inspire me and my work, particularly as they help me to understand the world of embodiment and technology. I have also only flirted with notions of a highly relational goddess, on the one hand, loving this image, on the other hand, having difficulty seeing her in my own experience.
Yet, reflecting on my birthing community—the community of my motherhood and my daughter’s be-ing, I found myself understanding goddess and relational deity in a new way. Perhaps, one of her faces is a mother-community? Or perhaps, this is just a form of god/dess power.
I am discovering my motherhood as a function of community—and today, this is a face of divinity that I can see clearly, and that I am grateful for and to.
Sara Frykenberg, Ph.D.: Graduate of the Women’s Studies in Religion program at Claremont Graduate University, Sara’s research considers the way in which process feminist theo/alogies reveal a kind transitory violence present in the liminal space between abusive paradigms and new non-abusive creations: a counter-necessary violence. In addition to her feminist, theo/alogical and pedagogical pursuits, Sara is also an avid fan of science fiction and fantasy literature, and a level one Kundalini yoga teacher.