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Grieving and Mothering

By Lisa Bullard


GrievingandMothering“Mom, this card says ‘Don’t worry about Nancy anymore,’”  Ember says, as she hands me a sticky note she scribbled on.

I wipe away a drifting tear, and take it from her. “Thanks, sweetie. Why shouldn’t I worry anymore?”

I want to know what is happening in her mind, partly because I’m feeling guilty about crying in front of her, and am trying to assess how I may possibly be messing her up by being a mess myself.

Also, I am wondering if with her fresh and innocent mind, she may be more in touch with the ethereal world, and be passing me a message.

“Because you don’t need to cry anymore. You should play with me.” She doesn’t like seeing me cry.

I miss my Aunt. She passed away recently. Having a child did not make me less emotional. I’ve always been emotional and have never done well at keeping my feelings inside. Grief seems to be out of my control, and it comes and goes as it pleases. Then again, so does every other emotion I feel, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

Along with the grief comes some guilt. Logically, I don’t know why I expect myself to be somebody different, as if a mother should not have a gamut of emotional reactions and responses to situations. I tell myself, and sometimes convince myself, that it is okay for my daughter to see a range of emotions. My Mom was stoic. She hid her hurts and angers, her passions and fears. I come from a long line of women who always show a happy face to the outside world, a strong face. Perhaps it stems from their prairie pioneering blood. I broke tradition. 

Along with other mothering situations I navigate, I find myself in uncharted territory. My Mom and Grandma did this differently. I have to find what works for me, for us, for my family. I have to be who I am, even if I find it is different than I thought I was supposed to be. Weeks later, Ember asks toddler girlme about dying. I’m glad I can be honest with her. My heart breaks when she asks, “Will you die, Mommy?” and then, “When will I die, Mommy?” I didn’t read about this in any parenting book. I try to be honest, but not scary. “We all die someday, honey, and that is why it is so special to be alive right now, and together.” She seems to be thinking about what I said. “Mom, why is that fire extinguisher red?” she asks, and just like that the conversation is over, for now. 

"As much as I want to protect her from things that hurt, emotionally and physically, I want to share the world with her, and the depth of our human experience."

Besides, I don’t think I could hide my grief from her even if I wanted to. Mothering, rather than making me more stoic, has actually deepened what I feel, and perhaps even made grief more powerful. There is no getting away from it. 

But, grief goes hand in hand with love, and mothering has made me feel love in a way I never felt before, too. For that, for that powerful love, I am so grateful. 

Mother to Mother - Keeping it Real

Who Loves YOU?

Your baby, of course. Your partner, of course. Your friends... Of course!

How about you? Do you love yourself?

Most of us do. Probably not all the time. Maybe not even most of the time. Having a baby can exacerbate this lack of self love. Somehow, that little being brings out your worst: your impatience, your sadness, your anger, your low self esteem, your GUILT!!!!!

You fall into the comparison trap. You see other mothers at their best. You watch TV shows and movies with "Mom Impersonators". Screen writers condemn and make fun of your very worst moments while highlighting the Kodak Moments. You start to think "That's how it really is".

You start to think there is something wrong with you when your baby cries and you can't soothe him. You start to think you have no milk because your baby fusses at the breast, or because your breasts are small. You get anxious when your partner is due home because you are still in your pajamas, breakfast is still uneaten on the table and dinner is some sort of dim oasis far on the horizon.

You just want your mommy. Not just any mommy... but June Cleaver, Mother Theresa and Aunt Jemima rolled into one. Someone who will Take Over, GET ALL THOSE THINGS DONE, and hold you while you cry.

Honey... I got news for you. She's not coming. She doesn't exist and never has. If she ever did exist, she had Staff and probably drank to smooth it all out in her mind.

So what is possible?  A dose of acceptance. A little, or a lot of, "Letting go". Making some new friends who understand where you are at and how it is with a new baby.

Most importantly, you have to ask for help. People want to help you. They really do. See all those gifts, cards, emails, likes, phone messages, texts? That is because they want to help. They want you to feel proud, because they are proud of you. They want you to feel good about being a mother. Your job is to get over this mistaken belief that you have to do it all yourself.

It's not easy. Help doesn't always come in the right sizes, shapes and colors. Sometimes it comes with strings attached. Or guilt. Sometimes it's like a bag of hand-me-downs. You have to sort through it and take what works for you.

Sometimes, you have to be REAL specific about what you want....with your mother...who didn't raise you the way you are raising your baby. It's part of growing up and you can learn how to do it. She may grumble, or criticize (Painful!) but stick to what you want and she'll come around. Probably.

At the end of your rope

P028 ZP9299 What do you do when you are at the end of your rope?

You know, the point where you can't take it any more and lash out at your baby or child. And then, feel terrible because, your child is only a child, doing childish things, and doesn't deserve to be the object of your anger.

There are unlimited opportunities to lose your cool. Babies and children need a lot of attention. They require regular feeding, clean clothes, a roof over their head and medical attention on a regular basis. As a parent, you are the one who does all this for them.

And to make things worse, because kids need so much attention, they will also demand it from you. Even if it's for negative attention, your kids will dig into the tenderest places under your skin just to get your undivided attention. Even though you know this is why it is happening, you may not stop yourself.

Anger is a sign that something needs to shift. It's powerful and effective when used to set limits and boundaries in a clear and kind way.

When you lose it, though, you have to be the one who stops it. You have to recognize the signs that you are getting overwhelmed, nearing the end of your patience and take a timeout, get help or calm yourself before you say something hurtful

Your kids don't make you angry. You get overwhelmed and let yourself get angry.

What causes overwhelm, and more importantly, how can we reduce or minimize it?

Four biggest contributors of overwhelm are in the acronym, H.E.L.P. Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired.

Hunger. It may seem impossible to believe that in a world where you are making food for your little one a bajillion times a day, that you could be hungry. It happens!

Anger is easier to understand because babies and children are needy, not very articulate and meltdown in hysterics when you don't understand them. This triggers many people's anger. You may want to explode, but rage worsens every situation. It hurts other's feelings and makes babies and children feel scared and hurt. Many of us were raised in families where anger was used to control others. It creates families where people are walking on eggshells to avoid another blast.

Loneliness. Who has never felt lonely in their life? Whether you are going hours or days without being able to share your feelings or talk to another adult, you can go a little lulu. Most moms feel overwhelmed when they have to listen, problem solve and entertain babies and children at the child's level without any adult interaction. We all need friendship.

Tired is part of parenting. Even if you have a wonderful sleeper for a baby or child, they get sick, they have nightmares, you can't sleep, you worry and so on. Even if you sleep enough, you can feel mentally tired from endless laundry, endless crying and whining and repetitive rounds of "Why?" and "Mom-mom-mom!"

So, sometimes...you can't take it anymore. You are exhausted. Maybe hungry? You don't have anyone to vent to and something in you snaps! You find yourself yelling the same dumb things your mother said to you.

And, you feel ashamed. And, you don't know what to do about it or how to stop yelling at your poor child. As much as you thought they deserved it in the moment, you can remember what it was like be yelled at and feel guilty because you want better for your child.

The solution to overwhelm.

When overwhelm happens, there is a time crunch involved. When we remove the deadline, often the overwhelm goes away. In the heat of the moment, ask yourself, "What will happen if there's no deadline? What if we take more time to do this? What if we stop and try again another time?" If that's not possible, close your eyes, breathe deeply, count to 10 and rephrase what you were about to say. Getting angry takes way more time than we realize.

  • When you are always angry, it's a sign that you need help. Not necessarily mental help, although that is helpful. You need some domestic help. Someone to help do chores and take care of the kids so you can sleep, shower alone, go to yoga, walk or just sit in peace to recharge your energy. If you haven't yet, give your partner a list and tell them you need time off to recharge. (Buying groceries alone doesn't really qualify as 'time off.') Sometimes chronic anger means that we are not good with setting clear limits on our time, good nature or responsibilities. We give too much physically, mentally or emotionally without refueling.
  • Moms need friends, dad need friends, and kids need friends. A friend is someone who can see our life as we see it, listen to our stories and offer support and empathy. Before kids, you may have been happy with having casual acquaintances and your partner. You also had time to pursue your hobbies and other enjoyable things. Now, your kids are your work, your hobby and your everything. Without friends, you may feel like you are in a deep funk.  When we feel connected, we don't feel lonely. Friends can be found at Café Mama, the playground, the park, and the library. Be a friend. Ask to exchange phone numbers! You need a friend with kids. You can hang out at each other's houses and watch each other's kids for an hour or two.
  • If you are hungry, eat or drink something. Think of 3 or 4 foods that you can eat any time or anywhere and keep them stashed in your car, purse and at home. Emergency food doesn't have to be terribly nutritious. Its purpose is to get you over a hump until you can have a real meal. Granola bars, nuts, chips, powdered energy shakes, fruit, cheese sticks, crackers, even a candy bar will buy you some time and calm the hangries.
  • Routine is a positive word for monotony and there is a sweet spot between the two. Having routines makes your children's life predictable for them and easier for you, giving you more time to pay attention to them. Variety is the spice of life and routine is the meat and potatoes. One or the other is exhausting. Eating chicken nuggets four nights in a row makes me want to snap but I appreciate the simplicity of shaking ready to eat pieces onto a tray so that we can still eat at 6:00
  • Simplify. Your kids don't need so many activities or possessions. They need your attention. Owning toys is a responsibility that contributes significantly to overwhem. It's a bargain we make with our kids. "If I buy you this, will you leave me in peace?" At the moment of purchase or giving, the child has your undivided attention. It's a sweet moment. But they don't want the toy as much as they want that sweet moment of YOU and them and the toy together, forever. Activities whether for enrichment or fun can also contribute to overwhelm. You need some, but you don't need some every day. Create a home that's about relaxing, recharging and connecting with each other rather than a place to change clothes and grab a snack before heading out to your next activity.

Anger is a force for cleansing and creating powerful change. It is also a hurtful, damaging force when used incorrectly. Overcoming unhealthy anger habits requires new skills that you can learn through being mindful, in therapy and in anger management classes. Anger management classes are offered for free through places like your county health department and through Café Mama. They aren't just for people with anger problems, they are for anyone wanting to live a more positive, fulfilling life through a positive use of anger.

My love to you and your family....

Maternal Archetypes: Earth Mothers & Creative Mamas

Hello Mamas!

Lately, I have been thinking about maternal archetypes. Archetypes are collective and are influenced by social groups and culture as much as by individual experience.

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Most of us, if asked to describe “a mother figure,” have a set group of characteristics that define the role of mother. This is the "maternal archetype." From home to home and culture to culture, this archetype will vary, but there are many universal commonalities. We can rattle off a few traits that describe most mothers: caring, nurturing, loving, etc.

Many of these archetypes have remained remarkably unchanged throughout our history.

In ancient Mayan culture existed a belief called “La Ultima Madre.”  During pregnancy, Mayan woman were told of two types of mother, “Rainbow Mother” and “Nurturing Mother”. Rainbow Mother does not nurture her children, but rather inspires them through the energies of art and dance. Nurturing Mother, on the other hand, raises her children and nourishes them by growing corn.

While browsing a book of quotes about motherhood I came across a quote by Lynn Andrews, an author and shaman, which really caught my attention. Andrews has taken the ancient Mayan belief and made it relevant to the present day mother.

She describes two maternal archetypes that most women fall into; Earth Mothers and Creative Rainbow Mothers.

Earth Mothers nurture their children through feeding them and providing for their basic needs. Earth mothers thrive on their responsibilities as a mother. Meeting the needs of her children brings fulfillment to the mother as a person. This is the more iconic role of mother in our society.

Creative Rainbow Mothers, on the other hand, inspire their children without necessarily having meals on the table on time. These mothers nourish their children by inspiring them. Often the lives of the children are structured around the mother’s need to keep her creative energies flowing. For many Rainbow Mothers, having a creative outlet is necessary to their general well-being, and allows for them to be the best mother possible.

Rainbow mama new baby new paltz

What comes to mind when you think about maternal archetypes and the “role” of a mother?

Do you fit into one of these archetypes? Do some aspects of your personality fit more easily into the box you define as motherhood? I think many of us probably fall somewhere in the middle, carrying with us elements of both rainbow mother and earth mother. Over the last two years of raising Rita, my personal struggle has been to find the right balance between my nurturing and creative sides.

Perhaps it is when we nurture our rainbow mother that our inner earth mother is able to shine.

Until next time, be well!



A Surprising Thing Soil and Breastfeeding Have in Common

Have you had a chance to get your hands dirty? Spring is the best time of year to break ground on new outdoor projects, gardening and landscaping alike. If you are like me, that first hint of warm sunshine sends the message to your brain, “time to shift gears” break out the rakes, shovels and grill, it is Spring!
That first touch of moist garden soil brings me to a sacred place, an ancient, yet familiar place. The place where many women who came before me, bent to hand and knee, placing their hands in the earth to grow food from seed.
Woman and mothers are the caregivers and nurturers to the children and family. She is also, historically, been the primary gardener in households around the world. It is no wonder I feel so at home in my garden with my little daughter tugging at my skirt seams, leaving paths of trodden freshly planted seedlings in her wake. Recent research in neuroscience has shown that when the brain detects the scent of humus (rich soil) it releases oxytocin!
Where else have I heard the word ‘oxytocin’? Oh yeah, that’s right, it is one of the primary hormones involved in childbirth, maternal bonding and lactation! Oxytocin is a hormone which plays a key role in the neuroanatomy of intimacy; intimacy with a lover, a child, and apparently the earth itself! We understand it is released immediately after a baby is born and causes everyone in the room to fall in love with the baby, especially mama. This makes sense in an evolutionary sense.
This new found knowledge linking the release of oxytocin in response to the smell of soil is revolutionary.  It is a great argument for our deep physiological need to be close with nature! Although, this is a breakthrough in neuroscience it is very logical and easy to understand. I immediately understood this research to be true because I can “feel” it happening to me as I dig my hands down into the dirt year after year. Something magical takes place and I am transported to a peaceful world of contentment where time is no longer essential and all things are connected. When else have I been to this peaceful world? When breastfeeding my beautiful baby girl I, experienced it on a daily basis!
When we take the time to nurture life, we nourish a deep relationship for the creation of new life that is fundamentally sacred! I once wrote about SkyWoman, who tended the Earth with her bare hands and deep gratitude.
As you break ground this season may you feel the many blessings tending the Earth brings.

Till Next Time, Be Well!

Green Blessings to you and yours!

Alone Time

mudra new baby new paltzI remember walking into New Baby New Paltz after first moving here about 4 months ago. I saw a little sign that said, “It’s okay to want a break” or something along those lines. A little part of me inside breathed a sigh of relief. It was comforting to hear. After all the transitions that come with moving 2000 miles, my daughter clung to me ferociously, and I had lost the support system that I would turn to for a little break.

So this alone time, I craved it. Just a little break. That’s all. Just a little me time. And it felt good to hear I shouldn’t feel guilty for that. I started to think of little ways I could have time for me. When you are in dire need of a little “you” time what do you do?


Luckily for me, I have a kind, understanding husband who will give me a break.


Most of the time I still end up doing something practical but isn’t it amazing how a trip to the grocery store ALONE feels like a vacation? Last time I shopped alone, I practically skipped through the store. I lingered longer than necessary, luxuriated over making leisurely choices – do I want the 2% fat Mango Greek Yogurt, or the 0% fat Blueberry? – as compared to snatching whatever was nearest with one hand while feeding yogurt melts to my squirming daughter with the other.

When my husband gets home from work, I definitely go to the bathroom alone. That’s a treat I never realized I would appreciate pre-child! Baths are my favorite winter way to relax alone, and in the summer I try to grab a shower by myself once in awhile. At home, alone with the baby, I get a little time alone while she naps. People say, “Sleep when the baby does,” but I find that difficult, and those of you with more than one probably have a hard time with that too. So instead, sometimes I force myself to ignore the chores and I do what I want to do – like lay on the couch and read a book. Lastly, when our budget allows, I hire someone to give me a break for a few hours a week.


Whenever I do take a break, I find that I am better able to appreciate my sweet baby girl.


As moms we give so much and often put our needs last or neglect them altogether. A little alone time, a little break, can make a big difference. For any of you like me, who feel a twinge of guilt about taking care of yourself, banish that guilt. Put that mental energy that you use to feel guilty towards thinking of creative ways to take a break. And, if you have favorite ways to sneak in some alone time, let the rest of us moms know how you do it on the New Baby New Paltz facebook page.

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