"Milk was all I ever had"

Beloved, Folio Society Edition, 2015. Illustrated by Joe Morse

The Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Beloved, by Toni Morrison, is my absolute favorite work of literature of all time. Set in post-Civil War America, it tells the story of formerly enslaved people whose Cincinnati home is haunted. The tale was inspired by a real-life event in which a family escaped slavery on a Kentucky plantation to the free state of Ohio, but were soon captured (in accordance with the Fugitive Slave Act). The mother, father and four children barricaded themselves in a cabin, but when the U.S. Marshals burst in, they found that the mother had killed her two-year-old daughter and was attempting to kill her other children to spare them from being returned to slavery. Without having lived in someone else's shoes, it may be difficult to understand how infanticide is the solution, but Morrison recounts the horrors of slavery so clearly that we understand the mother, Sethe's decision.

One such horror on the plantation was being raped by her owner's sadistic brother and his friends. During their assault they sucked milk from her lactating breasts. This was too much for Sethe to bear. It wasn't just the indignity of being violated in front of her husband, "the milk" Sethe says "was all I ever had,” which is to say that her milk--that which nourished and bonded her with her children--was the only thing nobody could steal from her. When the white men with the “mossy teeth” steal it out of her body, what they have effectively done is take her one true possession, her embodied mothering life force. This fact, more than anything else, reasonably represents the slave experience as what Sethe calls the “unlivable life”.

I first read this book in a literature course when I was only 20. I had already birthed two babies and was working my way through college as a single mother. As someone who was raped, stalked, and beaten--and a young mother like the protagonist Sethe--the novel profoundly affected me. For the first time in my life, I felt the power of the written word to shake up a reader, emotionally rock them, and change their paradigm. I believe this book prompted me to become a writer and a teacher of writing, but more importantly, I was transformed by the novel. I felt this story in my body as I grappled with body sovereignty, self-worth, motherhood and being haunted by my past the way Sethe was haunted by hers. Of course, my life was charmed compared to Sethe who had "a tree" on her back: scars from repeated whippings, but never have I connected with a story so deeply--perhaps because it was one which dealt with the complexities of motherly love, sacrifice, and identity.

Ever since I was 12 and became an aunt, my most important role--the one that I felt natural and worthy in--was that of mother and caregiver. I went on to have two more children much later, so now, at age 51, I have never known a life where I wasn't growing a baby in my body, nurturing a child with my body, caring for children, sharing my resources, giving my time, and freely giving my life force. It's as if I have a compass that is directed toward their well-being at all times. And, I feel as if Shamama is an extension of this. I believe that we are providing support and love in all we do--whether we are helping people write a book or helping someone to heal a psychic wound. We are vessels of that nourishing energy.

But all mothers are humans who are complex, flawed, and sometimes even cruel. It matters not if the parent is adoptive or biological, we can feel in our body when something is "off"-- when a mother's love comes with strings attached, is smothering, is tied up in ego, is judgmental, is abusive, is emotionally vacant or is not physically present. I believe that "mommy issues" can explain a lot of what we grapple with as adults because our sense of safety and worthiness are imprinted within the first year. BUT, I also believe that we can tap into the universal mothering energy to nourish us and heal us. It may seem far-fetched, but I believe that through embodied healing techniques we can breathe and feel our way into that sense of motherly love. Our egos and epigenetic patterns can get in the way of experiencing this energy. I had a rocky relationship with my mother until the day she died and sometimes I feel as if my life force has been stolen, but I know that if I root down, am present in my body and breathe, I can harness a sense of unconditional and pure love--love that I then send out to my family, my parents, and the entire world.

My sincere wish is for everyone to find this healing! You are welcome to join us at our special Mothering Energy Breathwork May 10 at 7pm at our Grand Rapids Creativity+Healing Studio!

This Mother's Day, I wish you well. Please know that you are, indeed, unconditionally love/d.

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