Shredded Mother, Whole

by Jessica Martin-Weber
Visiting with the residents of a nursing home in south east India. Photo credit: Ashley Tingley

Visiting with the residents of a nursing home in south east India. Photo credit: Ashley Tingley

I have never shared this publicly but as I reflect on last year I think I’m ready to share it now:

I had pregnancy loss this time last year.

March, 2014 we were headed to India with International Teams, Initiative 31.8 and a group of people who would go on to become some dear, dear friends. This trip would be filled with beauty, ugliness, joy, pain, learning, teaching, listening, speaking, and the beginning of the end of our relationship with ITeams. Fresh clean water would flow in communities that hadn’t had fresh clean water, our lips would burn with “mild” curries, we would hold hands and listen to stories with those many years our seniors in a language we couldn’t understand, and we would paint a wall with the words of that language with kids who smiled easier than we did. There was singing, dancing, laughter, conversation, and bonds forged sitting in dirt with women breastfeeding their babies.

The entire time I would be bleeding from a twin pregnancy loss and D&C 4 days before we left.

Taking a breastfeeding break inside a classroom in India. Photo Credit: Ashley Tingley

Taking a breastfeeding break inside a classroom in India. Photo Credit: Ashley Tingley

I was a conflict of emotion. Earlier in that new year, I was surprised and quite frankly, upset when I discovered I was pregnant. We had decided to wait on a permanent decision regarding having more children for another year but when our prevention method failed I was filled with fear. Fear that the timing wasn’t right, that our finances wouldn’t survive another pregnancy at that time, fear that hyperemises gravidarum would be too much to handle away from the support network we had previously had in Houston now that we were living in Portland, fear that I wouldn’t be able to handle my job and pregnancy without that support, and fear that the judgment many others have about a large family of 8 adding another person wouldn’t be held quietly inside by those around us and their critical words of hate would reach my amazing children’s ears. Almost immediately upon getting the positive test result I wished I was comfortable terminating the pregnancy.

We decided to tell nobody but my best friend while we tried to figure out how to prepare for the months ahead. Really though, we just avoided talking about it, avoided preparing. Every time we would discuss finding a care provider I would end up in tears. My friend was going through her own nightmare with a messy divorce with an abusive soon-to-be ex husband and was overwhelmed with the stress off that. When I started bleeding near the end of February, I was relieved and then immediately felt guilty. Prior to this pregnancy, I had experienced 4 losses and now I hoped this would be a loss too.

And I had a new fear, maybe I was really a shitty mother because I didn’t want my babies.

Sugarbaby and me in India, March, 2014. Photo Credit: Ashley Tingley

Sugarbaby and me in India, March, 2014. Photo Credit: Ashley Tingley

The ultrasound showed twins but things didn’t look good and the measurements were off by 3 weeks. There wasn’t even one heartbeat, let alone two. Maybe my dates were wrong but the bleeding didn’t stop.

We had a choice: stay home and not go to India and see what happened while Jeremy led the trip, go to India and take a risk of complications in another country, or have a D&C and go to India. This trip I had dreamed up, envisioned, advocated for, recruited for, and worked hard with an amazing team to plan for over a year called to me. And then, so did my babies. The next day my bleeding increased and I felt certain I was miscarrying. We made the difficult decision to have the DNC. And then I knew I wanted them, wanted them to stay, wanted them to survive even though I was still relieved they hadn’t. I was torn between loving them and being glad they weren’t going to be born and hating myself for feeling that way. It called into question everything I knew or thought of myself as a mother. How could I be any kind of good mother if I was relieved my babies weren’t going to be born?

It shredded me.

A day later I boarded a plane for Chicago where just 24 hours after having the inside of my uterus scraped, I spoke at MommyCon Chicago’s VIP Meet and Leak, a day after that I spoke in two seminar sessions, one while breastfeeding our one and a half year old as I spoke. At MommyCon I hugged hundreds of women, listened to their mothering journeys, cried with them, laughed with them, and was honored to receive the stories they chose to share with me. All the shredded parts of me received them, even as I was wrestling with my own worthiness as a mother.

Four days following the procedure we were on our way to India.

Tasting the water from the new borehole. Photo Credit: Ashley Tingley

Tasting the water from the new borehole as Sugarbaby slept on my back. Photo Credit: Ashley Tingley

I couldn’t tell my team at the time, not because of them, because of my inability to talk about it. One of our team members was dealing with infertility and the grief that goes along with that, another was figuring out their own family planning, and still another was facing joblessness when they returned. All of us were dealing with some kind of recent loss and unfolding on that trip was our own loss of our place within the organization. My own emotions were a conflicting mix of sadness, freedom, gratitude, and anger over both the pregnancy and the unavoidable reality that we would be parting ways with this organization and work we loved so much.The truth was it was time for us to move on, to focus on other work but we didn’t want it to end so painfully and what seemed to be so senselessly. But that wasn’t our reality and so I was frustrated and yet peacefully determined to not lose myself in the process. The truth is, if our financial situation and support network had been different, we would have been glad to be pregnant. But that wasn’t our reality and so I was at once heartbroken and relieved. When I returned home from the trip amidst drama between us and the organization, I was still bleeding and I was bleeding still when we were officially dismissed from ITeams for reasons that to this day I still don’t understand. Even still I can’t help but feel a connection between the pregnancy loss I don’t understand and the job loss I don’t understand all somehow connected to love, joy, beauty, grief, pain, loneliness, and India. And all the shredded parts of me. We went to India to learn, support, encourage, get clean water flowing, what I ended up finding was beauty and healing even as my heart and my uterus were bleeding.

Last week I spoke at MommyCon Chicago again and as I walked into the same room where I had spoken a year before, I remembered that shredded version of myself. She was stronger than I realized then and I honored her, the conflict and turmoil and grief to come.

Wholeness has come again, there is still grief and relief in my scars but I’m not so afraid that I’m a shitty mother, I believe I’m just a human one with human feelings. Sharing this, I know I will likely be judged for a good number of things, but that’s ok, my wholeness is not determined by the judgment of others and if it touches one other shredded and very human mother, it was worth it. I don’t regret the procedure and I still feel confident it was the right choice for me and my family but I do wonder how it all would have played out if we had waited or if the pregnancy had stuck. Today as I look back on the first anniversary of the loss of the babies I never knew, I still have that same mixture of emotions with the added inner wisdom that our family and our work is exactly right for us in this moment. In an odd way, though I don’t think the timing was right, I miss our babies though I never held them, never named them, and wasn’t ready for them. They have impacted me and helped me forgive myself to find wholeness, accepting what is and all the loss. The conflict within me hasn’t lessened much, it is only subdued by the rightness of my family right now.

Photo Credit: Ashley Tingley

Photo Credit: Ashley Tingley

Share

The Leaky Boob, responsibility, India, sex trafficking, hand sewing, and transforming communities

In the rural south east agricultural area of A.Konduru, Andhra Pradesh, India, a group of women came together and decided to change their community.  They started simply doing something they already knew they could do well, enlisted the help of a woman with experience starting and running a business, and launched an endeavor called a.ku designs.  Their goal?  Start a school for their children.  One that was in their community, that wouldn’t require sending their children away and would include English language instruction, the business language of India.  A school that could help stop the cycle of poverty their community has been steeped in for generations.  A school that could offer their sons options instead of being bonded to the brick factories.  A school that could step in the gap as a way of preventing the sex trafficking of their daughters into brothels in the cities of India.  This school was their dream.  Their hope.

With the average income at $2.00 a day, job creation would break the cycle of poverty and provide hope for the future.  For these low caste families, many live in a round mud hut with a thatched roof and a dirt floor. The caste system has been banned but people still practice it. This prejudice holds people back from reaching their social and economic potential.

The women created a 5 year business plan for a.ku designs and got to work sewing and selling.  Their product made it to the other side of the world and with it their desired goal to the ears and hearts of a few people.  And instead of 5 years it took just one.  The A. Konduru village school opened on June 10, 2013 for grades 1-3 with 50 students, 30 of which were on full sponsorships.

Ride for Refuge International Teams

When a group of determined mothers come together amazing things happen.

Every once in a while I have to awkwardly look at The Leaky Boob and ask “is this really what I want it to be?  Am I being responsible with what I’ve been entrusted with?  Can I do better?”

More often than not I’m unsettled by the answers to these questions.

It is an incredible honor and a privilege to be a part of any aspect of your life and your journey, even if for just a moment, one article, or one Facebook post.  There are times where this is overwhelming and I want to run away and shut it all down.  Not only is it time consuming, it can be completely intimidating and at times, exhausting.  I have been attacked, mocked, questioned, and have discovered a political side to all this I had never anticipated.  I’ve even been accused of distributing child porn (AKA breastfeeding images) and called a pedophile (for breastfeeding my daughter past 12 months).  Sometimes I really want to quit.  But The Leaky Boob is also deeply satisfying and when I step back from my own insecurities and headache I see something I believe in and love.  I even think it’s important.  There’s no way I could walk away.  No way.

But can I do better?  Oh yeah, much better and I am grateful to have wise counsel and good friends that have become a team advising me how to do so.  Am I being responsible with it?  To an extent, yes but not enough.

I believe The Leaky Boob can make a difference, in fact, I believe that in the 3 years since starting TLB, it has made a difference.  Never, in my wildest dreams, would I have imagined the impact the little blog I started would have in encouraging and supporting families starting out or in being a voice to normalize breastfeeding.  Now, even I can’t deny that is the case.  I have no idea why and I’m an unlikely candidate to be in this position yet here I am.  With you.

This isn’t about changes coming to TLB, though there are some on the horizon.  This is about something else close to my heart because while I love supporting breastfeeding moms and the people that support them, I’m also very passionate about making a difference in the world as a voice for the voiceless and I want to use the voice I have here to invite you to join me.  Outside of The Leaky Boob I work with an organization leading a global movement to bring artists together to speak up for the oppressed.  As part of that movement I share these stories and opportunities with you because I know first hand just how much influence a determined group of mothers can have.  As a mother I unite myself with these mothers because I know their heart and just as I’m deeply connected with the community of TLB because of breastfeeding, I’m connected to these women as their desires and determination resonate in my mother’s heart.

a.ku designs women at sewing machines

The mothers of A. Konduru inspire and humble me.  When two of my children were sexually assaulted I wanted to run away and hide with my children forever, getting through each day was overwhelming.  These women come together, risk it all, and make their world a better place in the face of oppression that would crush me.  They are my heroes.  They are not cowering, they are changing their world.

What does it look like?

Today with the help of supporting organizations, A. Konduru has a plan to transform their community even beyond the school.  This transformation will come from the community itself by intentionally working with government leaders, social workers and pastors in the community. Developing local business opportunities and education opportunities; bringing jobs to the community, lifting many from the oppression and poverty they live under daily. These efforts are enabling families to obtain proper food, receive needed health services and to live farther from the marginalized edge of hunger, sickness, slavery, and prostitution. a.ku designs will put back into the community using their profits for education in Grace School, taking a lead role and model community transformation.  Change will also come through community education in vocational, business and wellness training.

I have no doubt they will continue to succeed.

I want to be a part of it.

Do you?

__________________________

In January, 2014, The Piano Man, Earth Baby, Sugarbaby, and I are going to see first hand with a group of artists the transformation happening in A. Konduru.  With a group of artists we are going to celebrate the school, encourage the faculty, connect with the community, and gather stories to share.

To support these efforts and help raise awareness and funds to support these inspiring mothers on the other side of the world, I’m joining them as I can right now by getting on a bike and riding to raise funds and awareness, as I shared before.  Come join me outside of Chicago on October 5, 2013 at 9:00 a.m. with your bike (or stroller and walking shoes) at International Teams, 411 W River Road, Elgin, IL 60123 and ride with me then hang out for lunch after.  If you can’t join me you can ride where you are that same day and time, share this post with others, and/or contribute and help me reach my goal of raising $18,000 as part of the Initiative 31.8 Ride for Refuge team.  Go HERE to sponsor me in the ride.  All funds raised go to support the work of International Teams bringing people together to help the oppressed.

__________________________

 a.ku designs model

a.ku designs brown bag

a.ku designs two bags

a.ku designs green and black floral bag

To help me reach my goal of raising $18,000 with the Initiative 31.8 Ride for Refuge team (and hopefully surpass it), The Leaky Boob is giving away 3 a.ku designs bags.  (Please note, items are handmade, each unique and imperfect.  The bags pictured in this post are just a representation of the work, the bag each winner receive will be unique.)  Use the widget below to be entered and hurry, this giveaway ends the night of Monday, October 8th.  Sorry, at this time, entries only available to those within the USA and Canada.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Share