“No one is helping me!” the young woman cried.
I had seen her a few minutes earlier, a young woman who looked like her eighteenth birthday might have been quite recent. She was wandering just outside the entrance of a department store with an unsettled baby, her finger in the baby’s mouth. The baby’s cheeks were flushed and she was fussing with all the tell tale signs of teething. Her tuned in mother had taken her out of the birth lights of the store to bounce, to cuddle, to settle.
A moment later a bedraggled looking family marched outside, a young man about the mothers age, another woman, and an older man that seemed to be her father. He walked right up to her and the baby she bounced, within an inch of her face and berated her for leaving the shop with the baby. His stance was imposing, his voice threatening, he towered over her.
She crumbled physically and shrunk back slightly hugging her baby tightly… Her response or explanation for her behaviour bordered on a wail “But no one is helping me”.
I kept on walking, there was no physical violence, it felt there was nothing I could do to intervene in that moment, and I was with my three year and basically felt unsafe to take any action.
What is yoga in that moment I asked myself? What does it mean to engage with the world with love and compassion when it is difficult to even stand up for one stranger you see who is clearly struggling?
I don’t know the answer. I know not everyone’s struggle can be my struggle and we are simply not powerful enough to help everyone find peace. I conferred inside with another woman who had seen the exchange and we were deeply saddened, but at a loss about what to do.
What was striking to me about this woman’s exclamation is that she gave voice to what many women, and especially new mothers feel. In the heat of the moment, she put into words the longing for what was missing – support.
I believe many new mothers feel unsupported in their role because we live in a world in which mothering is not honoured. The debt to the mother who cultivated life within her, who gives of her own breath and blood and milk, has been forgotten…There is little time to dwell in the changes that come with bringing life or to pay our deep respects to the mother who gave of herself in this unique way. Rather, there is an incessant desire and external pressure to “get back to”: back to work, back to exercise, back to normal sleep, back to sexual intimacy, back to a semblance of the way things were.
I too feel it. I didn’t “bounce back” from motherhood in a yummy-mummy fashion. There was weight gained, permanent damage to teeth, laxity of joints, pelvic floor rehab to be done, and a diastasis that remains with me today.
I didn’t feel yummy, and I certainly didn’t feel celebrated as a mummy. As a yoga practitioner I felt distanced from the “get your practice back” mantra of Ashtangis, as if whether my leg goes behind my head again really mattered …
The fact that women bleed, give birth, breastfeed, often lose out on career progression, superannuation and at times lose their mind with the daily, beautiful grind of parenting is largely ignored in our culture. Where is affordable child care? Where is extensive paternity leave? How many companies provide child care onsite? Why is it not commonplace for men to take carers leave to be with sick children? Once our children go to school how are parents supposed to work went their joint holiday leave doesn’t even cover the number of days of school holidays? This is not a society in which women, mothers, or even fathers are honoured.
While some while away their days talking about santosha (contentment), jump backs, what posture they are up to, or the latest translation of the Yoga Sutras I spend my days deeply engaged in practicing unconditional love, self-awareness and educating my children…of course a part of me longs for the simplicity of selfishness, in which everything was about ME and “MY practice”.
Which one is yoga?
For me, my spiritual practice is now so deeply intertwined with my parenting I gravitate towards understanding life as the teacher and the truth of the BIG yoga that is caring for another (whether it be a child, and ageing parent or sick partner).
I am fortunate to have a supportive husband and family. They don’t verbally attack me for tending to my baby’s needs. I feel supported by them, even if society at large remains oblivious to the degradation of motherhood and family life.
I also feel that every woman needs a group of soul sisters that they can be 100% frank and open with, who will also bear witness to their journey and struggles in a way only other mothers can. Women supporting women in a model of horizontal relationality, not a hierarchical model of care.
I wonder how all of this yoga teaching and practicing can reach women like the woman I saw today. How might she know there is a practice she can use in order to feel steady, empowered and strong within herself to mother in accordance with her values.
It is a question I do not have the answer to. I now offer yoga to those who can pay, and to those is dire circumstances. Being in the city today I realise there are a huge group of people that may benefit from practice, but don’t know how, or are unable to access yoga.
Again, it is a question of how to make yoga REAL. How to connect people to a practice in which they can breathe, be and settle. It doesn’t need Oms. It doesn’t need a lineage. It doesn’t require a fancy teacher with lots of social media followers or special clothes.
I wish I had the answer, and evangelically I feel intuitively that yoga practice is certainly part of the answer. I do know though, that dialogue is the beginning, and women supporting women might just be the way forwards.
To all the mothers reading this, thankyou. I want to hear your stories, your struggles, your daily triumphs, and I thankyou for the unrecognised, undervalued and lifelong work that you are doing. Let’s support each other on this journey…
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