I want to tell you a story about the magic of women.
This is one story. One. There are so many others to tell.
Story One: Enter Elizabeth
My middle daughter is now 10, but after I gave birth to her, I experienced a kind of anxiety and fear I had never before known. Giving birth to her, under the care of an amazing midwife, was inordinately painful, and au naturale, and while it showed me something I didn’t know I had within me (the ability to give birth to a 9 lb. baby after 3 hours of pushing and a hell-lotta pitocin), I also felt somewhat angry with that baby. Why did she do that to me, split me in half? And why was she so big? And why couldn’t she just rest peacefully in her crib so I could sleep? And why did my breastmilk make her cry?
It took a couple of months to realize I had postpartum depression, something that had seemed so foreign to me, so impossible for me, this strong woman who thought she could handle anything.
And so I went on a drug, and I employed a therapist, and I finally started dealing with all the shit that had lived inside me that I had never had a moment, or a breath, to access. All the pain of being a female and birthing a female which I had stored up, the fear of doing everything wrong, the legacy of a matriarchal line that had to be tough and strong, the anxiety of those around me that had for decades seeped into my pores and build a little castle inside, a castle that was only now being revealed, and it was much larger once the clouds started parting from around its towers.
Depression was my teacher, you see. To go inward. To figure out how to live better. And my daughter was the catalyst to help me grow, so that I could be the kind of mother I wanted to be to her, so that I could show her another way of living, of caring for yourself, of respecting your body, of not letting wounds and pain store up until something inside you cries out desperately to be listened to.
I also started a blog.
That blog gave me so much hope and so much connection. I was isolated and alone, worried about the career hit I was taking in my time as a stay-at-home mother, and my blog helped me find like-minded women all over the world to relate to. We talked about marriage and running a house and careers and our dreams and our passions. A comment from one of the women I connected with, or a blog post from another about the struggles and fears she had about raising kids, or about an alcohol addiction, or about being a good, kind citizen of society, lifted me up from my depression and isolation and made me feel part of a community, a community I could not find near my home. This was a virtual community, but it was as real as any space in a building. Those women were my safe haven, my sweet place, my lifeline during a time of transition and fear and healing so that I could move through my postpartum depression out onto the other side. Which I did, and became stronger.
I don’t remember how I began interacting with Elizabeth. I just know that one day I saw her blog, and began visiting it, and she began visiting mine, and we commented back and forth. She was spicy (which I love!) and kind, and had so much energy. And soon we realized that we were both budding novelists. So at some point, I organized a call with her and another online friend, Amy (who has since gone on to be wildly independent and successful, a world traveler), to discuss our books. We created an online writing workshop. And in one of those first calls, Elizabeth started to share the hardship she had been going through. Her family was experiencing a lot of transitions that had to do with health and finances, and her marriage was being challenged in a whole host of ways, and yet she had such strength, such determination, such a positive attitude. She was scared, of course, but she had faith, and she was full of love. And I admired her faith. I always admire people’s faith. Faith and love are all bound up together, an emblem of sacred beauty.
Over time, our little writing workshop ended, and the blogging community dissipated, too. Many of us women kept in touch in various ways, but we also branched out to become immersed in other pieces of our lives. Jobs, additional children, moving to new locations. Through facebook, we kept tabs on each other.
My own life underwent a complete turnaround. There were job shifts for me and my husband, then a third baby, then a divorce. I had to find a new place to live, I had to find different work than I’d been used to, there was financial strain and a whole new kind of life-stress. There were health difficulties, too, and through all of this, children to raise. And when my head finally started to bob up from under the water, I came across Elizabeth again. Still a go-getter, still filled with positivity, still plugging away at trying to save the world. And now we both shared something new, an abiding faith, a shared love of SexyJesus, who had helped us get through so much shit it was impossible not to love and know he existed and was there, always finding new ways to save us and the world. So when I finally got Elizabeth on the phone, I learned that while I was in my underwater struggling phase, she was too. She had been through so, so much, I didn’t know how she was able to bear it. And her response, now that she was above water, was not, Sheesh, glad that’s over, now let’s close up shop and make a shit-ton of money. Her response was not People suck, life is too hard, fuck this shit!
Her response was, Now that I know how bad things can get, how can I help others?
Whose hand can I hold when they’re going through similar pain?
How can I be a resource when someone goes through a tragedy like I’ve been through?
Who can I support because she feels isolated and alone?
And her depth and beauty and love and faith astounds me, and her generosity and her energy, and her willingness to wake up every day and try to do her part to fix this world despite all she has been through.
That chick seriously does a video to help other women every morning while the kids are asleep.
People, I know there are great men. I mean, the history books are full of them, aren’t they? There are all these monuments built. Men who fought in battles and shot people and won lands independence, or something. Men who did some sort of science research and got a wing in a hospital named after them. Men who founded a college, or a city. Men who have a lot of money and gave it all away to poor people—wait, no. That doesn’t happen.
What I want you to focus on right now are the women who are always doing kind, generous things, even when it’s behind the scenes and they’re not making money. Women who are holding up their families and the world. Women who are the foundation for everything we have, a foundation so strong and pure and vital we don’t even recognize it exists, because it’s like the house whose shrubs have covered up the stone, so we only see the stucco on top. Women who are giving birth and making love and microwaving chicken nuggets at the same time they’re getting on calls and organizing birthday parties and talking to doctors and taking care of aging parents.
We think power is in force and fireworks and a lot a lot of money. We think it’s in prestige and fame and loud, angry voices.
But what we actually have, when we strip away appearances and illusions that invade our day, is the women, who are undergirding all the livelihood that ever was, and who are often suffering and in pain because they’re trying to do so much, and they have been told they’re worth less for so long, and they’re struggling to understand who they are at the same time as take care of everyone else, and get so little respect or credit for all that they’ve done and will do.
It’s still a man’s world. But women are rising. We’re gonna make this place whole. We’re gonna clean up this mess.
And it starts with people like Elizabeth.
Hallelujah, Mother Mary, here we fuckin’ come.
(And check out the amazing things Elizabeth Rago is doing on Modern Domestic Woman.)