In this final installment of my introductory series, you’ll read the story of the person who made me aware, though she never used the words, of the absolute need for motherhood to be undefined. It’s an exceptional, heartbreaking, momentous story. She was my guardian angel mama in disguise.
It’s a story I can’t do justice to, and that I don’t deserve to tell, so I will tell my small piece of it. I ask that you read it slowly, carefully, humbly, taking in every photo, every memory, to absorb as much of this beautiful presence as you can.
You could say that this blog, and much of what I write and practice, are an homage, a tribute, a memorial, an offering of abundant gratitude, to the guardian angel who teaches me how to be a mother every single day.
I call her my guardian angel because it’s the most encompassing term I know. I believe that souls who choose can visit people from the afterlife. But those of us who are living must be quiet, trusting, fully prepared to observe, to recognize the presence, to listen. She visits me often and teaches me constantly. She’s come to me like a butterfly, a bird, a voice, a rustle of leaves in the wind, a shiver. She visits me often, thankfully, because I invite her to daily. She is a bright, blooming soul who offered more radiance to the world every day than most of us a do in a lifetime.
Journeying to and through motherhood
You read about my difficult path to motherhood in “Becoming a Mother,” but Jen’s journey makes my path look short, simple, and sweet. I won’t tell that story here; it could be a book in itself, and it’s one she chose not to write. But I’ll tell you pieces when they’re important, and one thing that’s important is that I don’t think Jen could pinpoint exactly when she believes she became a mother either.
At the end of her road to becoming what most people call a mother, she traveled with her husband to India to bring home two of the most beautiful little miracles I’ve ever seen.
During that time, new babies were hard for me. Shower invitations turned my stomach into knots, pregnant bellies made me feel nauseous with envy, and I couldn’t help but compare every baby’s age to the ages mine would be.
But not Jen’s babies. Her miracles–we’ll call them M&M–symbolized hope, possibility, fulfillment. She was a guardian angel for them too.
Or maybe just journeying
From the day they were born, I was obsessed with these spectacular tiny humans. I couldn’t meet them for what felt like a very long while. They were born in India, and getting them to their new home was an adventure that, again, could be a book in itself. But for a soft, loving soul, Jen’s also had fire–she was fierce in seeking things she deemed important, things like kindness, love, joy, peace, and M&M. Her fierceness got her through–it took 2 months, 6 airports, and numerous feats straight out of a spy movie that only this courageous mama could’ve accomplished.
But finally, thanks to her mama grit and determination, M&M were home.
And then she changed my life
One day, in the summer of 2016, I picked up one of Jen’s favorites—Hungarian mushroom soup—and went to spend a soul-cleansing day with this beautiful mama and her M&Ms. I spent the day in her living room with her two little miracles, and it felt like the world was just ours. Curled up on her couch talking over soup as her little ones bounced in their exersaucers, I felt a light enter my life that had been missing for far too long. It could’ve been the soft cast of the sun beaming through her sheers and sprinkling lines of the floor, but I know better. It was the light of her soul, celebrating with mine, promising me that somehow, some way, someday, my light would come.
We talked about our journeys. We laughed, cried, hugged—connected. It was an interesting relationship. We changed diapers, put babies down to nap, gave them bottles—connected. Hours passed in what seemed like seconds. We shared joy, grief, love.
We talked about her experience being a twin mom. The brutality, the exhaustion, the overwhelming beauty. It was during this discussion that she spoke the words that have forever changed my life and my experience of motherhood.
“In all the chaos,” she said, “you must find moments of stillness that are purely your own.”
She found her moments of stillness by having a sitter over while she took a weekly art class at the botanical gardens. She found moments of stillness in many ways, but this one has stuck with me most because it seems so against the ideals of motherhood that have been instilled in me throughout my life.
During the time when she was available to stay with her babies, she left them, just for a little while, and filled her own soul. How stunningly beautiful. What an incredible lesson in self-love and self-care to teach them from such an early age.
During this life-altering conversation, Jen reminded me of something I have come to learn about myself, but that I was never conscious of before she told me.
“You don’t like asking for help,” she pointed out.
“Needing help, in your mind, is a sign of weakness. But it’s really a sign of being human.”
She promised that I’d have my baby someday, some way, somehow, and she made me promise her that when I did, I would do one thing amid the chaos:
“Be honest with yourself about when and how you need help,” she said. “Because you will need it. Sometimes you’ll need it to keep you sane, but others, you’ll just need it so you can hold on to the essence of yourself. That’s when it’s the toughest to ask for. Promise me you will.”
I promised. I had no idea how solemn that promise would become. She made her chaos look so graceful.
Then life got in the way
A few weeks later, I had surgery on my uterus that ultimately solved a major problem in our miscarriage journey. After recovery, less than 3 months later, I was pregnant with the precious human we now know as Jack. We celebrated his first birthday last week.
I kept searching for a good time to visit Jen and M&M during my pregnancy, but I couldn’t find one. She had the flu, she said, and just couldn’t seem to shake it. Since I was pregnant again and desperately hoping it would finally be a successful pregnancy, visiting my friend with the flu never seemed to be a good idea.
I can’t express the extreme lengths to which I’d go to be able to go back to those months and see through her guarded soul. Or dear God, to have just let her have the flu.
Mere weeks after her twins’ first birthday, and just months before my Jack was born, one of the most beautiful souls I’ve ever known left this hard world for one filled with the type of peace she’d radiated throughout her life on earth. She had battled cancer for years, and when it returned with a vengeance, she didn’t want pity, so she told very few people. I should’ve known she didn’t have the flu, but this isn’t about me, after all.
What she taught will forever remain
Although it’s not about me, I’ll make it about me for a minute to tell this important story. When Jack was born, I had terrible postpartum anxiety, which I’ll write about someday. I slept for about 15 nonconsecutive minutes a day, and everyone around me could see that I needed help. Desperately. Not just mental health help—that I already had—but physical help. I needed someone to pick up slack. That would allow me to make space for what Jen had called “the essence of myself” again.
My husband made good suggestions, to which I would sob, rocking my baby and myself. I insisted that I should be able to do this on my own. It’s a privilege to be able to have help in these dark times, and that privilege filled me with tremendous guilt, as if there was some kind of virtue in my suffering.
One day, when Jack was about 2 weeks old, I sat in a chair in my bedroom, curled into a fetal position, rocking only myself, trying to breathe. Right there, sitting in that chair, was the first time since Jack’s birth that I recognized Jen visiting me.
“Needing help is a sign of being human,” I actually felt her whisper. “Promise me you’ll ask for it.”
Hadn’t I made her that promise?
I didn’t need to ask for help—so many people had already offered it in so many ways—but her voice told me it was time to accept it. And so I did.
She spent a lifetime offering grace to others; it was time I learned from her and offered it to myself.
An Invitation. A Gift.
Every day since that day, I’ve invited Jen to visit. She helps me understand how to find myself among the chaos. Some days, she leaves me to my own devices. We must all establish independence, after all, which Jen knows about all too well. But other days, she knows I need a nudge, or a hug, or an answer. I hear her now, as I type, in the rustle of the wind. She’s there in my warm rapid heartbeat, like butterflies filling my chest. I allow myself to remember her in such deep and specific form.
This blog–this project I’m undertaking–is definitely for me, but even more than that, it’s for Jen. She was brought into this world to change it, to bring peace, to spread the love. But she was taken from it far too soon. Still, she visits so many people, reminding them of her love, of their missions, of what they have to offer.
She reminds me that…
- I have a voice and a platform
- I have the ability to love and mold my small human with all of my heart
- It’so okay to accept the help I need to allow me moments of peace and stillness
- It’s up to me to take that peace, break it into tiny pieces, and share it abundantly with others
- We’ll all be the most peaceful, the most joyful, the freest… if we forge our own paths, however tumultuous they may be, and find light where we can
- I need to help others find their light by sharing the journey of finding mine
Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, is an author, mom, recurrent miscarriage survivor, & owner of Undefining Motherhood. She lives in Atlanta with her husband (affectionately known on the internet as “Husband,”) son (Jack), and dog (Charlotte). She believes our society puts too many expectations on women that make womanhood and motherhood restrictive. Her goal is to shift the paradigm about what it means to be a woman and mother, giving all women a greater sense of agency over their own lives. You can find Katy and her work featured in places like CNN’s Headline News, Romper, Scary Mommy, Demeter Press’s Motherhood and Social Exclusion, & more.