May 13, 2012

Becoming Mothers. ~ Peggy Markel

“Well here’s to you.. Mrs. Robin..son. Jesus loves you more than you will know.. “

Where does the instinct to mother come from? A mother robin builds a fine nest in a bird feeder, quite smartly with windows on three sides and a safe opening. She will sit there most of the time waiting for her little blue eggs to hatch, unless she needs to fly away to feed herself occasionally or perhaps sip water from the stream. I’m curious about natural inclination.

As I watch my six-year-old granddaughter grow, I am struck by her female core of emotion. When her four-year-old younger brother is sad or crying, she sings sweet songs to him. She has just enough of a melancholic strain that she seems genuinely feels the suffering of the world.

Just the other day her mother and father both had the flu. I told her we needed to make them some chicken soup. She ran and got her apron. Makena is not a big eater and certainly not adventurous, but she is curious and likes to do things. I was surprised that she took to chopping vegetables with a cumbersome knife so quickly and willingly.

I showed her how to hold the knife steadily, how to bend her non chopping hand a certain way to keep her fingertips back and hold her vegetable firm, so it wouldn’t slip around when she was chopping. She first started with a small knife, which made sense, but was not really getting the job done.

So, we graduated to a larger more serious one that at least sliced. A dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one of you don’t know what you are doing. She impressed me with her attention and skill. I was not overprotective and enjoyed watching her. She chopped and talked as if she had done it all her sweet life.

As she chopped she said, “Grandma,  I like to focus when I’m making medicine. “


and then she went on to use a bigger knife because she the small one wasn’t getting the job done.
Makena confessed that she wouldn’t be eating the chicken soup. When I asked her why not, she
said, “because I’m not sick!” I told her you don’t have to be sick to eat chicken soup and she said,
“I just make it, I don’t eat it. I only eat what I like to eat.”

My daughter is a good mother as well. A natural. Watching her give birth to two children without drugs and with tremendous dignity was one astounding experience. I have always said that giving birth has been the foremost important learning experience of my life. It takes you so far beyond what you think you are capable of.

This is really two blogs in one. Kind of long, but so related that I put them together.

Here is an essay from my own experience written a few years ago:

Becoming a mother was my first cognizant desire.

I could imagine my belly round and full. Playing house, I was always the mama, only occasionally interested in being the child. I cooked and kept my playhouse in order as if I knew exactly what to do. Mud pies from the sandbox were the specialty of the house.

As I got older and became interested in boys, in hindsight, the heightened feelings of ‘love’ never came close to the romantic ideas I had about having babies. I had crushes, fell in and out of love with broken hearts on both sides, yet nothing quite gave me the glow like the thought of children.

My friend, Mark, older than I with two small children, invited me to ride up to visit some mutual friends in the hills of Tennessee one day. It was an hour or so from my home town in Alabama. I slipped into the role of mother, like pearls on a lady. The children were adorable and I liked the feeling of being a family. That day I realized that I was made for the job.

My life carried me to Europe that year. Studies were postponed. Something more artistic was calling me. Our lives call us, take us on journeys of exploration and give us the unpredictable. Every possible love story that followed was determined by what kind of father they would be. If he did not pass, it would not go far. When I look back, I see that my intentions at that time were more for the relationship of family than the relationship of husband or companion.

It happens quite quickly, when you know. How one can be sure at such a young age is speculative. In fact, I remember asking my mother, “how do you know?” “How do you know what? If it’s true love? If he’s the right man? Sometimes you have to jump in with both feet”. She said. So at 22, I jumped. He was older than me by nine years, cultured (worldly), educated (brilliant) and kind. And most importantly, responsible. Finding a good mate in the late ‘70’s was no easy feat.

Being a flower child, I’m sure my parents thought they would lose me to a street musician or worse yet, a cult. I surprised them. I cared for him, and loved him as he loved me. Yet, I could hardly trust that I knew anything about relationships being so young. What I did know, is that he would be a good father, and I was right.

We bought our first house together, then married in it one year later. I had already become pregnant a few months before the wedding, much to my delight, but also to my worry.

I had to tell my father, a Southern gentleman, on the day before the wedding that ‘I was with child.” I was the first daughter of his to get married, even though I wasn’t the oldest. Perhaps away from the South, he could handle the news and the joy easier. He was after all, a gentleman, a great father himself, whose only intention was for my happiness (and to be cared for). He liked my betrothed and approved. Surprisingly, they had the same birthday.

Grace flooded my being. The imagined glow was true. I felt like the Madonna herself. Watching one’s belly grow is miraculous. Feeding oneself becomes a priority every step of the way. As someone interested in good food and cooking, I was in heaven.

Macro-biotic at the time, I didn’t eat meat or dairy, so I had to be extra diligent about getting protein, calcium and daily good nutrition. Never mind that it wasn’t easy to eat much in 100 degree weather that summer. I indulged in sweet fruits, leafy lettuces, occasional cottage cheese (my childhood favorite), sunshine and swimming. It was a happy time, even though the heat at nine months pregnant was intense. Being a southern girl, I was used to it. Not to mention, Colorado offers a less humid heat.

A box of Pepperidge Farm Mint Milano’s disappeared one evening and I went straight into labor. The time had come. Jeff and I had studied the ‘Bradley Method’ of natural childbirth, based on deep breathing.

I wanted to birth at home, but acquiesced to the birthing room at the local hospital. My in-laws were less tolerant than my own family and both my sister-in-law and brother-in-law were Pediatricians. I didn’t want to fail anyone, neither myself, nor the baby. I was still young and wanted to start out on the right foot with my new and extending family.

We were lucky to have such an alternative in Boulder. It was a fine compromise. I’m sure Jeff was relieved. His family was less sure of me than mine was of him.

Emily, Uriel and Makena at Judah’s birth.

The labor was long. Nothing can really prepare you for it. That’s why they have drugs. Yet, I wanted nothing of the sort. To this day, it was the hardest thing I have ever done. Birth hurts. It engages every part of your being inside and out. Your bones expand, thankfully, due to hormones that are released to soften everything, (so that even when you lay down at night, you feel your lower back vertebrae float into position.)

When birthing, you become an animal, a very human animal.

You lose touch with reality. The veil between this world and that also becomes soft. You moan with every contraction to ride the waves of pain. It scares you as it gets more intense. Your legs are spread eagle and you don’t care, you want to rip off your gown, or anything constricting. Every muscle in your body is calling for your attention.

You do not want to be distracted by voices or sounds that might bother you, being acutely aware of the task at hand. This is not the time to be nice. The moment is poignant. What has been growing in that precious belly, so much a part of you, that you have so loved and nurtured, bathed and anointed from the outside, fed and rested, is coming out. Soon to be separate of you, yet still dependent. Everything will change. Your mind is trying to grasp all of the emotions at once.

Girl to woman. Woman to mother. Instant growing up. Immediate loss of innocence. No more playing house—this is the real deal and it hurts. It’s beyond excruciating and beyond your control. You are possessed with an energy that you don’t recognize, a power that you didn’t know you had, coming from the depths of your being.

You breathe and breathe, as long and slow as you can, so grateful that your breath is your friend, and scream once in a while, low tones, forcing that energy down into your pelvis. You wait, barely able to catch your breath before it comes again and… again… in my case, three hours of pushing when the head is in the mouth of the cervix, the tightest spot, with seemingly no progress.

The infamous stage of transition. Not in, not out. No resting easily in this painful place. The pure surrender it takes to relax is like trying to find the eye of a hurricane. Then with one big breath and a concentrated push!.. The baby slides out. Reality slips back in. A small being is placed on your chest, all slippery and wet, eyes wide and awake. No drugs dulled either of us, we cried together, both shaking, a new mother and child.

Emily Sarah Markel. M (Em) for Jeff’s father, and Sarah (after my favorite aunt). 5. 1/2 oz. 21 inches. 23 hours of labor. It was the hardest thing I have ever endured in my life and the most blissful. To this day, I see it as the single most important experience teaching me about my own inner strength. A strength I didn’t know I had. After that, I felt anything was possible. A 5 pound baby is small, but her little fists were under her chin making her shoulders hard to fit through the birth canal. It took longer than it should have. Just long enough for me to pop through to a different dimension to access a deeper and more confident part of myself.

Emily was a lovely child. Sensitive, sweet, delicate and a daddy’s girl. She basically fit into his big hand when she was born, legs dangling off his arm. Motherhood was everything I thought it would be; completely enjoyable. My mothering instincts were intact. It was an idealistic time of staying at home, cooking three meals a day. Walks in the pram. Playing. Totally joyful.

I was introduced to the Waldorf School which became a natural segue into the imagination of childhood. We were immersed into a world of wonder.

My mother came to visit for a few weeks, so happy to spend time with her first grandchild. A week into her visit, she died of a heart attack in her sleep at 61.

Emily found her first. “Mama..grandma won’t wake up.” She was three. There are certain things that run in the woman’s line. This is one of them. Her mother, my grandmother, had died in childbirth when she was only three.

It was a first degree shock. Running to the room of my mother, I found her in the bed, sitting up, light on, with a book in her hand and glasses on her face. Her eyes were open. I shook her. She was stiff. I screamed in shock. In less than a second I understood that she was my mother, the body from which I came and now she was no longer at home. Yet, I felt her presence in the room. A protective mom, she would never let me watch gory movies..and yet, she dies in my house.

Some months later I realized, that she gave me a huge gift—a conscious shock—we are not our bodies. I was 26.

A few months later, I conceived. This time, it would be a winter baby. Even though I was grieving, I was happy to be pregnant again. Emily was a darling and my family was growing. I accompanied Jeff on a trip to the British Isles, visiting England, Scotland and Ireland. I kissed the blarney stone, ate soda bread and drank Guinness, the liquid bread. It was stormy, giving sheets of rain, moody and reflective. This time I wanted a home birth.

I developed an upper respiratory flu towards the end of my pregnancy. False labor was common. Knowing what I had been through the last time, I was worried that I might be in for it, if I had no strength. It went on for a few weeks. I started to feel some better, but I was tiring of the false labor pains I was having. That night, I felt them again and I said to the baby, “if you are going to come, you better come now.”  And the head moved down in that moment and real labor started. It was midnight.

Graham Calder Markel. 7.4 oz. 23 in. was born at 8:30 am. the next morning, looking like a wise old man and a long lost friend. My labor was not as dramatic. It was shorter and less intense, but intense, nevertheless. Blissful again, in spite of the pain. A natural birth. I would not choose to do it any other way.

Becoming a mother twice has been the two most incredible experiences of my life. Even though I have gone on to create and offer experiences of various sorts for others all over the world and have seen and done some extraordinary things myself, I sit here on Mother’s Day, 2010, thinking of my children, now grown.

Emily is 29, with her own two children, making me now a grandmother. Graham is 26, a writer and world traveler. Both are kind, witty, talented, loving souls. I love who they are and are becoming. We are close. They are close. They are my heart.

Even though I am no longer with their father, he was the perfect choice. Bringing children into the world is a big responsibility. Yet, not a burden. I consider myself an unconventional mother. I have broken a few norms to save them from the narrow and predictable, preferring to offer a different view. These words by poet David Whyte inspire me as a person, their mother on the path.

“Take all the elements that you find in your life and make something of it. No existential disappointment here. No gospel of despair. Be yourself! You are a sacred frontier of experience that has never appeared before in the whole of time and will never appear again. There is no one else who can occupy your corner of creation and taste and see the flavor of things the way you do. The act of participating and appreciating the world in the way that you do, is an act of incarnation. All the strategic works you do will come out of that frontier. But without it, everything becomes a second willful act merely of self necessity.

Get back to the core that is occurring underneath it all, the invisible foundation that you will build your life on. A radical simplification on what brings flavor to your life, a fearless harvest of what makes you, you. “





P.S.  don’t forget to brush your teeth.





Peggy Markel has a monthly newsletter available if you would like to receive stories, videos, recipes and updates in your inbox. Join the PMCA community on Facebook for photos and stories from the road.

For the past 17 years Peggy Markel has traversed the Mediterranean and North Africa, from Elban fishing villages and Moroccan markets to the homes of Tuscan artisans and chefs, furthering her own exploration of culture and cuisine. On these journeys, she saw an opportunity to design and direct her own brand of culinary tours in which enjoyment of the present place and moment plays a pivotal role.

“When we speak of Slow Travel, we mean that particular experience of letting yourself merge with your surroundings: the pace, customs, mores and style of where you find yourself. It’s really about our willingness to let the world in, and see ourselves a part of it.” For more information about Peggy’s trips and classes: peggymarkel.com; for more writing and recipes by Peggy: peggymarkel.blogspot.com or follow Peggy on Twitter.


Like elephant family on Facebook


Editor: Kate Bartolotta

Read 6 Comments and Reply

Read 6 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Peggy Markel  |  Contribution: 9,690