Pouring from the Center.

By: Jen Shoop

A few posts back, I was writing about motherhood, and how I occasionally find it so demanding that I ask, “Is it this hard for everyone? Or is it just me?” I harbor the same questions when I think about my first c-section. It was technically “an emergency c” because my water broke early the morning I was scheduled to go in, and so they expedited the operation, but there was nothing dramatic about it — all went smoothly, straight-forwardly, with no hitches or problems. At least this was what I was told. “Everything went great!” “You’re healing wonderfully!” “Textbook!” And yet I’d found the entire situation so stressful and inhumane that I did not want to be alone for the first few weeks afterward, as I was afraid to sit by myself with its memory. I had convulsed so violently — from shock? from medication? — that I had seemed to be levitating off the operating table and was therefore not able to hold my baby after she was born. The minutes ticked by in painful agony. I wept the entire time. Tears dripped right down my cheeks into my mouth and off my chin. I could not wipe them clean as my arms has been placed outstretched on the table and I was too scared — perhaps too paralyzed — to move them. I felt alien from myself, barred from my own body. I cried and cried in the weeks aftermath, as I slowly processed the enormity of it. I soaked my husband’s shirts with tears. I did not heal from that childbirth, emotionally, until I delivered my second child, also by c-section. That second birthing experience released me: I emerged triumphant. I remember beaming into the camera in the recovery room, clutching my baby to myself, feeling wild surges of ecstasy and happiness. “We did it, we did it!” I remember saying to Mr. Magpie. Not only because our second, and our last, was safely in my arms, but because I had made my way from the deepest chasm of fear surrounding the births of our children to the apex of joy.

I have thought about this a lot over the past few years because — how did it happen? I think it has to do with my mindset by the time my son was born. Not only was a better prepared, emotionally, for the experience, but I also knew I’d endured it and had eventually made my way back to center. I trusted myself to complete the same lap twice. I reasoned that even if my experience of it was as terrible as the first had been, I could grit my teeth with a little more conviction. This, too, will pass. I was also better able to advocate for myself and my needs. I talked at length with the doctors about the medications I wished to avoid, my fear of the terrible shakes, my desire to hold my baby right after he was born, and they listened and delivered. But, I think, most importantly: in the two years between my children’s births, I was able to sit with all of the mixed emotions of the first birth and let them breathe. After initially avoiding eye contact with all forms of memory from my daughter’s delivery, I faced them by talking them out with my sister, my husband, my mother, other wonderful women. They listened and gently reminded me that even though “everything had gone great!”, it was OK to feel upset about the experience. I even laid down one afternoon in the weeks leading up to my son’s birth and tried to think through the entire experience as crisply as I could: this happened, then this happened, then this happened. I believed that if I could look that morning dead in the eye, I could escape from its gripping fear. I devised new strategies to lean on, including a plan of repeating the words: “Focus on me, not on the storm” instead of attempting to recite the Hail Mary, as I was wont to do. The Hail Mary is lovely but a bit long in the tail when you are hanging on every second. Or rather, when, each second trudges by in leaden shoes.

I recently came across a quote from an American Buddhist, Pema Chodron, in which she wrote:

“The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

This, I think, is the chiming answer to not only why I was able to have a more positive experience with my second birth, but also to so many of my questions of heart: find room for it all. Stretch out your heart. Don’t be economical in the face of its wild, unencumberable movements. Imagine you are pouring from the center, not the rim. You are a thundering waterfall, not a trickle-trackle stream. Many things can be true at once and it is not your job, when you are healing, to figure out anything but how to make space for it all, so nothing creeps out sideways, skinny-like.

Today, I want to run a bit of a retraction. I wish I’d not asked “Is it harder for me?” because I think this might put us in the damning straits of comparison, but rather: “How can I make space for it all?” How can I permit myself to feel twenty-seven ways about motherhood without the standard predicate of guilt? Let’s take as a given that we are all doing our very best, and, as a Magpie pointed out, that motherhood will take as much as we have to give, whether we have one child or seven. It’s OK to feel wildly overwhelmed. It’s OK to be absurdly gleeful while watching your son eat. (Truly, what is it about watching my children eat that offers such deep satisfaction?). It’s OK to repair things after you’ve misspoken or raised your voice. It’s OK to weep over the little drawings your daughter left on your desk. Motherhood asks for it all, so might as well open up my heart as wide as possible and pour from the center.


+Motherhood is a surfeit.

+Remember my writings about Fleetwood Mac last fall? I’ve been re-listening to a lot of their music on my more recent runs (currently, again, on pause while I recover from a bad head cold). Just so incredibly good.

+We carry all the ages of our children with us.

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Shopping Break.

+After coming across the above Chodron quote, I’m intrigued by her writings, especially: When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.

+I’ve been meaning to do this for awhile, but when I came down with a cold recently, I decided to start taking apple cider vinegar more regularly. It’s supposed to be excellent for circulation, gut health, and other benefits. I’m not sure I totally buy all of the literature about it, but I will say that my body always craves vinegar and I trust my body enough to know that it knows what it needs. I’ve been mixing standard Bragg brand ACV into cold water in the morning. I love the taste, frankly. But I’m intrigued by these fancy Living Tonics by Acid League. This set features one bottle each of Coffee Chaga Maple, Passion Fruit Oolong, and Vanilla Mānuka Spice. (P.S. If you hate the taste of vinegar — blasphemy! — Bragg also offers capsules.)

+Three great fall jackets just went on sale: this barn jacket from Wyeth I’ve been wearing all season (perfect weight, love the balance of feminine/masculine elements), this best-selling puffer (you all LOVED this — currently under $160), and this cozy sherpa fleece.

+Just ordered myself this striped knit dress. I’m not usually a knit dress gal but I just loved the colors of this one. I’ll report back – I find a lot of Sezane pieces, while SO cute, a tad itchy. Stay tuned! Also new at Sezane: this glittery mini. It’s nearly sold out already (just launched two days ago) so run if you love!

+Julia Amory discounted a bunch of her summer table linens. This one — orig $160 — is only $50! Total classic. Imagine with white flowers and rattan tableware. So good!

+Three other really fun sale finds: this sweater, which is splurgey but such a statement, this headband, and this Jenni-Kayne inspired cocoon style sweater. Also, the off-white denim skirt I styled several ways here is marked down!

+Tempted to order these sherpa-lined chelsea boots — under $100! LOVE.

+I want this head-to-toe Spanx set: these pants, this half-zip.

+Target has marked down a ton of toys in advance of Black Friday. Great time to snap up Lego sets, Squishmallows, and even stocking stuffers like LOL Surprise dolls and Uno.

+Did you hand sanitizer can be chic? You can even attach it to a keyring/bag/etc with this.

+For my expecting mamas: do you know about Storq? I discovered this brand late in my second pregnancy but a few of my favorite maternity finds were from there. Love these long cardigans and these nursing bras. They also have a sale section! Was always drawn to promos while pregnant since you wear the items for such a short period!

+This cropped jacket from Reformation is SO chic.

+Just ordered my son some more Gap jeans. Love the classic fit.

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16 thoughts on “Pouring from the Center.

  1. I’m two weeks away from my the birth of my second and while my son’s birth was not necessarily traumatic, my first two months of postpartum were probably some of the hardest of my life and I was thrown completely off kilter. I dealt with so much guilt and sadness for such a long time after. I relate to your feelings so much as I approach all of it the second time with different expectations and a softer mindset. This essay was timed perfectly – thank you for sharing!

    1. Chelsea! Sending your THE BEST, most peaceful, most healing vibes as you head into your next delivery. As I was writing this, I was thinking about other expecting mamas and worrying that my words might scare them off — I know many moms consider the delivery/birth experience beautiful, empowering, almost spiritual, so I’m sharing a vastly different experience here — but am so glad this resonated with you and encouraged you at this moment. (As an aside: Whenever I felt nervous/anxious in the weeks leading up to the second birth experience, I told myself: “It’s OK. This is just my mind, heart, and body getting ready for the delivery. There’s room for all of the feelings.”).

      Sending you love and hope your experience releases you from any residual feelings of guilt/sadness you have over the first, as it did me.


  2. This is so random, but since you say you love vinegar so much, you and Mr. Magpie should look into cooking some Filipino recipes! Especially chicken adobo, for which one of the primary ingredients is vinegar. Feel like Mr. Magpie would love to explore new culinary styles too lol

  3. Also meant to say… Pema Chodron resonates deeply with me as does Buddhism, for the teaching that almost all of our suffering stems from our insistence, that well, we shouldn’t be suffering. It shouldn’t be this way. It isn’t fair. And yet. The acceptance of the suffering, the just letting it be, without our own narrations, well it’s a lifelong practice to be sure, but a very worthy one, I believe. xo

    1. This is so beautiful, Jessica. I feel like the last decade of my life has been finding ways to “accept and let be” in so many lanes. Thanks for sharing. xx

      1. I’m happy and humbled to bring anything of value to you, Jen. You are just such a lovely human, and you bring warmth to me everyday. Xo

  4. Fellow vinegar head here- you MUST order Acid League’s mustard!! Delicious on EVERYTHING!
    And a huge YES to Pema Chodron, she is a treasure. XO

  5. i read your c-section posts several times in the lead up to my own last summer, so thank you for offering both wisdom and practical advice (truly, i poured over your list of little things to help improve upon the healing process) as you continue to reflect on your own births. i was so nervous about the unexpected, but the nudging to advocate for yourself during the procedure was incredibly helpful. i made sure to proactively ask for anti nausea meds, speak up and check in with the anesthesiologist as the medicine took hold, etc… perhaps the team was too tuned into my needs, because my husband on the other hand, ended up fainting on the ground next to me. i spent most of the surgery with my head turned to the side, reassuring HIM, while i was being ripped open and stitched back up, ha.

    you help marshal and support your readers through more than you know!

    and i’m still eying those amazon chelsea boots, ever since you linked to them in a follow up from my commuter shoe q last week. report back if you try them first!

    1. Erica – this is so beyond kind. Thanks for sharing this perspective, as often, when I write about this experience, about motherhood, about grief, I often feel as though it’s a blood-letting. It is therapy, it is release. It is the processing of intense things. You’ve made me remember that it can also help people feel less alone in their own lanes! Thank you for that shift.

      I’m SO glad my thoughts helped you prep for your c-section. Sounds like you did AMAZING and I cannot — CANNOT — imagine having the mindspace to comfort someone else while on the operating table! You are a gem/superhuman!


  6. I am taking these lines with me: “Not only was a better prepared, emotionally, for the experience, but I also knew I’d endured it and had eventually made my way back to center. I trusted myself to complete the same lap twice. I reasoned that even if my experience of it was as terrible as the first had been, I could grit my teeth with a little more conviction. This, too, will pass.”

    As I’ve struggled over the last few years to process a personal trauma, I needed this reminder that I will come out on the other side and that I will be better prepared the next time I go through something. The image of completing the lap again will really stick with me. As a visual person I think I really needed this framing, which I have not thought of before, so thank you!

    1. Oh I’m so glad! Sometimes the right phrase, the right visual just makes something click. Hoping you make space for all the feelings as you heal. Sending love!


  7. Healing from trauma definitely takes time, and can take many pathways. It took me 13 years to finally get closure on the most traumatic experience of my life, which was botched general anesthesia during an appendectomy. First it took me a lot of time to actually fully remember what happened, because post-anesthesia amnesia is a thing. Then accepting it and calling it what it was- trauma- took time. Then it wasn’t until I was slated for two hip surgeries this year did I have the opportunity to sit down with an anesthesiologist and go over what had happened to me all those years prior. It was so unexpectedly affirming- they listened, they asked questions, and they explained from a place of expertise what likely happened and why it wouldn’t happen again. For me, at the end of the day, it wasn’t a super emotion-filled conversation that brought me the most healing. It was someone with expertise explaining in the most clinical terms what happened and why my reaction was logical.

    1. Oh my goodness – how awful. I’m so sorry that happened to you. You are so incredibly strong, not only for enduring multiple operations in a relatively short period of time, but for the emotional recovery related to your botched first one. Wow. Thank you so much for sharing the point that “healing can take many pathways.” I’m so glad you were able to find yours, and that you shared it here in case there are others who might find in your approach the same kind of release.


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