As I write these words, my three week old son is breastfeeding. Our bed is a mess of swaddle cloths, baby wipes, butt cream, pillows, and diapers. I can't remember the last time I washed my hair. My body hurts. I feel like I am descending into chaos.
I am also rising into a transcendent state of love. I adore my baby boy. I'm witnessing my husband step into new versions of himself that re-inspire my faith in the masculine. I'm feeling my body metamorphose into something new after a year of massive change.
When I conceived my child, I didn't realize the depth to which destruction of old paradigms would be a central experience. I wasn't ready. I tried to be - I prepared with every transformative development/leadership tool/coaching skill/spiritual practice I had. I'm humbly acknowledging that there was no way to "get ready" for this. All I could (and can) do is surrender.
After four and a half years of trying (a story for another time), my husband and I conceived Ikenna in early March. We'd tried for so long that I didn't believe I was pregnant. A friend of mine had to convince me to get a pregnancy test a few days after I missed my cycle, because I was in such a state of denial. Hope was too painful. But lo and behold, after three tests (I had to be sure!) I was pregnant.
This is what I'd been preparing for! I had an excellent diet, I exercised regularly, and I was 32 years old. I was completely convinced that I'd be a low-risk pregnancy, and I planned to deliver at home. I had visions of monthly afternoon tea meetings with our midwife, the birthing tub in the living room, and the rites-of-passage experience of delivering my child the way millions of women have before me. The body's natural process.
It was not meant to be.
I found out at 28 weeks that I had gestational diabetes. I wanted to handle it through my diet, which meant cooking ALL THE TIME, in a way I never had before: Paleo. At first, I was inspired by the recipes, but then the reality of cooking so much with a full workload started to hit me. A very dear friend had to stalk me and say, "YOU NEED HELP LET ME HELP YOU I'M BRINGING YOU FOOD PICK UP YOUR DAMN PHONE!".
I fell apart the rest of the third trimester. I own my business and had to create a makeshift maternity leave, so I was working 10 hour days sometimes to give myself four months with my son (mental exhaustion). My last plane trip for work was in August (my husband accompanied me), and I almost tore his head off on the plane ride because I felt so vulnerable walking through an airport (emotional exhaustion). I canceled several speaking engagements the last couple of weeks before maternity leave because I couldn't get out of bed (physical exhaustion). My mind, heart and body were speaking, and they were forcing me to slow down.
A few days into my maternity leave, after I thought the smoke had cleared, we found out our baby was breech. And that set off two weeks of fear and turmoil.
We went in for a cephalic version (where doctors attempt to manually turn the baby from the outside), but couldn't even make the attempt because I had low amniotic fluid. This triggered almost daily non-stress tests to make sure my son's heartbeat was still strong. I would go into the hospital for a routine appointment and stay for seven hours with no food (potential prep for surgery), as different teams of practitioners would try to convince me to have a C-Section RIGHT NOW.
In the end, we had an unscheduled Cesarean three days before we were scheduled to deliver, because my amniotic fluid level got dangerous. One of my husband's oldest friends is a hospital Nurse/Midwife, and circumstances aligned so that we delivered with someone we loved and trusted. And on November 16th, 2017 at 4:41pm, Ikenna Goree Silvestri came into the world a healthy 7 pounds 10 ounces.
This pregnancy created the circumstances for me to break through years of self-limiting and un-constructive behaviors. As an African American woman, I've noticed the ways I program myself to give all that I have at my own expense; care-take other's experience to make them comfortable; marginalize or invalidate my own experience because I think it's "too much" for others to handle. This year the feedback loop for these behaviors in my health and my son's health was urgent and immediate.
In these first tender few weeks with a newborn, I'm reflecting on and witnessing the new paradigm this year has forged within me.
I have and will continue to:
- Create professional circumstances that will allow for a very high level of reciprocal care. It turns out there is an invisible web of generosity available that creates the space for ideal self-care and powerful innovation. My clients, colleagues and I created magic together this year, in ways I wouldn't have thought possible. And there's even more magic emerging for 2018.
- Receive love and care from my friends and family. To me, sacred exchange is the balance of giving and receiving, and it's a value by which I live my life. I've struggled with receiving, and get depleted as a result. Pregnancy and birth pushed me into a new state of "receive or bust". I have incredible friends and family who love me enough not to take my weaknesses personally, who care for me the way I need to be cared for even when I resist.
- Tap into a deeper, more visceral understanding of interconnectedness. I'm loving harder and more tenderly at the same time. I'm seeing my ecosystem work as an extension of caring for my family. I have space in my heart to empathize with people and circumstances I couldn't tolerate before. My internal landscape has expanded - and so has my approach to leadership.
This new landscape was forged in an inferno and now feels like a continuous rapid-fire cycle of "grieving the loss of the old" to "discovering what's left" to "peace and joy with what's now possible".
Moving forward, being a mother will continue to show me new ways this paradigm shift impacts my self care, my marriage, my relationships, and my career. It will create new pathways for me to serve, from a place of radical love and generosity. It will allow me to do my part in creating true beloved community.