Not So Serious

  I’m here today to be a cushion. Because September, in general—for most primary caretakers—is a shit sandwich. We’ve got back-to-school and kids anxieties and emails and school supplies and evening meetings with no childcare and so much driving and medical forms and a foggy brain after 3 months of constant caretaking. And then, this year, we also have a world on fire in all the ways it is on fire. You see, normally in September, the shit sandwich still has a bun. It still has a squishy exterior in the form of eventual settling into school and a return to semi-normalcy, plus some socializing with friends who understand and, you know, a predictable train of normal stressors that are part of grown up life.   But this year we have no bun. We are a shit sandwich cushioned by sandpaper. And I can’t help but draw from my experience as a person diagnosed with C-PTSD (PTSD Type 2) and substance use disorder. It should also be said that I am a friendly comrade here, not a professional, so everything I am about to say is just amateur thoughts. Aka, seek a professional for more help on this. So, yes, my experience of C-PTSD is that in my personal life, I endured a state of chronic trauma for decades that resulted in my nervous system becoming acutely tuned to finding a way to survive even under danger or threat. My nervous system believes—and has proof—that the trauma I have experienced could happen again and might also be still happening. BUT my nervous system has tricked me into thinking that I am not experiencing a trauma. Hahaha. That is right. It doesn’t wave a flag and say, ALERT ALERT DANGER. Instead, it says: Everything is ok and you can totally be safe if you do x,y, and z right now even if x,y, and z are really not rational. Because it wants me to survive, regulate, and adapt at all costs.    There are many nuances of this and my experience is not that of others. But the reason I am bringing it up is that, for me, this state of a trauma response removes me from being centered in myself. It removes me from a pause and a reflection. It removes me from humor and contemplation. It removes me for seeking hope and places me in seeking disaster avoidance. It removes me from feeling communicative and leaves me feeling private and locked down. It removes me from joy. From possibility. From real solutions. From healthy decisions. From clarity. In essence, I become a survival junkie.   I am not suggesting that this is where you are, but I am saying that from my vantage point in MommaStrong, I do have a bird’s eye view over the general state of wellness of caretakers. I can tell when we’re in fighting mode, when we’re connected, when we’re relieved. I can also tell when we are in survival junkie mode and suffering in invisible ways. I can see this through how many people are logging in, how many people are talking in the community, the topics we are discussing, the general tone of responses, and how many people are taking the risk to become members. Sure, these might sound like business numbers, but when you step away from the business analysis, you can see that there’s a pulse in here in regards to how caretakers are doing at any given moment. Do we have space to care for ourselves? Do we have room to take risks? Do we have room to talk to each other? Do we believe it matters? Do we feel seen?   And I can say, from that casual data, that right now most of us are in it right now. We are dealing with a similar feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop, holding our breath, and trying to keep our sweet kiddos from feeling how fried and frayed we are. We don’t have room for anything else. We are in the middle of the great big unknown and are just wondering if we are going to be ok. We used to assume that eventually we would be ok and now we are like, but will we be ok?    So. Here’s the cushion. We are not going to figure this out or feel better by thinking harder or doing better. No. We all need two things: Time and proof of change. Some of this we have control over and some of it we don’t. Either way, right now, we need to be kind to ourselves and we need to treat our nervous systems like a sweet child with the flu. Water, rest, food, and love. Repeat.    Yes, life will march on. And, yes, we need to take action in so many directions. This doesn’t mean we dip out of life and resign from action. But, we need to also know that our nervous systems need to rebuild their buns on the shit sandwich. In fact, it may be that the right action comes only when the bun rebuilds.    Here at MommaStrong we are taking the month of September to cushion your nervous systems. While you do all the hard stuff you are doing, we want to soothe your nervous system, give it a breather. We’ve decided that one of the best ways to do this is to provide you some humor, some grace, some shared fails … and so, this month is The Not So Serious Challenge. Each day, you will get to read a fellow member’s funny, flawed, embarrassing stories of showing up. And, I’ve read the submissions and yesssssssssssssssssss. This. This is good.    Join us. The Not So Serious Challenge starts on Monday, Sept 6th which is, yes, Labor Day. But all good. Do 5-15 minutes of movement in which you only have to click play and I take care of the rest. And then read through these stories of humanity that will remind you that there is still magic in this world on fire and that we can do this. We will do this. You will get to remember that you have reserves. Let us be what supports your reserves. You can join as a current member by clicking on Challenges in the teal navigation menu. If you are not yet a member, simply join MommaStrong today and then login and then click on Challenges   I can’t wait to be here with you this month. Remember: Water, food, rest, and love. I will keep you company until you feel better, I promise.

The Strength to Carry

It ought to be known that I am obsessed with the series Alone. Hahahaha. I feel ok admitting this because the more I do, the more people whom I love and respect are like, omg, I do too. It ought to also be known that I had to take a break from watching it because I caught myself being extra judgy about contestants who had lost their ferro rods and/or didn’t make a shelter a priority—because I have, you know, expert primitive life skills from watching three seasons and all. Right? Right. In any case, I realized why I love this show so much:   #1 They are all alone. Sounds so nice, not gonna lie. And I know I know, they are like surviving and it wouldn’t actually be nice. But, wow. Alone.   #2 I feel like motherhood has totally prepared me to be a Ms. Macgyver in the wilderness, even with extreme sleep deprivation and stalking predators.   #3 The show’s winner is always the person who has the most inner strength and actual survival experience, and this feels affirming and inspiring.   Before I go on, I want to say that I know nothing about these people nor am I saying that this show is actually anything awesome. It’s just a weird thing I have been overthinking. But, when I think about the #3 item above, I also realize that this is the “something bigger” here that draws me to the show. I guess we live our whole lives thinking that winners are people who are the toughest, the most physically fit, the most positive, the most focused, and the most confident. And, on this show, the truth comes out. Confidence means very little in the wild. What matters most? Two things: A resilient relationship with your own emotional world AND hard-fought experience.    Also, interestingly, the people who are left standing in Alone do not shy away from falling apart emotionally or expressing difficulty. In Season 7, in fact, one of the contestants (I will not spoil it) spends about 95% of his air time openly grieving in a raw way the passing of his mother. Another incredible woman spends most of her air time bouncing between sobbing or cheering with joy, having to pick herself up and begin again each morning. I realized after that season that THIS is what it looks like to know how to carry the burdens of surviving life and learning to be with suffering. Maybe this is what inner strength looks like: You have the ability to fall apart, reconstitute yourself, learn, and repeat over and over. Courage is not static. Strength is not still. These things bend and turn and wane and build. And you stay with yourself as they do. More essentially, you don’t hate yourself when they do.    It makes me think of the palliative care doctor and author of That Good Night, Dr Sunita Puri, whose life work is about helping people accept the eventual conflict of their identity and their body’s agreement with that identity. Yes, she deals with end of life, but I do believe that people who work in this realm have a lot to teach us. Her experience has taught her that life is a bunch of temporary shifts into circumstances we can’t control or change. Our inner strength resides in being present for all these shifts and doing what we can, when we can. She says, “By accepting my patients’ circumstances, rather than fixating on their inherent tragedy, I could focus instead on changing what I could.”   Now, I do know that I am simplifying this idea in a big way and maybe, like me, you’ll be tempted to go grab some self-help books or maybe enroll in an online course. Maybe this feels frustrating because, I don’t know, we’ve been led to believe our whole lives that something outside of ourselves can and will ease our pain. But don’t we all learn that external things don’t work? People will disappoint us. Vices will hurt. Quick fixes will dissipate. Diversion will prolong. As someone very important in my life used to always say to me, “You can’t buy bread at a hardware store.” In other words, you’re not going to get what you need from a source that doesn’t have it. So, couldn’t it be true that the bread store is inside of us?   That’s my question and it feels obvious now that I write it. Like, DUH. Isn’t that what all the spiritual experts and calm humans already know? So, blergh. This feels obvious. Then again, maybe it is not obvious because, yes, a lot of us have heard this and a lot of us know this. BUT, how many of us actually practice it? How many of us have actually been able to say, ok, what do I need to carry my life and my suffering? That’s actually hard work and that is actually rare work.    In my own life, I came to a point where I had to close the self-help books and external stuff. I’ve had to just roll up my sleeves and live like a survivor on Alone, which means I’ve had to learn how to pause before I call the rescue team and develop discernment about my reality and what it needs. And, PS, there’s nothing wrong with calling the rescue team. Sometimes it is the exact right thing to do. BUT, this means that I’ve had to learn to come home to my body, to use the resources in here and the deep knowing and to muster the strength to hold myself to a challenge without fleeing.    So, this month in our August Challenge, we are going to be talking about The Strength to Carry. And since we are MommaStrong, we are going to focus mainly on how our physical integration and body awareness can be an excellent tool in your toolkit for getting through something in life that is challenging. Lucky for us, our new MommaStrong trainers, certified this past spring, will be guiding us through with their process in this topic. They will be sharing what they are carrying and then leaning into what they are doing to develop the strength to not flee. I’m so thrilled that you will meet them in this way and I am so thrilled to be led by them this month myself.   The challenge starts Monday, August 2nd, which is great timing before the major shifts of the end of summer head our way, quickly. If you are a current member, you can register for this month’s challenge by clicking on the Challenges link in the teal navigation menu once logged in. If you are not yet a member, sign up today and then follow those instructions. AND, bonus, here’s also a little general intro to our new trainers so you can meet them before diving into the deeper stuff.    Until then, do not binge Alone because I said so. It may not be as enlightening as I am saying. I am weird like that. But, if you get to Season 7 and you get to the episode with face lotion, please send me a message. BECAUSE WOW.  

Hunger

 

Every once in a while, I find myself outside the house at dusk. I’m usually surrounded by irritable children, attempting a picnic where the food isn’t right and the forks are missing and the flies are buzzing … or I’m on a risky errand way too close to toddler bedtime and so I’m belting out NSYNC Bye Bye Bye which seems to be the winning tune in terms of keeping a 2 year old awake. But, even in those moments, with my attention parked on wrangling and managing, I catch a glimpse of the golden light, the pink and orange clouds. I see bats darting around low and high, signaling the sky to darken. I feel a breeze even on the hottest of days and I smell in the air the closure of things. And I see young professionals walking slowly—hands free—into grocery stores and restaurants and yoga classes. I see people riding bikes without wagons attached, without a time stamp on adventure. I wonder, But will they ride past 8pm?

 

I think resentful thoughts at first. And then sad thoughts. I think about lost time and lost autonomy. I think about how dusk has been hijacked by bedtimes for the last 15 years of my life and, ugh, I just feel loss so big that it could crush my snack-ridden, three rowed SUV.  

 

Whew.

 

It is hard for us caretakers to admit this. We wait for the fixers of the world to come in and say, “Ask for help” or “Get a babysitter” or “Savor this time, you will miss it one day”. And then our grief is run over by shame and we remember, Oh, don’t say those things out loud.

 

But, I know that we all know a much more nuanced truth, one that speaks of the depth of all of us: Caretakers are whole people. We can share a hunger for the parts we miss about our pre-kid lives with an intense love for the privilege of raising children. They can exist together. In fact, what if hunger is just as important to express as love? What if that defines our personhood as much as our ability to be present and grateful? What if it reminds us to focus on self preservation not as a selfish act, but as a birthright that fuels ourselves AND our children AND our communities?

 

What if?

 

After the year (plus) that we have all had, I am personally struggling with the restarting of our engines. And not because I want to live isolated in my house forever. No. No. Wow. No. Maybe sometimes. But because I want to start over in a way that truly feeds me. I want to take a minute and gather what I have learned over the last year.  And then I want to pay attention to my hunger for the parts of my life that disappeared decades ago in the hustle and bustle of work/parenting/etc-ing. 

 

Sure, some of these things will need to be parked for a while. They may not be feasible right now. But, I can still look at them and hug them and say, hey, I didn’t forget you. And then there will be some things that don’t have to be parked, but can be placed consciously back into my daily grind. I might even form some non-negotiable habits and rituals around them. I just know, though, that if I don’t do this now and if I don’t take an inventory of my own hunger, I’ll end up right back where we all started pre-pandemic. 

 

I’ll finish by saying that this process can feel scary, that it might open the floodgates of needs that can’t be met or feelings we don’t have time to feel. But, as I have learned here in MommaStrong, the reality is that no harm comes from listening to our true selves. Just listening. And then doing what you can in a way that fits into our reality right now, just enough today and just enough tomorrow.

 

The really great news is that you can do this with company and expert guidance this month in our July Challenge, focused on What Fuels You?  We will dig into hunger (outside of food), sleep, rest, play, and relationships. AND, it is being led by our MommaStrong FUEL dietitians who have a refreshing lens on sustainable health. Meaning, they aren’t going to teach you what to eat or even talk about food, instead, they are going to talk about how other things are actually even more important.  I’m excited to share this adventure with you this month.

 

The challenge starts on Monday, July 5th, so you’ve got time to get signed up! You can sign up as a current member by clicking on the Challenges link in the teal navigation menu (one you have logged in). Or, if you aren’t yet a member, you can join us for the challenge by signing up today (only $12) and then registering at that Challenges link.  

Ode to Therapy (Heyyyyy 2021)

I used to think therapy was about fixing problems and fixing yourself by erasing all the things that are “bad”.  I now know, after many many years in therapy that it isn’t about that at all.  It’s about finding the courage to face the shadows in yourself, to give them room to have tantrums, to love them so much that they finally heal, and to then take a leadership role in your life so those shadows don’t have to run the show.  They get to just be a part of you, rather than a lurking dictator that defines the whole of you.  And you discover, after enough time in therapy, that these shadows are simply survival skills with the volume turned up way too loud.  

So, for me, I began to make sense of myself and my problems when I turned the volume down, but while also still respecting how these shadows add to the music of me.  I didn’t erase them.  I didn’t call them bad.  I loved their texture and their tone for what they are.  This is what therapy has taught me.  

BUT.

Guess what?  Drum roll.  I didn’t just walk into therapy one day and say, OK YAY it is time to face my darkness and heal.  Um.  No.  In fact, most of my life in therapy was spent resisting this by conning myself into the idea that I didn’t have any darkness and that everyone else was the problem.  It wasn’t until an extraordinary amount of pain and stress from a rock bottom (or two) left me with no option:  Get honest with myself or else.  

There’s something about the moment before a person changes in this way that fascinates me.  We often think it is about making a good choice, but from what I have experienced, it’s less choice and more an intensity of external and internal stressors that forces a certain new behavior.  Because why else would we stare at a fork in the road and choose the path that promises change but also guarantees pain? There’s nothing easy about it.  But, looking back I know something to be very true. Stress doesn’t have to be the negative scary thing we’ve been taught it is.  In fact, I find it to be more like our shadows:  Simply part of life that needs as much love and listening as the rest of the parts.  

In fact, if you really think about the physiological function of both pain and stress, you can see that they actually mean well … at first.  Pain sends messages to your nervous system that something needs care or adjustment.  Stress sends messages to your nervous system that something is too much for your system.  The pain calls to us and the stress places pressure on us.  But, this is not to destroy us or make us sick as we have been taught, instead they cause these reactions and sensations so that we change because the change will get us closer to what is best for us and those around us.  This means inherently that we as humans are designed to adapt, to pivot … to begin again.  And this means that we can handle stress, in that we can learn to respond to it with care.

I’ll repeat that none of this is easy.  We are dealing with our nervous systems.  We are dealing with our psyches.  We are dealing possibly with trauma and difficult life changes and other hard hard stuff.  But, when I think about Joseph Campbell and his identification of the hero’s journey, modeled throughout history in mythology and story, I remember that this is what life is:  Walking through the forest of Ick so we can get to the field of Oh Yeah.  

I personally feel that the last year of all of our lives has been a giant forest of Ick.  One that we could have never ever planned for.  Not many of us sat around in high school and college considering how we might handle the life stressor of a global pandemic and the burden that would fall mostly on primary caretakers. I mean, yeah, no. But, my hunch is that as we walk through this together, we will make changes to our family and community systems that better serve us in the end.  Don’t get me wrong, though.  We are not out of the forest.  We are in the worst part actually, where you can see the edges of it and you can see the field ahead, but you’re still in the dark and there’s still ground to travel.  

I’m here with you.  We will emerge.  Just keep going and keep talking and keep venting and don’t go silent.  Be a loud unpredictable tourist in your forest, maybe sing TLC at the top of your lungs and yell a few slanderous words at anything that has hurt you this last year.  You don’t have to be a graceful hero.  Heroes are heroes because they keep on walking and that is 100% the only qualifier.  Healing is happening, even though we don’t know yet.  Yeah?

I will also emphasize that the majority of us will need expert help on this adventure.  I have never ever in my entire life known someone to walk through this without a guide, aka a qualified therapist.  Someone who can teach you how to be with you and who can teach you about stress and pain and your true capabilities.  And who will, because it is actually their hard-earned job, accept you and support you through the process.

This leads me to two very exciting announcements, which have me smiling ear to ear as I type this:  

  1. Today we welcome our new Mental Health Advisors to the MommaStrong team: Annie Keilman, Monique Cortes, and Nicole Taylor Irwin.  We have come to realize that our community needs some lifeguarding because, well, functional exercise that reminds you that you are enough often digs up lots of feels.  And while we know we are safe for you to feel, we also want to stay in our lane and within our scope of practice.  SO.  Yes, our mental health advisors will be showing up in our community and in our programs, not to diagnosis or treat but simply to guide and support.  Please watch/listen to this inspiring interview with them.  YAYYYYYYYY.
  2. This most awesome team will be leading our June Challenge: Stress & Strength, which starts Monday June 7th.  They will be teaching you about stress and resilience and all the amazing things connected to this.  AND WOW.  I get to look through this content before the challenge starts and I can’t even tell you how invaluable this.  You are getting basically a super high end, informative course on stress taught by experts WHILE ALSO getting a daily workout plus a bazillion fix-me plus a community for $12.  I don’t know.  I’m not a good salesperson, but wow.  THIS.
  3. Join the challenge today!  If you are a current member, simply register by clicking on “Challenges” in the teal menu (you must be logged in).  If you are not a current member, well dang, sign on up already and then go log in and click that Challenges link.  

Ok, go watch and be inspired, as I am, by these incredibly gifted and giving and skilled humans.  I feel so so so lucky to be surrounded by them (and you).  

 

 

Free Fall

 

I don’t know if you noticed, but … hahahaha … no, you totally did, I know. BUT, I have been descending into burnout big time recently. It all came out slowly at first, through general angst and harrumphs and wahhhhhs in my D15s. And then it was just a full-on pressure cooker release moment. I am learning to not apologize for it. I also know most of you probably relate and you felt what you always feel with us here at MommaStrong: Oh, it’s not just me. But, I did have to look at myself and see what is going on. It’s like when your toddler has a tantrum at 6:58pm while you are in the grocery store. Sure, you could be mad at him/her/they for it, but most likely you will run through your pilot’s checklist of potential tantrum triggers: Hungry, check. Tired, check. Overstimulated, check. There-are-toys-in-every-aisle-at-the-grocery-store-now, check.

 

So, this is what I did with myself after last week: I gave myself a big hug. I listened to feedback. I took some, discarded others. Gave myself permission to be human. Felt gratitude for a safe place here where I can throw a tantrum and not be punished. And then I said, what is missing from my toolkit? Why am I boiling over? The answer was so clear: The last year has resulted in no remaining outlets and no still moments in my day to day grind. This is partly because of the load that primary caretakers have carried and partly because my brain is in a stress response, one that cannot and will not take a free moment and use it for a productive outlet.  

 

No, if I have a free moment, my brain either tells me to do 1,000,001 things that haven’t gotten done or it just collapses and asks to scroll or drool on a device. It doesn’t say, OH HEY, that book sounds like a good time. Or, OH HEY, a walk would be amazing right now. Or, OH HEY, exercise for pleasure would be fulfilling. Or, OH HEY, dust off your camera and go shoot some pictures at dusk. No. It says: BLAH. BLERGH. WHO CARES. WON’T HELP. NO THANKS.

 

I know this was just covered in the New York Times, in their piece on Languishing and so I am not trying to beat a dead horse here. I’m just joining, naming, confronting. I’m also adding a bit more to it to say that I’ve come to realize that I’ve been in a spin cycle and I forgot that while I am certainly IN the never-ending washer, I am also on the other side, with some power and some control. Not much. But some. And this is important because my brain, during times of stress, loves to tell me that it is on either end of a spectrum: Either serene or totally effed. Collected or Chaotic. Motivated or Resigned. And, as it always is, the answer is simply that my work in this life is to live in the tension between the extremes. 

 

I know I have said this a bazillion times, but it is worth saying over and over. And, honestly, most of the time, I think it, but I don’t practice it. The idea makes sense, brings me some peace and some ah-has, but I don’t actually practice it, at least not longer than a day. So, I am circling back and I am going to work on what this tension requires of me. It means that I get to be both things, and all the things. This is good news. But it is also terrifying news. I mean, my stress brain doesn’t like that information. It wants a clear cut decision. It wants something google-able.  Living in the tension between the extremes is not clear cut.  It is a total and utter free fall.  

 

This means that the question becomes: What do I need during a free fall? I am guessing that you are stumped like I am on that one. No one taught us this. No one said in high school, OH HEY, most of your grown up life will be basically dealing with insane people (who you love), paying bills, and finding joy even though there are no actual answers to anything. There was not a class on How to Free Fall without Destroying Yourself. So, it is ok that we are unprepared. And I encourage us to gather together and say, I Don’t Know and then find our tools for the free fall.  

 

I am going to start this month with a simple, but not easy tool: Breathing. I want to understand it from the inside out and I want someone else to teach me in tiny chunks so that in basically 30 days, I will have a way to sit still, to bring life force into me, and to feel the tension without breaking. I know I am putting a lot on the skill of breathing here, but screw it. People demand a lot of me, maybe my lungs and my diaphragm are equally up for the hero’s journey too.  

 

I figure if I start here, with this tiny breadcrumb of information for my body, then maybe another breadcrumb will appear. I’m not equipped to map the path out of burnout yet, but I am willing to start. You see? Both things. Middle ground. The tension between.  

 

Join me for the month of May during which we will dig into this tool of breathing and see what happens. Our own MommaStrong member, Dr. Leah Frank, who is an osteopathic physician from the US now living in Germany, will be guiding us through all the anatomy, function, to-dos and not to-dos, and interrelated issues that exist in breathing. I cannot even begin to brag enough about the incredible content she is delivering to members this month.  CAN YOU BELIEVE YOU GET THIS FOR $12 A MONTH? No, I cannot. I am in tears right thinking about how we show up, this team here.  

 

So, yeah. Join me. If you are a current member, you simply click on that fancy challenges link in the teal navigation bar (once you are logged in). If you are not yet a member, that’s ok too. Just sign on up and then click that challenges link. PS: You get 14 days free, so basically half of your challenge is on us.  

 

I’ll see you there.

Belly of the Beast

I accept my body as it is. I really do. It’s been through a lot. It has kept fighting for me, even though sometimes it feels like it is against me. I know this because I am still breathing. I know this because my body has grown and birthed three humans. It has then fed and carried and soothed them. It’s not easy for my body to do these things and to then be also pinned to a desk and a screen in order to make a living. It’s not easy for my body to be a motivational speaker, hostage negotiator, and entertainer (aka a parent), jobs that carry overtime hours that are immeasurable. It’s not easy for my body to live in a concrete jungle when all it wants to do is have open air. It’s not easy for my body to be bent forward, texting and answering and waiting and doing and shouldering. It’s just not easy.

And sometimes, when I get dressed into my pjs way too late at night, I catch a glimpse of my belly and I’m like, oh wow. What is going on in there tonight? Sometimes it looks like a drained elephant. Sometimes it looks like I may actually be 6 months pregnant. Sometimes my belly button looks like it is a lone hiker in the Grand Canyon. Sometimes it has got a pooch and a sturdy shelf under my left rib cage. Sometimes it just looks like a belly. But, after seeing this, I bring myself back to all that my belly has done and all the burdens it holds and I feel nothing but gratitude and acceptance.

HOWEVER. Gratitude and acceptance with my body can often be confused with resignation. And, so, lately, I’ve become willing to find the middle ground here and say, yes, I accept this as my body and it’s changing appearance does not affect my worth … but also, yes, I wonder if there is a medical condition inside my belly that deserves care?

I wonder.

This reminds me of when my middle kiddo was barely 2 years old and I got rushed to an emergency biopsy of my breast, after I felt a suspicious lump. My gynecologist, upon feeling it, turned white as a ghost and called her breast surgeon colleague on her cell phone while still in the office right away. Everything turned out ok, thankfully. A benign fibroadenoma. But, after the biopsy, I met with the surgeon to discuss the results. I was lying down on my back, shirt off, in order to get examined. After she was done, she told me to sit up, which I did by rolling straight forward. She sat back quickly and said, “Oh, you have an umbilical hernia, huh?” I guess the rolling forward movement had caused my belly button to do its alien maneuver, where it used to pop straight out with any forward flexion of any kind. Instead of being like, OMG, HELP ME, IS THAT WHAT THIS IS, I got extremely embarrassed and was like, oh yeah, no bigs, I got it figured out.

I felt so so so lost right at that moment. Like, crap, I’m a former ballet dancer, a former Pilates teacher, a current postpartum corrective exercise specialist, I own a business called MommaStrong. This is NOT supposed to be happening to me and I MUST be doing something wrong. I remember feeling invaded and exposed and simply convinced myself that she was wrong. I did not have a hernia, I thought. I was too strong for pregnancy + childbirth to have affected ME.

I think back to that moment often now, after having had a third baby, and after many years in between that have granted me knowledge that has brought to our awareness the prevalence of deep ab dysfunction. And I wonder why, at that time, I felt such a huge ping of shame and embarrassment when she saw my umbilical hernia? In fact, I question if I still am living with it now? What am I not talking about when it comes to my belly? What am I still hiding? Why? If this were an injury to a non-mother or an injury to another part of the body, I wouldn’t be so quiet about it. There is something in here that elicits a sense of failure because I couldn’t walk out of pregnancy and childbirth like a glowing rock star. There’s something that feels like it eroded my worth because this part of my body didn’t come out unscathed. Like, somehow because I have an injury here or a lasting condition, something is very wrong. And, add to that the fact that my profession is functional fitness and deep ab/pelvic floor integration … wow.

So, I am going to tell the truth. I have healed my body in most of all the ways. I have entirely resolved my back pain, my SIJ dysfunction. I have healed my formerly constantly pulled neck and impinged shoulders. I have taught my body to be with, without causing former damage, degenerative disc disease courtesy of a life as a ballet dancer. I have reintegrated my abdominals and managed my diastasis recti. I am not in pain every day like I used to be. I am actually really impressed with how much I have healed and I am incredibly proud of what I teach.

But.

I still have stuff happening with my belly. What gives? What is it? I don’t mind the loose skin, the stretch marks, the not-flat belly. I’m good with these. Truly. But the lingering pooch doesn’t feel normal. There is something more happening here and I know I am not alone. I read so many emails and so many messages from other members who are like, hey, I’m integrated and out of pain, but something is still not right in my midsection. They don’t mention size or appearance, they mention a KNOWING. Something isn’t right in here. Some of them wonder … is it digestion? Is it a hernia? Is it an injury I can’t see? Did my deep abs not recover? Why does this worse later in the day? What am I doing wrong?

Now, if this topic wasn’t stuffed into the container of “Get Over It: Things that happen when you have babies”, then we would listen to this KNOWING and we wouldn’t tell a person to “accept it” or “celebrate it”. We wouldn’t tell people to make peace with it. We would say, huh, let’s take a look and see what is going on.

Right??

Right.

So, that is what I am going to do. I’m going to take my acceptance of self and body, and ALSO take my knowing … and I’m gonna trudge through the belly of the beast. I’m going to ask questions from professionals, get evaluated, experiment, test, try again, keep asking and I’m going to see what happens. Maybe the answer will be: Not much you can do about it. In which case, you know what, after all the investigation I’m going to dedicate to this mystery, I’ll consider that an expert answer backed by substantial evidence.

You and your belly deserve unconditional love. You and your belly ALSO deserve expert answers with substantial evidence. Both things can happen. We don’t have to choose one or the other.

Join me this summer, along with Jya Plavin, Stephanie Dillon, Viki Kelly-Quirk, and a special guest, for a most spectacular online Zoom workshop called The Belly of the Beast. It will be the delivery of all that I have learned, sandwiched between these incredibly brilliant humans who will be discussing breathing, ab anatomy, digestion, stress, and even social/cultural influences. Here are the details:

Saturday, June 26th, 2021
1–4 CST | 11–2 PST | 2–5 EST

1 hour 45 minutes of education around our “centers”:

  • Courtney’s story
  • Anatomy and muscle function of the deep abs
  • Anatomy and function of breathing
  • Stress vs stressor response and relationship to posture and ab function
  • GI Issues and the relationship to deep ab and pelvic floor function
  • History, Culture, & Bellies — Oh My!

15 minute break
1 hour “Centered” Class*: Breathing, intense abs, anchor point activation, and posture
30 minute optional Q&A after the workshop

And, all participants get a bonus swag package sent to them!

*Modifications during the Centered Class will definitely be provided for those who are pregnant or newly postpartum, but also be aware that some of the suggestions will be applicable only after full recovery from pregnancy/birth.

I hope to see you there.


PS: SWAG BAGS!

Not So Serious

  I’m here today to be a cushion. Because September, in general—for most primary caretakers—is a shit sandwich. We’ve got back-to-school and kids anxieties and emails and school supplies and evening meetings with no childcare and so much driving and medical forms and a foggy brain after 3 months of constant caretaking. And then, this year, we also have a world on fire in all the ways it is on fire. You see, normally in September, the shit sandwich still has a bun. It still has a squishy exterior in the form of eventual settling into school and a return to semi-normalcy, plus some socializing with friends who understand and, you know, a predictable train of normal stressors that are part of grown up life.   But this year we have no bun. We are a shit sandwich cushioned by sandpaper. And I can’t help but draw from my experience as a person diagnosed with C-PTSD (PTSD Type 2) and substance use disorder. It should also be said that I am a friendly comrade here, not a professional, so everything I am about to say is just amateur thoughts. Aka, seek a professional for more help on this. So, yes,

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The Strength to Carry

It ought to be known that I am obsessed with the series Alone. Hahahaha. I feel ok admitting this because the more I do, the more people whom I love and respect are like, omg, I do too. It ought to also be known that I had to take a break from watching it because I caught myself being extra judgy about contestants who had lost their ferro rods and/or didn’t make a shelter a priority—because I have, you know, expert primitive life skills from watching three seasons and all. Right? Right. In any case, I realized why I love this show so much:   #1 They are all alone. Sounds so nice, not gonna lie. And I know I know, they are like surviving and it wouldn’t actually be nice. But, wow. Alone.   #2 I feel like motherhood has totally prepared me to be a Ms. Macgyver in the wilderness, even with extreme sleep deprivation and stalking predators.   #3 The show’s winner is always the person who has the most inner strength and actual survival experience, and this feels affirming and inspiring.   Before I go on, I want to say that I know nothing about these

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Hunger

Every once in a while, I find myself outside the house at dusk. I’m usually surrounded by irritable children, attempting a picnic where the food isn’t right and the forks are missing and the flies are buzzing … or I’m on a risky errand way too close to toddler bedtime and so I’m belting out NSYNC Bye Bye Bye which seems to be the winning tune in terms of keeping a 2 year old awake. But, even in those moments, with my attention parked on wrangling and managing, I catch a glimpse of the golden light, the pink and orange clouds. I see bats darting around low and high, signaling the sky to darken. I feel a breeze even on the hottest of days and I smell in the air the closure of things. And I see young professionals walking slowly—hands free—into grocery stores and restaurants and yoga classes. I see people riding bikes without wagons attached, without a time stamp on adventure. I wonder, But will they ride past 8pm? I think resentful thoughts at first. And then sad thoughts. I think about lost time and lost autonomy. I think about how dusk has been hijacked by bedtimes for

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Ode to Therapy (Heyyyyy 2021)

I used to think therapy was about fixing problems and fixing yourself by erasing all the things that are “bad”.  I now know, after many many years in therapy that it isn’t about that at all.  It’s about finding the courage to face the shadows in yourself, to give them room to have tantrums, to love them so much that they finally heal, and to then take a leadership role in your life so those shadows don’t have to run the show.  They get to just be a part of you, rather than a lurking dictator that defines the whole of you.  And you discover, after enough time in therapy, that these shadows are simply survival skills with the volume turned up way too loud.   So, for me, I began to make sense of myself and my problems when I turned the volume down, but while also still respecting how these shadows add to the music of me.  I didn’t erase them.  I didn’t call them bad.  I loved their texture and their tone for what they are.  This is what therapy has taught me.   BUT. Guess what?  Drum roll.  I didn’t just walk into therapy one day and say,

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Free Fall

  I don’t know if you noticed, but … hahahaha … no, you totally did, I know. BUT, I have been descending into burnout big time recently. It all came out slowly at first, through general angst and harrumphs and wahhhhhs in my D15s. And then it was just a full-on pressure cooker release moment. I am learning to not apologize for it. I also know most of you probably relate and you felt what you always feel with us here at MommaStrong: Oh, it’s not just me. But, I did have to look at myself and see what is going on. It’s like when your toddler has a tantrum at 6:58pm while you are in the grocery store. Sure, you could be mad at him/her/they for it, but most likely you will run through your pilot’s checklist of potential tantrum triggers: Hungry, check. Tired, check. Overstimulated, check. There-are-toys-in-every-aisle-at-the-grocery-store-now, check.   So, this is what I did with myself after last week: I gave myself a big hug. I listened to feedback. I took some, discarded others. Gave myself permission to be human. Felt gratitude for a safe place here where I can throw a tantrum and not be punished.

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Belly of the Beast

I accept my body as it is. I really do. It’s been through a lot. It has kept fighting for me, even though sometimes it feels like it is against me. I know this because I am still breathing. I know this because my body has grown and birthed three humans. It has then fed and carried and soothed them. It’s not easy for my body to do these things and to then be also pinned to a desk and a screen in order to make a living. It’s not easy for my body to be a motivational speaker, hostage negotiator, and entertainer (aka a parent), jobs that carry overtime hours that are immeasurable. It’s not easy for my body to live in a concrete jungle when all it wants to do is have open air. It’s not easy for my body to be bent forward, texting and answering and waiting and doing and shouldering. It’s just not easy. And sometimes, when I get dressed into my pjs way too late at night, I catch a glimpse of my belly and I’m like, oh wow. What is going on in there tonight? Sometimes it looks like a drained elephant. Sometimes

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