I have been thinking a lot lately about all the women who influenced my thoughts on breastfeeding. I would have to say that my Aunts were a great influence as I was growing up. In adulthood, I have been influenced by friends and especially my sister-in-law.
After graduating college I returned home three months after the birth if my niece. My brother and his wife brought the first grandchild into our family. I was an aunt for the first time. They really wanted someone to watch her in the home and I gladly took the job.
I loved caring for her and watching her sleep. In many ways, those six months that I cared for her really helped to shape me as a mother. I had babysat from the age of 12 but this was different. I was in charge if her care from about 7:30am until around 3 PM. I fed her, changed her, soothed her and gave her medicine when she was sick. It was a wonderful experience for me.
My sister-in-law breastfed her until she was about a year old. She had to return to work as an elementary school music teacher when my niece was 3 months old. So, as you can imagine, they were still really in the phase of nursing quite often.
My SIL asked if I would bring the baby up to her school at lunch every day so that she could nurse her on her break. I was more than happy to oblige. Each day I would drive my niece to school, which took 30 min., to see her mama. I would really try hard to time her pumped bottles in the morning to make sure she was ready to nurse when we got there but not too hungry in the car.
Sometimes I misjudged and she would scream and cry the whole way there. That was always hard, as I would have to just keep driving while she cried in order to get there in time to see her mama. I would sing to her and talk to her but often times she could not be soothed until she saw her mama’s sweet face.
My SIL was so strong and determined to breastfeed her baby. She pumped through the day and I always had enough pumped milk to feed my niece. As soon as she came home from work she would sit in her recliner and nurse her daughter. She was amazing and I have always admired her strength. She helped shape me into the mother I am today.
So, thank you,sister, for all that you did for my niece and thank you for being such a wonderful role model for me.
I love you!
As of April 1st 2014 I have become a stay-at-home mom again! I couldn’t be more thrilled with my new daily routine. It has been a joy to wake up knowing that I get to spend the whole day with our precious daughter. We have been enjoying taking long walks and having nature scavenger hunts, reading till we can’t read anymore, singing, playing the piano, painting and dancing. It is what I always longed to do.
Having said all that, I have recently gotten out of the swing of writing on my blogs. So in order to get back into the groove I have decided to try a couple of things to get me started again.
On Mondays I am going to try writing about a memory, “Memorable Mondays”
Wednesdays will be “Wordless Wednesdays”, where I will try to post a photo or an inspiring image I have found.
Thursdays will be “Thoughtful Thursdays”. I will try to share an inspirational quote or verse.
So here we go…..
Memorable Monday #1
When I was a teenager, I had an Aunt who was breastfeeding her first daughter. My aunt has always been a very strong, independent woman and she came across to me as a very confident breast-feeder. She would feed my cousin whenever she was hungry. No matter where we were. She was the first of my 8 aunts that I ever saw feeding outside of the back room at my grandmother’s house. She always had on clothing that provided easy access for nursing and she laughed when my little cousin would call out “teta mama teta!”. Her eyes sparkled when she laughed and smiled down at her growing baby.
I remember one particular occasion when the whole family was taken aback by her nursing in public. We were at my oldest cousin’s wedding. My brothers and I were singing at the altar when we looked out at the pews to see my aunt opening up her blouse and exposing her breast so that her baby could drink. My youngest brother gasped and we all tried to hold in our giggles.
After the wedding was over my other relatives and my grandmother lovingly teased her about showing so much of her skin and all wondered how she could dare breastfeed during a wedding and in a church pew for that matter. It became a family inside joke that everyone had seen Aunt ***’s breasts. She never seemed to mind and laughed along with everyone else.
My Aunt also breastfeed her children longer than any of my other aunts. Her oldest nursed until the age of three. Everyone nagged her about weaning and even I joined in on the teasing. Me, a childless teenager, teasing my aunt about breastfeeding. I can’t even imagine doing something like that now. She took it all in stride though. At least that is what I gathered from the outside….
Now here I am still breastfeeding my 4 1/2 year old daughter and the shoe is on the other foot. I get occasional questions from family members about when I am going to wean. But the fact that I live across the ocean and only see my family for about 2 weeks out of a year probably has something to do with that. I think I am the most blatant public nurser in my family. And when I nursed her in the pews of both my grandparents funerals last summer, they all turned a blind eye.
I truly believe that although I didn’t know it at the time, watching my aunt nurse with such confidence helped mold me into the mother I am today. The memories I have of being around her while she breastfed her children gives me courage and strength and help me to feel like what I am doing is normal and natural. So, although I am not going to mention her name, I know she will know this is about her when she reads it and I want to tell her thank you. Thank you, dear aunt, for being brave and fearless. Thank you for being strong and confident and for showing me how beautiful this experience truly is. I love you.
Thank you to all the mothers out there that nourish their children in the company of others. You may not know it, but you are paving the way for so many other mothers. You have the ability to change the way breastfeeding is perceived. You can make a difference in the lives of those around you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Being married is hard. It is a lot harder than the fairy tales I read as child led me to believe. Having parents and grandparents who loved each other madly was beautiful. I also feel like I only saw the good and used that as a base for my expectations of my own marriage. I am sure that my parents struggled. I am sure that my grandparents struggled. But I chose not to focus on those aspects when building my expectations for my future.
Having expectations is one sure way to build up resentment. When you have no expectations, it’s harder to feel let down. If I could go back and enter in with no expectations, I would. But I can’t live in the past. I am here in the present. I can strive to let go of those expectations and live in and find joy in my reality.
“Each of us is caught up in an idea of happiness. If we can release our idea of true happiness, true happiness is born in us right away” –Thich Nhat Hanh
Why is it that we can speak to our daughter with kindness and love and patience but we can’t do the same with each other?
With my husband,
There are days when I really feel like I could’ve been a better version of myself.
There are days when I fail at being kind, loving, patient, and less easily offended.
There are days when I feel like I have bitten off more than I can chew.
There are days when I feel like I can’t do anything right.
There are days when I just want to sit in the corner and cry. Cry until I am as dry as the desert.
There are days when I really don’t know where to go.
There I days when I wish I could go back to sleep and wake up and start over again.
There are days when I am jealous and in turn act out in anger.
There are days when I lash out with sarcasm and name calling.
There are days when words come out of my mouth that I can never take back.
There are days when I wish I could be more like the role models I grew up believing I would eventually become.
There are days.
There are days.
I am imperfect. I am human. I make mistakes. I hurt feelings. I feel hurt.
Thich Nhat Hanh has some amazing words of comfort and inspiration. I share them here to remind myself.
“Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.”
“When you say something really unkind, when you do something in retaliation your anger increases. You make the other person suffer, and he will try hard to say or to do something back to get relief from his suffering. That is how conflict escalates.”
“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”
“Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.”
“Through my love for you, I want to express my love for the whole cosmos, the whole of humanity, and all beings. By living with you, I want to learn to love everyone and all species. If I succeed in loving you, I will be able to love everyone and all species on Earth… This is the real message of love.”
Three years have passed since the day the earth would not stand still. Three hundred-sixty-five suns have set, since the day the water left the ocean, destroying everything that stood in its path. Thirty-six full moons have brightened the night sky, since that dark night when we huddled on the floor of the hospital gymnasium, wondering if the ground would ever stop shaking.
How did this happen? How did the days creep by at such speed? Time has a funny way of doing that. It keeps going, even if you don’t want it to.
When I think back on that day, March 11, 2011, I am still filled with such raw emotion. I don’t often let myself sit in the memories of that day because if I do, my mind goes to a dark place from which it is hard to escape. The “what ifs” play over and over in my mind and if I’m not careful, I find myself mentally paralyzed by fear. Fear, that has taken me so long to manage in order to allow our daughter to go to school and my husband and I too work in different locations. For so long, I couldn’t stand the idea of physical separation from them. I needed to be near them. It was the only way I felt safe. Fear, that still visits me in my dreams but not nearly as often as it did. Fear, that returns with each earthquake. Fear, that I have yet to overcome but have learned to breathe through and release. It is that fear that keeps me from sitting with these memories for too long.
That day, I lived through an actual nightmare. You see, I suffered from reoccurring nightmares about the Thailand tsunami of 2004. I wasn’t there but it haunted me. They were very vivid dreams about my family being washed away in a wave. I would wake screaming and shaking and often crying out loud. Those dreams haunted me randomly but always at least a few times a month. They were exhausting.
I knew that living in Japan posed a risk for experiencing such a natural disaster but it wasn’t something I thought about on a daily basis. After Violet was born, I became more cautious and more nervous about what I would do in such a situation. When we had strong earthquakes, I usually wanted to evacuate to higher ground. I remember after one such earthquake, packing up the car and driving up to Rias Hall (which is on high ground) to wait it out. We were the only ones up there but my husband and I felt it was the right thing to do.
On March 11, 2011, I was home with Violet, who was one and a half years old. Thankfully, I had extended my maternity leave and had not returned to work. Gabe was at work across the bay. When the shaking started I ran over to Violet. I picked her up immediately. I stood frozen for a moment, wondering what to do. It became clear, very quickly, that being inside was far too dangerous. I threw open my front door and ran outside. The ground was shaking so violently that it was very hard to balance. I just focused on holding Violet close to me and covering her head. All that I could do was put one foot in front of the other. It might sound crazy, but the thought that it was the end of the world actually crossed my mind. I wondered if the whole earth was shaking or if it was just in Ofunato. I kept glancing down, thinking that at any moment the ground beneath my feet might split open and suck me in. It was terrifying.
I tried to remain as calm as possible but I felt that my heart was beating out of my chest. Violet of course felt my fear and began to cry. We huddled together with some elderly women from our neighborhood and they all tried to help me calm Violet and protect her. The electric wires in the near distance sparked loudly and a fire erupted in the sky. We all let out a communal shout as we looked up at the sound. Then we quickly huddled together again.
After several terrifying minutes the ground stopped shaking but my body did not. You know that feeling you get after you step off a boat or stop skating? Your legs feel like jelly and everything seems to be moving. That is what those first steps felt like after the earthquake subsided. I wanted to collapse. I wanted my husband. I wanted him to hold me and tell me it was just a dream. But it wasn’t and he wasn’t there. I’ll never understand why I started walking back to my house. I was obviously not in my right mind. I didn’t even think about a tsunami. The shock of the shaking left me feeling confused and clouded my judgment.
Thank God, my friend happened to be in the area during the earthquake and her clear thinking led her to drive by my house to check on us. She informed me of the impending tsunami and we quickly fled to higher ground.
My heart raced as I fumbled with my phone to try and call Gabe and then tried to call her husband as well. I was able to reach Gabe and tell him we were going to the hospital and he said that he would meet us there. We waited and waited as the walls shook around us and the lights above us swayed like a ship on rough waters. Soon people started to arrive with wet hair and wet clothes. It was then that I knew the wave had come. I felt my heart sink wondering if my husband had made it to safety. The hours moved by so slowly that it was as if time had frozen. Everything around me seemed to be moving in slow motion but inside, my heart raced.
Gabe did arrive that day. He came back to us. He ran for his life to live another day with us. So many husbands and fathers did not arrive that day. So many mothers, wives, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons and friends were not able to embrace the ones they loved that day. Some families waited and worried for days or weeks even, to embrace again, others waited and still wait to this day to be reunited with their loved ones, but theirs will be a reunion in the next life.
Our lives will never be the same again. Our hearts will always grieve for the ones we lost that day. For the lives we lived in the days and years before the waves destroyed our worlds. We grieve for the memories, both past and those that could have been, that it robbed so many of us of.
Three years later, life has found a new normal for many of us. We get up and we go to work. We play with our children and we visit with friends. But for so many, life is like living a daily nightmare. The mother whose arms will remain empty, the husband whose heart tortures him by continuing to beat rather than let him go and join his beloved. The daughter who wakes without a family and knows she is on her own now. The sister who lives without her truest friend and the bride-to-be whose wedding will never come…. For these people, life has continued to move on while their hearts remain in that day. We grieve with them and our hearts long to take away their pain.
For so many, guilt continues to plague their hearts, mine included. When I think about how quickly we were rescued from the shelter, I feel both incredibly thankful and unbelievable guilty. The fact that I had food and water and place to sleep while so many families, for months, did not, still breaks my heart. When I look at a picture that was recovered from our home after the tsunami I feel so grateful to have that memory back on my wall but then I immediately feel guilty for feeling that joy when so many of my friends have lost all their pictures and memorabilia that they carefully kept for generations. It is easy to give in to the guilt. The guilt of experiencing joy, the guilt of feeling depressed when so many have lost so much more.
For those of us in temporary housing, life has settled and we are feeling a new sense of community again. I will say that for the elderly in particular this is especially important. In Japan, your community is your family. People take care of one another. People still come out on the streets daily to talk with one another. After the tsunami, all of that was lost and for so many even if they still meet some of their former neighbors, it is difficult for them to communicate more than just a hello anymore. There is so much between them and yet a river of grief, envy, guilt or sorrow divides them. So, the new communities that we were all placed in are that much more important.
Three years later, there is talk of moving on and rebuilding. But for so many, the thought of starting over again is almost unbearable to think about. Even if the housing is small and cramped and cold in the winter and hot in the summer, it is home. It is a circle to belong to.
There is an elderly woman in my community who lost her family and her neighborhood. She is about 80 years old and she lives alone. She was able to make a connection with her new neighbor in temporary housing. They talked daily and walked outside daily. When her neighbor moved, it was so devastating for her. She came out every day looking for her friend. My neighbor had to remind her that she had moved. The pain and sorrow on her face as she remembered broke my heart. She couldn’t understand why she had left or where she had gone. My neighbor tried to comfort her and tell her that the rest of us were still here with her, that she was not alone. But she just sat there on the bench looking out at the parking lot, waiting for her friend to come back. For her and so many like her, the thought of leaving this new community is just too hard to think about.
Our family of three continues to live in temporary housing along with hundreds of other families. We still struggle with the painful memories and terrors of that day but together and with the amazing support of our family and friends both here and abroad, we are healing. We remind ourselves that it is ok to feel sad sometimes. It is important to feel our feelings and breathe through them. We watch our town and neighboring towns slowly coming back to life and it fills us with hope. We watch grieving friends begin to smile again and it fills us with love. We watch friends who lost their homes, rebuilding and starting a new life together again and it fills us with joy. We gather and we remember and it fills us with peace.
Today, I still have nightmares. I still wake up crying in my sleep. But thankfully, they don’t come as often as they first did. I still dream of my family being lost in the wave but I also dream about all the true stories I have heard of losses on March 11th. I wake and remember and try to forget. I snuggle in a little closer to my husband and daughter. I breathe them in and remind myself that it was only a dream. The real nightmare is over.
Life will never be the same again, but it will be life. And the life we are given this day and the next will be a blessing, a gift that I pray we can cherish. My prayer for us all is that we can find at least one thing to be thankful for each day. And that with each breath we are granted, we might breathe peace, love and light. Today is your day, live it as is it were your last. Breathe as if it was your first.
For further reading about our experiences on 3.11 read my post “Breastfeeding through a Disaster”
Our thoughts from 2012 on the first anniversary of the disaster are posted here.