I pooped on the table. I was determined not to. I told my husband not to tell me whether or not I did. Then I asked him afterwards anyways. And he told me the truth-I pooped on the damn table.
I don’t think our vulnerability as mothers can get any more metaphorical than the birth process. We are all splayed out at least half naked. Numerous people are looking at our nether regions. Some of us actually defecate in front of these people. For others our organs are even taken out or moved around and again people are watching. But one thing is for sure, we don’t try to do it all alone.
But then, after being so vulnerable, we get home with this tiny creature and start to believe that we should know what we’re doing and not ask for any help. We think as soon as we get out of the hospital wheelchair or as soon as the midwife closes our front door that that’s it. No more help. It’s on us now. And we are going to be strong and figure it out on our own. And some of us internalize shame, guilt, and fear when things aren’t going well or we don’t know what to do. So we hide, we withdraw, and we live tiptoeing through the darkness trying to find our way out.
I would often discuss the concept of vulnerability with my clients in order to increase their awareness of the things that make them vulnerable to giving into impulses or emotional responses that were unhealthy. I would use the metaphor of a shield and discuss what we need to surround ourselves with in order to be strong and keep ourselves safe from outside forces (i.e. coping skills, support system, healthy habits, etc).
I wish I could go back to my conversations with those kids and tell them I got it wrong.
What I’ve learned is that strength is earned from letting down our shields instead of making them stronger. I’ve learned that safety can lie in being bare and vulnerable. When we truly allow ourselves to take off the super hero costumes we can do the real work of growing and being happy because we are saying “Here I am with all my imperfections. I need help and I’m struggling. And I deserve this help because I am worthy of it.”
A lot of us view life as a “get through with as little trouble as possible” type adventure. We want to avoid bumps and bruises. More trophies, less losses. More smiles, less tears. But with the focus being on only experiencing positivity we make discomfort more intolerable. And when discomfort becomes intolerable we hide and we push away. This is evidenced when we tell someone “I’m fine”, or we don’t speak up for our needs or we smile when we feel like breaking down.
As Brené Brown said, “You can not selectively numb emotion. You can’t say ‘Here’s the bad stuff- here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment-I don’t want to feel these. I’m going to have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin.’”
You are vulnerable mama, for so many reasons. You are doing something that can be really difficult. You are doing something different that you have never done before. You are raising a child in a world full of problems and no guarantees. And you are still trying to do it all while figuring out who you are. Motherhood is joyful, and scary, and irritating, and sad, and exciting, and full of love and yes, even poop. But all those things make it a beautiful mess.
So the next time you feel discomfort—in the form of shame, guilt, fear, sadness…..stop yourself and sit with it. Don’t push it away. Write about it, talk about it, and uncontrollably sob to your partner/mom/friend about it. Let your vulnerability be witnessed. Then ask yourself what you need and find a way to get it. Ask for help. Demand it. Believe you deserve it. Don’t dare do it alone.
This post was inspired by Brené Brown’s work and writings on vulnerability. I highly recommend her TED Talk- “The Power of Vulnerability.” She also has several books including Rising Strong (2015) Daring Greatly (2012), and The Gifts of Imperfection (2010).