To the Mama Who Feels Like “Damaged Goods”

Birth changed you. It transformed you. It turned you upside down and inside out and sent you spiraling into foreign territory; certainly a land of many sorrows, a place of shadowy fear, a continent of grief and unspeakable longing for that which has been lost or misplaced.

You are not the woman, nor the mother, that you were before either of your powerful and deeply raw births.

But you are not damaged. To say this would imply that your value and usefulness has been reduced. And the way that your healing spills forth unto your fingers, which fall onto keys, which form words from symbols that give Goodness and Hope to the world…proves you are useful. Your value is inherent (priceless) and increases with each kiss onto the brow of your children.

The body that grew and birthed your babies is the same body that encased your son in the purest of mamalove as he drew his last breath. It is the same body that knows how to tuck the covers up around a chin for the fifth time in one night, how to stir the food that brews in the pot to feed a family’s belly, how to scoop up a child in the midst of a meltdown or an owie, how to open one eye as the first step in making it through one more day, how to nourish a baby from your breast, and how to cling to your lover – in a fit of passion or despair – as if it’s the only thing that matters in the world.

But you certainly are Good. Good in the way that your babies are and were and will always be. Good in the way dark chocolate pieces break jagged from the bar and melt onto your tongue like raindrops on an open blossom. Good in the way that you emerged, fresh from the nest of your very own mama. Good in the way the soft light surrounds the trees, regardless of season. Good even in the way the brine of your tears leaves both a path of remembrance upon your cheeks and cleanses the weariest parts of your heart.

Good in the way that any woman who has ever birthed – via the red door of her belly or the wide opening in her Center – is. For no two wombs compete in this realm for “Best Birth”. In this journey of birth, no winners prevail, no underdogs are bet upon, no comparisons are made. No one crosses the line more emboldened, empowered, or impressive than another. There are no mamas perched atop a stepped stand wearing tube socks and a striped running suit with Birthing Medals around their necks.

Our medals of honor are in our scars, our tiger stripes, our marks, and tags and sags. Our medals are the small coves carved from the river of tears that run through our hearts. Or from the way that a memory or a toothless smile can fill that cove with the warm, white glow of peace. And we honor one another by standing in a circle of sisterhood; padded hip to padded hip, shoulder to shoulder where babes have rested their heads. We cheer with silent hugs, with knowing eyes, and smiles whose corners turn down slightly in quivering acknowledgement of something profound.

Because really, if birthing were an athletic event, it would most certainly be a team sport; one in which women are connected through the natural, ancient mysteries of our bodies and the thankful intervention of medicine when it’s needed. And in team sports, when one athlete participates, they are all strengthened like an extra line of silk on a spider’s web. Together, our orb is woven: with each push within the swirling water of a birth tub, each breath upon the readied bed within the hospital, each supplication to the skies before we are hushed into the dream-sleep darkness of a birth supplemented with the steady hands of a surgeon.

Perhaps birth isn’t so much to “give life” as it is to give into life”, life in every form. Sometimes that means that we birth in order bring life, in order to save life, or in order to release life. You have bravely done all three. Who are we to decide which cause and path is nobler?

The importance lies not in the manner and method of how we birth our babies, but rather how we nurture them – in body and in spirit – once they arrive. I know for a fact that your body (and heart) has accomplished this task with the soft grace of the Swan, the wisdom call of the Owl, and the bellowing strength of the Lioness.

But if it is your heart you speak of that has been damaged, then I do not arrogantly presume to know what words I could construct that may bring comfort. Because I honor the pliability of the heart, the knowledge that it can be broken open easily and that healing isn’t as swift as the breaking. I sit in silence as your words well into water within my eyes, finally flowing forth as this body attempts to heal for yours across the rivers, and miles, and the border. Because there is a part of me, hidden far inside the roots of my mamahood, that reserves its very presence for the unfathomable chance that I may one day walk in your shoes.

Because in that space, there exists no language.


19 Comments Add yours

  1. I can only guess at who this is for … but oh my, tears are pouring down my face. Much love and healing to whoever you are reaching out to. Such beautiful, eloquent and soulful words …

  2. americanmum says:

    Beautiful. I’m saving this one. 🙂

  3. Megan says:

    What beautiful words of comfort for all of us, and especially for the mama for whom they were intended.
    She’s lucky to have a friend like you.

  4. Doulala says:

    Leigh, what beautiful words. Just when I think I can’t possibly love you more than I already do, I read your wonderful writing. You are a true nurturer and healer. Thank you for being a soul sister to me and to the incredible mama that this post is written for!

  5. jen says:

    Leigh, your beauty and wisdom gives me chills. you are one precious, precious soul – and how lucky am I to have you in my life.

    wish i was seeing you today as planned – damn flu sucks!

  6. This post has been open on my laptop for about 48 hours now, so if you see some marathon stats, that would be me.

    I need to read this about a hundred more times, such gospel. Thank you leigh, your words are such a gift.

    Meagan’s right. I am lucky to have a friend like you.

  7. isabel says:

    this was one of the most powerful things I’ve read in a very long time.
    it is food. it feeds, nourishes, comforts, restores.
    you have a gift with words my friend and you use them, not just to make pretty notions but to change the world.
    these words are needed.
    thank-you for writing them.
    p.s. I’d like to hand this out in my childbirth classes. do I have your permission to do so, citing you as author?

  8. Beth says:

    Thanks, from another mama who has pondered and cried and mourned about her c-sections at times. I see how far you have come emotionally and I am touched that you have shared and helped others heal too.

  9. marybeth says:

    this is power and love all mixed in one.


  10. marybeth says:

    ps. my favorite part is about competing for Best Birth. Instead of talking about which is The Best Way to birth, bring all thoughts and cultures on birthing together, into One. To then feel and speak about birth beyond the act and hold throughout the whole journey, the whole life journey, and to join the forces of supporting women-mothers…wow. to change the world, for sure.

  11. leighsteele says:

    It is with much gratitude and a humble heart that I read and absorb your comments. I thank each of you for taking me on this journey.

    Bella – of course you can use this in classes. 🙂

    Kate – xoxoxoxo

  12. Brooke says:

    Leigh, I am grateful and stunned into some new angle of knowing by your words. I thank you for saying to our friend, what I would have said myself if I were only so eloquent. Thank you for capturing this fleeting knowledge, this mother knowing, you words reached me and touched me and taught me.

  13. janistan says:

    Wow, Leigh. So powerful, touching and beautiful, as others have already commented. I love that part about birth being to give **into** life. That is so true.

  14. Sarah-Ji says:

    i totally love you for writing this.

  15. Jena Strong says:

    This post is a gift. Giving into life – I love that.

    xo Jena

  16. Joanna says:

    Perhaps birth isn’t so much to “give life” as it is to “give into life”, life in every form.

    These are words that will never be compared to. You have summed it up so wonderfully, and your tribute here is amazing.

  17. This is so powerful and so beautifully written. I have been stalking your site for some time, so I felt like a celebrity visited my recently-launched blog. Please stay tuned as I have much more to write. I am going to print this post out. It is so clearly imbued with truth and beauty.

  18. Awake says:

    What a beautiful treat for me to stumble across your blog with this as your most recent post. So beautiful. Thank you. You don’t know why, but thank you.

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