Artwork by Ellie Bosworth.
For Hazel – existing with you unearths and illuminates a raw form of beauty.
We’ve had a wild journey, you and I. I was surprised by your coming to meet us almost a year ago. You wanted to come 4.5 weeks early! You were living inside my body, and then all of the sudden, instead of growing in the same body, we started growing into our own bodies apart from each other. When you were born, the world was just understanding how crazy our year would become. People all over felt sad, angry, and confused. That feeling happened between us, too. We were figuring each other out. We still are. You don’t have very many words, so instead, our bodies talk to each other. They have from the very beginning. I don’t have a lot of words to explain it either, but it’s very special.
Sometimes we are both covered in tears and milk. Sometimes I don’t want you to touch me so much when you eat, and it makes me tired and grumpy. Remember when you were little and didn’t know how to eat because your tongue was stuck?
You were with me all the time, trying so hard to feed! And you did get fed, and my body made it for you. I thought that was hard, even though I liked being close to you at the same time. It is kind of like when you want to be really close to me and at the same time want to play on your own.
Sometimes I can feel alone, scared, frustrated, or overwhelmed and then on the same day feel cuddly, happy, and playful—you can, too. Sometimes that is confusing, and sometimes I think it is beautiful. I think a lot of other kids and their mamas feel the same way sometimes. But not many people talk about it. It can be hard to talk about. For some reason, we have an idea that being together as mother and child should be easy and happy all the time. We mostly have pictures of people sitting still with gold crowns and pretty clothes.
We know that’s not real life.
So, I asked you to help me make something that tries to explain what it feels like for us. And I wanted other people to see a different picture of a mama and her baby, so that maybe they could know they are not alone. I didn’t know what would happen. You had never painted, and I had never used those kinds of pencils before. Our bodies talk to each other all the time, so I let us do that. I learned from watching you play with paint. I liked to see you slap it on with your hands. I thought it was funny when you sat on the paint and crawled all over the paper. I had a hard time making my part. I thought too much about it. You made me want to play like you do. Maybe next time I will paint like you! Making something with you helped me to see differently.
I liked making something with you and want to do it again. We can remember other days we have had together—we have only known each other for a year since you have been outside of me. I have seen how beautiful living with you everyday is. Sometimes it’s hard, really hard. I think that says something about real life. I’m so glad you are who you are. You have made me look at myself and the world differently. I don’t have all the words, but our bodies know how it feels, and now we have a picture showing us what it can be like together. Sometimes it’s messy and feels scary, and sometimes it’s fun and feels good. I think both are part of it. Without you, I wouldn’t have to feel all of those things. I’m glad I get to, and with you.
The most intuitive way for me to process the experience of the shift within the maternal bond was through my hands. I felt that honoring the work with Hazel’s wordlessness was most appropriate. However, as a visual image took shape, I was surprised by the language which emerged for me from such a bodied place. In addition to the conversation I wrote to Hazel on the previous pages, I found that my own words were needed to mark my ruminating mind. The following is a poem that came to mind as I lingered in the artwork.
A story unfolding, birthed and bound by blood and bodies shared, we are extensions
of each other. She, part of me, and apart from me, bonded together and yet torn
asunder, we weave together and unravel. Lines blurred between my ending and our
beginning. We shapeshift together, birthed at the same moment. Who am I? Who
are you? Her body, my body—grasping this very present moment and transcending
Broken open, the tightly fixed shape of the still toddler on his mother’s lap encircled
in gold. Undressed, the rawness of daily living in our bodies of carrying, birthing,
and feeding, complexify metaphors and manifestations of transcendence.
The maternal bond shaped around our daily living, with divinity in breaking;
fragmented, messy, and unexpected. It is found in my body, tear and milk-stained; it
is in her body, dirt-caked nails and bruised knees; it is our bodies together, both
scared and safe, distressed and delighted, growing together and apart.
We let a story spill out of our bodies. Our nervous systems speak in a language of
their own—exchanging in primal instinct and complementary hormonal cocktails.
Together, we create our own image with the narrative of shifting within our bodies
and identities simultaneously. We co-create together; her childlike and unhindered,
paint spread by hands, thighs, and knees mixed with dripping saliva, and I, careful
lines desperate to work out meaning. She brings the fractured light of gold, and I
work with shifting and permeable charcoal.
Both of us use mediums we have not touched before, our vulnerable hands
becoming the expression of meeting in an unknown space. I invite her to a blank
page, and she invites me to allow my body to do the telling. Reaching into my
postpartum becoming, hers: ours, the image from our hands grasps embodied reality
to shape holiness in a new form.