We tell our love story like words on the back of a wine bottle How it all started How the rest was history. We smile and laugh at the same parts, we remember the serendipity and irony of it all. At some point the “story” ended and we actually began: Marriage, a baby, a second baby, a move, a death, another baby How do you capture such complexity into such a short attention span? The way we will feel distant for a few days and then always come back together Or the way grief has polished us like rocks from the tide, into something neither of us recognize For better, for worse. How do I possibly share the cavernous depth of gratitude and love I feel or how a part of me stayed behind when we got married and another part when I became a mother. My wild, my bigness, my longings, my power – subconsciously afraid she didn’t belong. (When all along, she was the part you fell in love with) Together is complicated Where you end and I begin A new love story is slowly blooming The one where we are living the life we want not the life we think we should want The one where I am fully me and you are fully you.
I lay in bed and circle the pothole of guilt wondering if I’ll step into it tonight. Will bathing in the pit absolve me of my sins for the day? Tomorrow I’ll read more books, meal-prep sooner, do an art project, pay more attention to the middle one, draw with the big one and promise not to make anyone feel bad. I’m so cautious with every word I say, aware of all the dollars I’ve dropped in their future therapy jars. Maybe they’ll say, I made them focus too much on their feelings. I’m beginning to think the next hot parenting method is the one where I just say nothing at all. My therapist asks if I’ve heard of the good enough mother? As my three little birds cry out for something they need, My inner child also begs, “what about me?!” I am juggling in a three-ring circus I am the heroine and the villain I am a human vending machine I am Mother… But who else am I?
My daughters run up the same path I did as a kid; the same one my dad did thousands of times when he was a kid. Free oranges hang over the fence from the neighbors yard, tart and sour, full of seeds, their scent creating a perfume across the yard. Other trees with over 60 years of wisdom dot the large plot of grass that leads to the front door; avocado, persimmon and orange trees. Still offering gifts to the little grabbing hands at their trunks. The corner window is intact, once shattered by a golf ball that was meant to be the magical sound of reindeer landing on the roof.
Our family and extended family all gather to celebrate my Papa’s 91st birthday. A classic front yard party at 521. The kids make themselves right at home with their favorite toys, while all the “grown ups” enjoy casual conversation and a delicious spread of food prepared by our Aunts.
Papa has so lovingly maintained this home, keeping intact and honoring her original beauty. I can trust this house, the way she smells and the way the stairs leading up from the entry almost propel you into a slight skip. I never tire of gazing at the old photos in the hallway, in awe and wonder of my dad’s “brady bunch” style family – three boys and three girls – with their silk shirts and long hair.
The old cuckoo clock immortalizes my Grandma Joan’s playful nature. In quiet moments throughout the day, I can still see her in the kitchen window, hear her whistle that dinner is ready and taste her guacamole with fresh avocados from the tree. The room where we said goodbye to her.
After lunch we all go out to the front yard for games, organized by Uncle Chris, the biggest kid of them all. Wagon rides around the yard, field goal kicking contests, three legged races, and the pinnacle being a game of flag football. As we all huddle together, my uncle flips over his left hand to trace the football play on his palm, the exact same way my dad used to.
Many things are the same, others are different. My memories are just a tiny snippet of the ones held here. But they are vivid and important, a corner of my heart where all is always well, everything makes sense and laughter and fun are mandatory.
As we start to pack up for the day, I get a sense that the home feels pleased. Content to again be the space holder for memories, entertainment and joyful chaos. Sturdy, in great condition, well-loved, strong character, an immeasurable legacy – her dedicated bones are a mirror of my Popster’s. Thank you 521, thank you Popster. See you next time!
If my body had a “presence” notification, like an iPhone does for weekly screen time, what percentage of the day would it show that I spend in my body versus lost in the ping-pong of my well-intentioned mind?
Stillness is illusive. For so long the present moment has felt scary, unproductive, unsafe, angsty and not stimulating enough. I am able to relax for a bit and then without consciousness, I am reacting on an impulse or a thought to text someone back or listen to a podcast or call or scroll or clean or…
Even the act of reading a book to my daughters can bring up some heaviness in my chest. Despite parts of me feeling unsafe in the present moment, stillness and embodiment are all I’m craving.
I recently began looking at the experience of my dad’s death from a trauma perspective and suddenly so many of my “symptoms” and shame-inducing triggers have started making sense. As my trauma coach nodded in affirmation and explained the nervous system in full detail, I cried tears of relief. She explained all about the different states, how we move up and down the ladder and how our bodies hold memories we don’t consciously understand. I am finally starting to pick apart and reframe the stale narrative that “something is wrong with me”.
My protective parts are holding me close, working to keep me safe while I do things that used to be simple or less turbulent before my dad died – like going to the grocery store, feeling big feelings, working out, being in big crowds of people, traveling alone, being alone, Ryan leaving on a work trip and so on.
Something about these experiences remind my protective self of a threatening time, an inkling of danger and she lights up my nervous system like a Christmas tree. She feels afraid, overwhelmed, helpless and out of control.
This loving part of me, she is so good at her job. Her memory is as excellent as an elephant’s. She will lay herself down in the middle of the road, throwing an epic tantrum to protect me from going down a path she perceives as unsafe.
She distracts me with fearful, looping thoughts or no words at all, only attention-grabbing sensations like dizziness, tingly hands, upset stomach, shallow breaths, tension, electric energy in my limbs, etc.
Not always, not everyday, but sometimes always and sometimes everyday, she gets looped into these same cycles of anxiety and fear, edging grief into trauma and PTSD, a different category all of its own.
Rather than automatically confronting my protector with frustration and shame, pushing her away, I am working on honoring her, nurturing her, and regulating her with words and somatic embodiment tools. Showing her that we are safe and that I will never leave her side. Proving to her that we are resourceful and can handle whatever comes our way. Giving her validation for how big she feels.
And without lingering or getting lost in the feelings for too long, I come back home to the present moment, to my body, to God. I try and fail and succeed all throughout the day. And I think that’s what it means to be healing.
When she is resting and well cared for, when my protector has left her fighting hands to rest, I can so vividly see and feel my softer, true essence, like a ribbon of silk and love, patiently waiting to come out and play. Everything flows. A grand canyon of peace, rivers, hot air balloons, blue skies and lush trees. An entire expanse of truth and beauty.
Of all the places we could travel, through the depths of the Earth, the present moment is the place with all the answers, all the secrets, all the peace; the most mystical state of all.
The owl calling in the middle of the night tells me so. Answered prayers in the quiet meditation of a rosary. Song lyrics appearing during a contemplative shower: “Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die”.
Thank you for protecting me. I have permission to live in the present moment and not figure it all out. Everything is right with me. Right here and now.
I pause for a moment as I write this. Here I am today. Sitting in my tiny office decorated with everything that I love, looking out at the eucalyptus trees, my feet folded beneath me. I am remembering that while these words reflect my hardest and darkest points, I am still laughing, singing, dancing, running and connecting with friends. Depending on the moment or the day, these words about my suffering and challenges are either too much or not enough. This feels important to say.
“Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” – Walt Whitman
Whenever I get moving a little too quickly during bedtime routine, Coura demands that I “brush her hair like Poppi did”. She remembers me sharing how you would gently take the brush around the curve of our ears as we sat in front of you watching Sports Center. Maisley tells me that you painted the sky during a perfect sunset. You are a bedtime story, and an urban legend. You’re the passenger in my truck and a runner right beside me. The brightest star in the Big Dipper. You are so present in Mara’s eyes that I sometimes have to look away. You are everything human and everything spirit. Your humanness is undeniable when I see your collared shirt still hanging in mom’s closet. Other times it’s your spirit that wins over like when I ask you for some help right before trying to fix a bike ailment, and you deliver right away in intuition. You’re a verb; can you “Poppi” this orange for me? A sturdy, evolving, life-giving tree at Balboa Park. I crossed my arms over my chest in yoga and gave my shoulders a hug. Instantly I felt you in the comforting grip of my hands. When I feel doubtful or down, I remember, I am Jeff Loftus’ daughter. That’s always who I am.
As I lay in the crook of his arm with my head on his chest – the place I have always fit so perfectly – I hear the beating of his heart for the first time in days. The steady rhythm jolts me into how alive we are and how fleeting we are. Underneath all of the rushing and worrying and organizing and planning is a constant truth, a reminder of what is real: We are right here, right now. To feel his kind and comforting heartbeat might be the greatest luxury I take for granted. Our recent texts read: Mara ok Crying Did you pack snacks K Leaving Maiz wants you All very business. All very “I have three kids and barely any time to even include punctuation in my texts to you”. I get caught up in expressing the critical demands of my ego: Do this and be more like this. But the fact that he exists and his heart beats right here, outside on the couch under the warm November sun, the day after Thanksgiving, is a miracle. He can always be better. He can always do more. Yet he is always enough just as he is. And I am always enough just as I am.
Her small body on my chest is like a weighted comfort blanket in our dark room. All of my ambient thoughts are dissipated by the loud hum of the sound machine. How do you bottle a feeling? Her body flinching. Her lips softly smacking. Her booty perfectly lifted up by an invisible string from the sky. Her sweet fingers grazing my chest. Her soft round head cupped into the palm of my hand. Her cat like purring and intermittent sighs. I inhale her breath as she exhales, reminding me of our connection and the big and small loops of daily life and death — Day and night, summer to fall, a rosary, our strawberries dying, our watermelons growing, a kindergartener starting, a country collapsing. Constant impermanence. Everyday we show up for life and every night we come back to this place of rest, where we both simply exist, and that is more than enough. Maybe if I write my feelings down I won’t forget this random Thursday night in July of 2021. The time I fell in love with her for the millionth time.
2020 felt like it ended with an ellipsis, to be continued. Answers I had hoped for personally and ones we had all hoped for collectively, still wandering about.
We are living into the everyday, ordinary moments right now; stretching them out into an entire life. Ryan and I danced in the kitchen. Maisley sang Maroon Five while playing with her figurine toys. Coura told me that her arm is hungry. The moments are so delicate and sweet, with plenty of noise outside the good ones too.
In our 672 square foot temporary Airbnb cottage, we yell to our kids through our jack and jill bathroom when they wake up in the middle of the night, “I’m right here!”. There are no hallways, every inch serves a purpose. The passing freight trains gently shake our walls every night around 10pm. The vibration is somehow soothing, sending me into dreamland as a New Yorker living in a tiny Manhattan apartment near the L-train. Aunt Mimi and Sunday farmer’s markets are a simple walk away.
A mess is made here as fast as it cleans.
We are giving up space for morning and evening walks to the ocean. It reminds me of my tiny studio apartment in Australia with barely enough space to brush my hair in the bathroom, but did I mention the view? A floor to ceiling panoramic picture of Bondi Beach.
I stood at our ocean lookout for a while and watched as a rotating door of seekers came up for their daily dose; even if just for a mere minute to regain something in themselves. How do you just look at something and become changed? I was hoping to leave feeling filled up. I wonder if other people were leaving unwanted pieces behind.
Even with the gas leak, the stage five clinging shower curtain and hearing the stove turn on and the toilet flush all while laying in bed, this beautiful, garden-like plot of land with lemon and avocado trees is home for now. Maisley asks a lot about our forever home and when we will get there. I worry about how all of these transitions will impact her and Coura. I worry about all of the uncertainty. I worry and say it’s my job to worry.
Then, Maisley swings high on the tree swing and yells out, “I LOVE THIS COTTAGE!”
“Oh, and there’s one more thing,” I tenuously asked our future long-term Airbnb host. “I was wondering if you would be comfortable with us giving birth at your property?…I promise a home birth isn’t as messy as it might seem!”
Her birth story is now a story. Something that actually happened and something I can share. For nine months I thought about the day; how it would feel, when it would happen (her due date was “coincidentally” my parents’ anniversary, March 10th) and where. I now hold all of those details in my memories; there is such relief in that. Especially because the details are both beautiful and impossibly hard, and most of all; ended with a healthy baby in our arms.
Labor began early on Sunday morning, March 7th. Surges had been off and on for a few days, so I wasn’t sure if these waves were a warm up or the main event. I hadn’t slept well in a couple of nights and my anxious mind was starting to wear.
I walked my pregnant self up to the ocean lookout just a few minutes away from our Airbnb in Leucadia. My sister Michelle (Meesh) sat with me on a bench and spoke beautiful prayers to help me feel more centered and connected; the exact shift I needed to come home to myself. As the day wore on and the surges held steady, I began to realize that I was definitely in “real” early labor. Mental strength was my biggest challenge during this early phase, unsure of how long I would be here before progressing to active labor.
Ryan and I watched a couple of movies on Netflix, walked up to the ocean again and did a lot of resting. Meesh and my mom had been watching Maisley and Coura and brought them back home for bedtime. Before they went to sleep, Maisley and Coura came into my room and kissed my belly. They asked why there was a towel underneath me and I told them it was there just in case my water broke. They looked at my water bottle on the bed next to me and said, “It’s okay mommy, if your water breaks, you can borrow Mimi’s (Meesh’s).” They told me to take a big, deep breath and to be brave.
I went to bed around 9pm and woke up around 10:30pm with a surge that shot me straight up in bed. I went from the main house of our small airbnb to our little casita that we turned into a birthing suite; bed, birth tub, shower and toilet all within an arm’s reach. Mother Mary held vigil, aglow by candlelight in the window sill from the beginning of labor to the hours after our baby lay asleep on my chest. She was accompanied by a photo of my dad and several other meaningful pieces to form a small altar of inspiration and support.
The lighting was dim, the tub was full and there was nothing left to do but have a baby. At this point, I was breathing deeply and sounding through each contraction. Ryan was helping with knee and hip compressions and simply sitting with me in between. I alternated between frog pose and lying on my side, putting all of my energy into the sound of my breath and movement of my hips to not get lost in the intense, burning pelvic pain below. As I focused all of my attention inside, Ryan was busy with his many roles: doula, husband, midwife supporter, tub temperature moderator and dad to Coura when she woke up with a nightmare as I labored.
Meesh came into the room every so often when Ryan needed to step away and she jumped right into our rhythm or prayed silently and beautifully by my side. Michelle the midwife came quietly around 12:30pm, observing, checking our baby’s heartbeat and allowing me the space to continue as I had been laboring.
I hesitantly felt the call to move to the toilet, the place I knew would move things along, but would also raise some hell in the process. I swayed while holding onto Ryan as he put counter-pressure on my lower back. After a while, I started feeling a lot of low, deep pressure and felt like it was time to move into the tub. The water was magic; a welcomed feeling of levity and ease as rain unexpectedly began to fall outside.
In my mind, I was remembering my last birthing experience. I had gotten into the tub and Coura was out in 20 minutes. I had assumed the process would be similar, however assumptions and expectations don’t exactly bode well in birth.
An hour and a half later and still no progress toward pushing, I began to feel deflated. I was at 10 centimeters, far into transition as told by the back to back contractions, but something felt stalled or stuck. My doubting mind wondered if the baby would ever come, if I could handle this again? I asked Michelle to check out what was happening. I knew my water had yet to break and so I asked if she would help move things. As she manually adjusted the lip of my cervix, my water broke. I dove straight into the sensation, out of my breath and felt unbearable pain. “Fuuuuucccckkkkkkkk”, I groaned under an exhale, contrary to my former peaceful presence.
Everything was both a blur and crystal clear from here as she made her way down my pelvis. I had forgotten this next level of intensity. I bared down and pushed with every ounce of my strength for over an hour. Coura had just flown right out. Why was this so much harder? I felt angry like I had betrayed myself somehow. “Why did you put me in this position AGAIN, Jenna?”
The pressure was building, lower and lower until I could hear the midwife and Ryan talking about how to catch the baby. I grabbed the side of the tub on all fours and with one more mountainous push of pure adrenaline strength, her head emerged into the water. 30 seconds later, I was able to release her body. Ryan said he will never forget seeing her face resting peacefully in the water before her body fully emerged.
I turned onto my back and Ryan caught her, maneuvering her like a reverse football hike through my legs and onto my chest.
The air stood still. Time stopped at 3:56am as her warm, soft body lay peacefully on my chest. There was a quiet commotion around me, as the midwives worked to stimulate a deep breath from our baby. Once she was breathing steadily, we turned her around to reveal her gender. I thought with certainty that she was a boy, so when Ryan revealed through tears, “It’s a girl, we have a daughter!”, I too couldn’t help but feel the flood of how right and perfect she was for our family.
I laid my head back against the edge of the tub in pure ecstasy. Disbelief settled in like the stillness of water. I went from desperate to be anywhere else – get me out of my body – to never wanting the moment to end. The juxtaposition of one of the hardest moments of my life, to one of the three best is so difficult to comprehend.
Everyone was in awe of her thick umbilical cord. She fell asleep with her arms and legs entwined like a soft pretzel in my welcoming arms. We transferred to our comfortable bed, the best part of doing a home birth. Home births are a lot of work, but the good kind of work, because we created an experience all around personal preferences and comfort. I was able to flow from one room to the next and fully engage in the birth without worrying about leaving for the hospital. Our midwives were supportive, professional, knowledgeable and receptive to my flow. Mara squeaked and squawked like a tiny bird as their gentle hands weighed and assessed her body.
Mara was born on March 8, 2021 – International Women’s Day – at our little Aloha cottage in Leucadia, in about 100 square feet of the 700 total. Even if it’s our temporary home, we will always hold this plot of land in gratitude and awe. With her fruit trees, rose bushes and salty sea air, she was the perfect place for our third baby girl to enter the world.