Mara Love

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.

Tiny People in a Tiny House

*Written in February 2021

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!”

The Day She Was Born

“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. 

Mom & Dad

Time is something we can never believe.
Death is something we can never imagine.
Yet both are here
Certain
Elements of life
Burn you more than others
The dark moments of parenthood…
Was I even meant to be a mom? A dad?
I don’t feel good at my name right now
More like I’m drowning in survival tasks,
unable to do the things I thought I would as a parent –
like teach my kids how to play soccer, build things, read.
Too busy breastfeeding and cleaning blood from a stubbed toe that’s been tracked around the floor like a crime scene.
I wonder if my neighbors heard me yell, “There’s blood everywhere!”
Even though in the hard moments it’s hard to believe,
There’s no one better suited as mom, as dad
then you and me.

Poppi Stories

Every night before bed, Maisley and Coura want to hear stories from when I was younger. I often tell Poppi stories because they make me happy and keep him alive in their tiny worlds. When this one came to me tonight, l desperately wanted to call him and reminisce, so instead I’m writing it here. 

I remember so vividly that winter in June when my Dadio came to Sydney “on holiday”. We had been planning and emailing and using my calling card (!) to schedule our time together. I was so happy to have him there after surviving my first two months alone in a new country. Being around my dad was like being around the best version of myself. Does that even make sense?

We traveled seamlessly together; always on the same page. Happy and carefree vacation life suited my hardworking and responsible Dad.  I loved the way he would kick back in his chair with a beer in his hand and say, “It doesn’t get much better than this, huh Jen?”

The day he arrived we promptly hit the thrift shop after he saw my TV sitting on the floor. He also wondered how I heated up my food. We found a small TV stand and a white microwave, shoved them into a cab and suddenly my little studio felt more like a home. Such a classic Dad move. 

We had a lot of memories from our time together, but one of my favorites was our trip to the Blue Mountains. Dadio and I both loved mountain biking so I figured a personalized biking excursion would be the perfect outing. We sat three across in an old pickup style truck for the 2.5 hour ride west of Sydney, with a real genuine Aussie mate named Steve, as our driver and tour guide. I just remember he talked a lot while my dad and I mostly asked questions and looked out the window or at each other for a funny side smile. 

When we arrived at our trail, our legs were already a little stiff from the long drive. We jumped on to test out our joy rides and immediately felt the weight of the extra heavy aluminum frames. The trail that Steve chose was this irritating up and down path that was just hard enough to not be enjoyable. Plus, we didn’t even see the Blue Mountains? Ice had unexpectedly accumulated throughout the trail and the temperature was far below comfortable. Needless to say we were exhausted after our two hour ride. Good thing Steve promised and raved about a delicious lunch he would be providing! Steve, a robust Aussie man, brought us each a single, measly spring roll from his favorite Vietnamese place. I feel stuffed just thinking about it.

Read the room, Steve! 

We headed back to Sydney feeling cold, hungry and with miles of memories stashed away to laugh about later.    

To this day, I can’t help, but smile. We laughed about that little trek a hundred times over (once it was over). Sometimes the “worst” moments are our best memories. 

Longings

My longings are tugging again,
asking for her to come out and play. 
The wild one.
The spontaneous, change-craving one. 
The one whose time was all her own.
The one who thought slow and simple was for the birds. 
The one who could effortlessly free fall into love
without the fear
of losing. 

Cocooned on the brink of new life,
the longings sit and wait.
To sit and wait,
for the kids to grow up,
so we can find her again. 

But what if the sitting and waiting is actually
the finding and living?
What if slow and simple gives me wings?
What if I don’t lose myself a little more this time around;
but find a treasure trove of wholeness deep in the ground I’m unearthing by
staying?
What if that’s what I’ve been longing for
all along?

Small moments of ordinary magic stretching into an entire life. 

In Loving Memory

The sting of seeing your photo still hits at odd times
How did that frame become the closest my eyes will get to seeing you again?
How did your name become something to memorialize rather than someone to call when my B.O.B. tire goes flat?

We read the names and tributes on the benches at the beach:
An awesome guy, friend and brother
A gentle soul
Save some waves for me

Maisley asks what the dates mean.
She always asks questions about Heaven and, “Will you go?”
I tell her not for a long time and meagerly convince both of us that I’m in control.
“Do they wear masks in heaven?” she asks.

I was setting up some essentials for baby Orkie in the casita of our 672-square foot Airbnb and felt a deep longing for you. A remembering that this tiny soul is in the “after you” part of our timeline.
I cried because I missed you. I cried because I’m so tired from carrying a human, and trying to be a human, and also raising other humans.
Every time I cry, Maisley and Coura sweetly ask, “Mommy, do you miss Poppi?”
Even when it’s not about you, it’s about you.
Every triumph and every sadness is layered in you.

Meesh got a beautiful tattoo that included your classic handwritten sign off – love ya.
I kept imagining you saying, “Had I known it would be on your body forever I probably would have tried a little harder!”
Even your chicken scratch is worthy of a permanent place with us.

Your very own bench is coming soon. Overlooking the golf course that holds our post-dinner frisbee and football throws. Much to your humble dismay, we’d cover every inch of that bench in your praise if we could, but they capped us at 24 characters.

In loving memory of Jeff Loftus
Husband, Dadio, Poppi, Friend
Loving soul, humble heart

To you, Dadio

Where are you?

When I’m angry at you for leaving. When a shit-storm is passing through our family and the world. When the comfort of home is far out of reach. When I look through hundreds of recent photos and you’re not in one. When nothing makes sense, nothing goes right and grief rages on. When a beautiful baby boy is born.

Where are you?

The answer to my vocal doubt has never not been – I’m right here. I’m wherever you are. 

I rubbed my cracked heels together the other night, the same way you used to while sitting on your big brown chair in the family room, talking about sports or politics or something. When Maisley yelled, “I’m hungry!”, I pulled an old trick from your playbook and replied with, “Hi Hungry, I’m Jenna”. 

I see you in me. 

I see you in Nicole the way she stands up for what she believes in and how she says it with conviction. I see you in Linny in her carefree moments, the way she tells a sly joke and laughs with every tooth God gave her.  I see you in Meesh, the way she says yes to spontaneous happenings while navigating her days by always doing the next right thing. I see you in mom with her overly generous heart and the way she walks us out to our cars, offering to help us carry our bags. 

I see you in Brandon’s calm, intentional demeanor and in James’ inventive projects. And of course, I see you in Ryan, the way he has grown into his sarcasm game towards mom, the joy he gets from sweeping the side yard, and the way he never tires of working to create the best life for his family.

You’ve missed so much according to my human mind, a lifetime in two years. 

I desperately want to tell you about our air conditioning leak and the ins and outs of our escrow deal. The tone of Coura’s voice as she sings, Take Me Out To The Ball Game. The way Maisley pauses every time she hears a cricket and says, “Hi Poppi!”

But whenever I have that recurring dream about you coming back home after living in San Francisco or somewhere else far away, the only thing I end up saying profusely is, “I love you, I’m so thankful for you, I miss you.”

I hope you never wonder. I hope you can see the corners of my healing heart and know that they are yours.

I love you, I’m so thankful for you, I miss you.

For the Books

Twas’ the night before Christmas eve and I was sitting in my room sorting and getting ready to wrap each of the girls’ presents I had thoughtfully collected over the last month. As Ryan, Maisley and Coura rushed into the house with dinner, I threw a blanket over the gifts and went to join them. 

After dinner, Ryan and I got to talking about car trouble or something interesting, when we noticed that a silence had fallen over the house. I ran into my room to find Maisley playing with her tea set from Santa Claus, Coura with her Christmas jammies in hand and every present overturned. 

All Christmas season I had been hearing about how it’s not about the gifts. The priest left us with, “I hope your Christmas is REAL this year”. The Grinch lays it out pretty clear – it ain’t about the gifts people. I know this, I preach this, I believe this!

So in good Christmas spirit, I scream-cried my brains out on the floor for the next 30 minutes. Christmas is ruined, my irrational small-mind kept repeating. 

I’m learning so much right now – in therapy, in my writing, in my own personal experience of grief and motherhood and life. There have been so many shifts in my head and my heart, but only smaller, less noticeable ones in my actions.

I’m hoping my insides match my outsides more in 2020. I’m also giving myself a break because it seems healing happens in moments, that it’s not linear and not all at once. 

In the reruns of our early days, this Christmas will simply be: the one where they accidentally saw all of their presents. And more appropriately: the one where we shared our first Christmas morning together at home. 

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We are MORE

When we got home from the hospital on day one, the 8×10 mirror that had been hanging in our family’s living room for 20 years had fallen off the wall and shattered into a million pieces.

Our hearts a reflection of the remnants on the ground.

I remember desperately wishing that day for time to fast forward to a year from now. To have some distance from the trauma of it all. Knowing that we would all be different, but not knowing how.

Time is reliable like that.

365 days later I walked through the same front door. Underneath the fresh coat of paint was the familiar scent of home; coffee grounds mixed with the smell of clean carpet and years of memories. A new mirror hung on the wall.

As my mind quickly scanned the time passed, I remembered the year in its simplest form: impossible (month 1), hopeful (months 2-3), hard and dark (months 4-5), lighter and full of growth (months 6-8), disbelief and sadness (months 9-10), happy and stable (month 11), then anticipatory, sad and surreal (month 12).

We – my sisters, my mom and I – have all changed over the last year, after losing one of the most important people in our lives – Dadio. I don’t know that better is the right word, but I do know that we are all MORE than we have ever been.

Here’s my expansion story in a snapshot.


More connected. There’s a reason they say it takes a village (or is that motherhood?). Friends, our nanny, therapists, strangers, preschool teachers and spiritual guides made up the angel army that helped me navigate grief and lighten the burden of this year.

More fearful. It’s frustrating when parts of you change without your consent. Many things that used to be easy have felt more challenging, like taking trips, making new friends and being alone with my daughters (being alone, period).

More social. I’ve never been a huge extrovert, but I have found that my outlook and attitude are exponentially better when I have connected on a walk with a friend. After spending so much time in my head, it’s refreshing to be in someone else’s.

More creative. Creativity has been my way home; the part of me that comes alive when I’m not sure where my feet are. Drawing in my journal, writing and creating have all been the antidote to grief.

More overwhelmed. There is a delicate balance between being a mother to young kids and a person who is grieving. As I stumble my way through both, I am learning how these roles both battle and strengthen one another.

More healed. While processing my grief, I uncovered many other uprisings in my soul asking to be heard; the pain of past relationships, anxiety, childhood moments, spirituality, insecurities, etc. Grief has a way of revealing all of you.

More natured. The ocean, mountains, trees, sunshine, desert, trails – mother nature has been my greatest source of inspiration and soul fuel.

More spiritual. I have questioned, expanded, resisted and ultimately found the most peace in my relationship with God. It’s a simple formula that takes a lot of work; praying unceasingly and finding the stillness to receive.

More anxious. Anxiety shows up for me as a cover for hard emotions, emotional un-safety, loneliness and fear. I’m learning how to change my relationship with this energy I’ve struggled with in the past, but have really been forced to face this year. Anxiety is my reminder that I need to reconnect with my true self and find my feet in the present moment (some days easier said than done). And I’ve collected a large tool box of actual things I do when anxiety shows up (see previous post).

More spongey. Remembering it’s just as important to release negative feelings and emotions as it is to fill up on joy and the things I love.

More loved. Even though we have all grieved in our own ways, my sisters and my mom (the five tough cookies) have been my ultimate source for comfort, motivation, humor, solidarity and truth. We have all shown up for ourselves and each other in every way.

More, more loved. Ryan, Coura, Maisley and Me – we have loved more, fought more, have grown closer together, then further apart and then back together. They are my “why” and have been there for the big moments and the in-between moments that we won’t remember, but have stamped somewhere on our hearts.

More compassionate. It’s incredible that people all over the world, all the time, grieve the loss of people they can’t live without. I understand grief only in my experience, but I have a new level of compassion for the impossible challenges of this life.

More grateful. Life is for the living. I am so thankful for this day, this breath, these daughters, this husband.  Once you’ve experienced that phone call, it’s hard to find peace in the uncertainty of life yet simultaneously easy to find gratitude in normalcy.

More buoyant. There is an innate and undeniable pull inside the human spirit to lift up and to keep treading water.

More brave. It takes a lot of bravery to step into the shoes we are given and face the thoughts and moments head on. Especially on the tougher days, stuck under the grip of sadness that makes it hard to breathe and function. Even though hard days felt like they would never end, there was always at least a moment of grace, a smile from a baby and bare feet on the concrete. It takes just as much bravery sometimes to enjoy the beautiful moments and days we are equally given.

More grace. Somedays, survival was the only threshold – Netflix, easy meals and laying in bed was all she wrote.


Our story, growing and healing doesn’t end here. There is no finish line, no 365-day medal. However, a lot of hard work has brought us to today, and that deserves to be celebrated.

Thank you, Dadio, for the undeniable gift of more.