I just got home from an all-day seminar in which I learned about gender-specific approaches to use in my counseling work with girls and women. The seminar was certainly helpful, but what stands out most about the day has nothing to do with the training (or perhaps it does confirm the relational way women think, act, and feel).
From the moment I entered the seminar room, I could hear birds nearby. At first, I thought that, because our room bordered a small courtyard, the birds were outside. But the sounds emanated from the ceiling in a corner of the room that did not border the courtyard. I realized that there was likely a nest of baby birds in the air duct that led to the outside. So, off and on all day, I heard the frantic chirping of baby birds calling out to be fed when they knew their parent was nearby and then quieting down when their parent flew away to get more food. Their calls were so regular that I came to ignore them until just after lunch.
Lunchtime at group events in which I don’t know anyone used to be agony for me. I would scan the lunch buffet for items that weren’t too caloric or that wouldn’t make me feel bad about myself. Then I would either take my food out to my car and eat alone or I would eat so slowly that I barely consumed anything. Although I often binged on my own, I was so ashamed of what others saw me eat that, in public, I looked more like I was restricting. Today, though, was different. I felt calm as I approached the lunch buffet. I chose two items that I felt hungry for and sat with my group of new acquaintances as I ate and enjoyed my meal.
After lunch, as the workshop came back to order, I felt ready to continue my learning. Suddenly, though, the sound of baby birds again reached my ear. This time, however, it was drastically different. I had a vivid image of five baby birds in a nest and a worn out momma bird, bringing back food. To my shock and horror in this image, the momma bird only had enough food to give to SOME, not all, the babies. I felt a knot growing in my throat as I realized that, like other animals in nature, the momma bird had to decide which birds were going to be fed at that particular moment. Sure, she wanted all of them to survive, but which ones needed to be fed right then and there? (Sadly, in the case of bald eagles, it’s not uncommon for parent birds to only feed the eaglet that they perceive as most likely to survive (even from the moment after hatching).) I felt my eyes well up with tears and now I was totally out of the seminar and in my head. I felt a rush of embarrassment about almost crying in front of a group of strangers (and for whom it would have seemed out of nowhere). I decided to honor my feelings by jotting down some quick notes about the imagery and a question that came to mind: “At what times in my life have I only been able to feed some parts of me, either out of perceived necessity due to lack of resources or out of valuing one part of me over others? Did my choice make me any less of a ‘good momma’?”
**** pause ****
It seemed like such a profound question. I can easily think of several times when I simply had to choose due to lack of knowledge, lack of money, lack of skills, lack of confidence. But, when I look at it now, with the momma bird imagery in mind, I can see that I was just doing what I had to do. I have spent a lot of time unable to forgive myself for certain decisions when it turns out I was helping my self and others the only ways I knew how.
Since today’s seminar was about using a strengths-based approach and relational language with girls and women, I’ll end with a reframe of my former thoughts: It was painful for me to have to choose what parts of me to “feed” (my social self, my spiritual self, my intellectual self, my emotional self, or my physical self). But I did what I could with the resources I had. That took strength and courage. And now that I have more resources, I’m able to tend to all parts of me. I’ve been a good ‘momma’ all along.
Peace, joy, and health.