Payback is a Blessing, or The Story of How I Inadvertently Created the Village that Saved Me
Originally posted 5/7/16
I have been called unlucky, and I guess, by the calculations of those individuals, I could be considered so. I am a person who big things happen to. Big, hard things. Of course, everyone has stuff--life happens to all of us. I’m talking about enormous catastrophes that drop out of the sky.
My first child was born extremely ill, while my husband was at war. More recently, my husband had a massive stroke. You know, big kinds of things.
Also, my business—the child of my intellect and passion—was a failure. I work in the childbirth field, as an educator, doula and breastfeeding counselor. For years I helped, one family at a time. And I knew, I KNEW what I needed to do—what families needed. I created BirthMark, a center for growing families. There were support groups and classes, lactation counseling and more. The core families would be around for at least a year.
I remember mothers who were at my place every single day. When I arrived in the morning, there they sat, sometimes in tears, on the steps. At the end of the day, I gently escorted these mothers out the door. I helped couples find counseling. I heard depression stories. I heard other, harder stories. I watched friendships spark, women turn into mothers, men turn into fathers. And then parents of two. Or three.
My work was rewarding, but life was hard. The economy tanked soon after our opening, and while the community thrived, my bank account did not. I couldn’t afford to hire help. My own family suffered. I simply had too many responsibilities. I worked nights and weekends. The community grew even stronger, and soon there were multiple groups of families gathering for events, sharing childcare, supporting one another. It was working…but not for me. Not for my family. My debt grew to tens of thousands. I felt a failure in every respect—as a mother, partner, and business owner. It was a crushing weight. While I treasured the families, I became resentful. Sure, BirthMark worked for “the community”, but it thrived on the life-blood of my family—of me. I couldn’t endure it any longer. After five years, I surrendered and closed.
…and it was a relief. An enormous relief. In two years, I was able to pay back all my debt and to draw an income, while working a fraction of the hours. I could spend time with my family. I could heal.
I remained involved in various BirthMark circles; I was invited to birthday parties and play dates, and experienced a perhaps undeserved pride in these families. The crone, nodding with contentment at the fire. Yes, I did have some success. I created the opportunity for community, they availed themselves of it, and eight years later I am witness to powerful, rock-solid friendships. I watch these easy relationships and remember their awkward beginnings. Groups of round-faced women, fresh in their motherhood, unsure of themselves in their new roles. A moment ago. A forever ago.
I watched them and realized, “They have their community. I did it.”
…and then. And then. Our lives changed when Pat collapsed at our son’s soccer game, close to two years ago now. It changed, and never went back. Months of fear, months of hospitals, months of firsts that you anticipate with a child, but not a partner. Surviving. Walking. Talking. Cliche, I know, to say that it’s all a blur—but it is. Some memories are pure and clear, though: BirthMark families bringing food—for months. Buying groceries. Raking my leaves. Nurturing my son. We adjusted, and had begun to learn our new life.
…and then. And then? Yet another chapter. This time my turn, with a debilitating case of Lyme Disease that has pretty much leveled me. Me. The person steering the ship. The person my family genuinely depends on—incapacitated. Unlucky, I hear regularly. If I didn’t have bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all, they tell me.
…and yet. People have, again, cooked. Done my laundry. Watched my child. Driven me hours for treatment. Held me while I cried. Not one person. Not a couple. Dozens and dozens of people have kept my family alive for the past two years.
The other night I attended a gathering of one circle of BirthMark mamas. There’s deep history in that group, and an easiness—true familiarity. I waited for her--the crone, nodding with pride. Then I realized, looking at their now angular, more mature faces, that today I don’t see them as parents—I see my tribe. My saviors. All that time I was working for no pay? Losing money? Feeling resentful? I was building my future. That community I worked so hard to create for others? It snuck up and saved me.
I pointed all this out to a childhood friend. "See? I am lucky." She informed me that it wasn't luck--I forged my support through hard work. Luck is inherently fickle, I believe. Fuck the luck.
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