Johanna (Jones) Franzel is a former student and current RCST colleague of Margaret Rosenau’s as well as a phenomenal writer who teaches embodied writing workshops. We are honored to have her as a guest author on our blog page.
I remember the moment I found out I was pregnant. Staring down at those double lines, I thought Oh! A baby, someday! Suddenly, all lines pointed to this one imaginary future point, and I eagerly anticipated the moment of arrival.
Which is how I thought of it: A moment.
My body started to become strange and alien. In my third trimester, I woke up each morning to the baby’s small hiccups. Tiny, imperceptible fluctuations echoed through the basketball that once was my belly. I who always ran cold was suddenly sweaty, irritated by heat; I turned the thermostat down.
Those months, I thought often about finally meeting this person. This person – whose name, personality, gender and appearance were an utter mystery to me – would somehow find their way to the outside.
I was so focused on the birth.
Which came early.
35 weeks and 6 days early, to be precise. We thought we’d have more time. First babies are always late, they said. So we hadn’t taken the birthing class (which, ironically, began on her actual birth day), or gotten a crib or clothes or baby stuff of any kind. My husband thumbed frantically through the Birth Partner while I groaned and paced the delivery room.
“Why,” he implored, “don’t they have Cliff Notes?”
Finally, after 30 hours of labor, I held her in my arms.
“At last!” I thought. “She’s here! Now we can rest.”
The thing about babies? Not restful. At least not for us. I had focused for months on the finish line, only to realize – with forehead slapping obviousness – there was no finish line.
Isn’t this parenthood in a pandemic? Isn’t this plain life, right now? It came too early, we were totally unprepared, we thought we’d be done by now. We have all been running the longest marathon ever, imagining some respite or reset, only to find… no finish line.
So, right, great, thank you. But how helpful is a metaphor that says: Yes, we’re exhausted. We’re exhausted beyond reason and measure, exhausted like parents of newborns. We get it.
But stay with me a moment. Because I stumble on a news story about octopuses that changes how I think about all of this. The headline catches me early in the morning:
Octopuses Have a Secret Sense to Keep Their 8 Arms Out of Trouble
Even when an octopus can’t see light with its eyes, its arms seem to know it is there.
Apparently – and to the great surprise of scientists – these soft and boneless deep sea dwellers can detect light with their limbs.
The article features a video of a long tentacle emerging from a dark box, feeling around for the food that’s hidden by bright light. Only when the light goes off does the tentacle snatch the morsel. It knows – somehow, it knows – where the light is. How to back away, how to go towards. Through its skin, it feels its way towards the dark.
And I think this is also life right now. That in pushing through this finish-line-lessness we discover powers we never knew we had. That the race, as we’d understood it, is all wrong. That perhaps, this close to the bone, there is tremendous clarity in what we move towards and away from.
Those exhausted new parent months ignite abilities we didn’t even know to look for. We’re all doing that too: going far beyond what we imagined possible to see with parts we didn’t know could see.
And did I often feel like a lonesome tentacle, feeling around in the darkness? Yes, yes I did. And do I still? Very yes.
That young infant is now, eleven years later, still someone who wants to be early for everything. Up at six am, immediately packing her bags for school, tugging my sleeve to urge me on.
But as she nestles beside me in the dark for a last goodnight kiss, I can feel how her limbs are arranged without even touching them. And as I’ve come to know her beneath language, I’ve come to know myself also, and to trust what I see without even looking.