I've seen students at the studio go through painful break-ups, divorces, losses, reach milestones of all kinds. It's always been a place of safety. A place where the mirror reflects back the kind of day you've had; sometimes you look into that mirror defiantly, while other times you shy away from it. But you show up and grow a little stronger every time you look into it, because you learn to accept and at times, challenge who you are.
Nearly a year ago I gave birth to my daughter Rose, an unexpected yet very welcome gift. My pregnancy was one of the happiest times of my life; I performed in my fifth month, taught into my seventh and enjoyed my growing, bouncing, hiccuping belly all the way to the delivery.
Then she was out in the world. This sweet, vulnerable, demanding human that took up every thought, every breath, every ounce of energy, every minute of every day.
In her first month of life I signed a lease for my new Evanston studio, and in her fifth month, I returned to teaching. The decision to reopen the studio was not an easy one, but it was my tether to the person I was before Rose was born.
And I needed that tether. Desperately.
I felt the "old me" rapidly disappearing; not just physically, due to the weight loss from breastfeeding that quickly had me below my pre-pregnancy weight, but also emotionally. My day to day was lived through a fog of exhaustion and anxiety. At times the fog receded almost to the point of being able to see through it quite clearly; at other times it was so thick, I found myself walking along the lake aimlessly, just so I could be around people and be reminded what it was like to be connected to the world.
The hours I spent at the studio were, and are increasingly so, moments of respite from this fog. I remember the first time I saw my students again after the maternity hiatus; I was so happy to be there, to have that sense of belonging again, I had to fight back tears. I know my role at the studio, and I fell back into that role with little resistance. Being in front of the mirror, executing a movement, explaining, repeating it, was a way of bringing order into chaos.
As it turns out, the "fog," also known as "mommy brain," associated with distraction, anxiety, and forgetfulness, is a real thing. An actual scientific discovery involving womens' brains being permanently altered by motherhood. And I don't mean just mood swings, I mean MRI's tracking and recording grey matter shrinking in some places and growing in others. Who knew? What a relief it was to know that the emotional toll I was paying was largely due to deep physiological changes in the brain! Still, I had to live with this feeling of the "me" that I knew, feeling like a distant memory...
You spend your whole life developing your ego, those three little letters responsible for your whole sense of identity, self-esteem and understanding of reality. You hone your career, your relationships, and your hobbies. Then in the time span that it takes to deliver a baby, your ego is wiped out. The exhaustion, responsibility toward, and preoccupation with the livelihood of a human that just hours ago was happily nestled in your belly, is overwhelming. It's joyous and wonderful as well, but nothing and no-one can prepare you for the erasure, in part temporary, of the person you once were.
The stuff you loved to do, your work, your personal relationships... they're all still there but it's like admiring them from a far off place. "Hey, ego, remember when you used to ride motorcycles, take sailing lessons, do Pilates every day, drink wine, and remember choreography from the year before... wasn't that quaint?"
There's a kind of mourning that takes place; in my case, missing the freedom I had, the absolute independence I enjoyed and the laser focus with which I ran my studio. I had validation from without that came from performances and teaching. Now I was in a position where the validation had to come from within. I had to know my own worth independently of my peers, and work. I had to know it when the baby woke up at 4am from teething pains; I had to know it when the baby's diaper needed changing while I frantically tried updating my website for the eleventh time; I had to know it when my hours at the studio were reduced and performance opportunities turned down because my priorities lay, temporarily, elsewhere.
I believe that women, in particular, suffer from needing to be everything to everyone. We're care takers, we're career-women, we're desirable wives. Something, somewhere along the line, has to give. And that's not an easy thing to accept.
So I remind myself that where I am now is temporary; that change is inevitable and an opportunity to gain insight and grow. I shed the notion that I must appear to be in control all the time. I understand that being vulnerable means being true to who I am. And finally, I embrace all that's grey and complicated because, ironically and unexpectedly, that's where I always find the greatest joy.
There is no growth without taking risks. To live fully means to surprise yourself; take a leap of faith once in a while and see where it lands you.
I've seen students at the studio go through painful break-ups, divorces, losses, reach milestones of all kinds. It's always been a place of safety...
So I return to the studio and let the mirror show me where I am today, and I accept the challenge.