Power to the Mother: Sarah Starrs
Power to the Mother is a series of interviews on the transformative and empowering experience of motherhood.
This month, I’m interviewing Sarah Starrs blogger, virtual assistant and mother to one. Sarah always writes beautifully about mothering while also keeping in tune with her magic practices, and being entirely and generously herself. Here we talk about having the birth you didn’t plan for, the relentlessness of parenting and the beauty you can find within it too. Thank you, Sarah.
Can you tell us a little about yourself, and your family?
I'm Canadian but after moving to the UK for an adventure in 2013 and falling in love, I now live just off Penny Lane in Liverpool with my husband Matthew, our son Peter (currently 19 months), and our cat Hagrid. I stay home with Peter full-time as well as working as a freelance virtual assistant. I help small business owners take the headache out of their business so that it all feels more awesome and runs more efficiently. I'm also passionate about peaceful parenting, seasonal living, and sharing the magic of living in sync with your menstrual cycle. I write a witchy mama's lifestyle blog called Of the Moon, started a social media campaign called #MyDayOfParenting, and I'm working on a book about the magic of embodiment. I love to read, explore new cities, cook, bake, and spend slow days hanging out with my family.
How did motherhood begin for you?
We got pregnant the first cycle we started trying. I'd told myself it might take a while so I was at once surprised and relieved - I knew I was going to be so disappointed and struggle with the waiting. I woke up really early that morning, knowing there was a pregnancy test to be peed on so my husband found out he was going to be a dad by me running into the bedroom at 5:45am shouting "I think it says pregnant... I'm pregnant!" Talk about a wake up call! I had back pain and nausea through most of pregnancy. My energy was so low that I found it difficult to do a lot of the things I used to. I think that pregnancy is a sacred, energetic initiation into motherhood but for me, that was an often painful process and I certainly wasn't a glowy mama goddess! It's funny in retrospect because I read so many books on pregnancy and birth but none about parenting (although I've certainly made up for that since then!) I realized I'd learned everything I knew about birth from TV and had never questioned the very medicalized narrative of birth that is usually portrayed. I'm grateful to have begun challenging these assumptions but I do wish I had spent a little bit of time considering our parenting philosophy and who I wanted to be as a mother!
And then your birth?
I was two weeks overdue when my waters broke. We'd been planning for a home birth but there were some concerns about meconium in the waters, which led to me agreeing to an induction. My body did not respond well to this intervention. My uterus hyperstimulated and I was having back-to-back contracts nearly straight away but wasn't dilating almost at all. After fifteen hours I agreed to painkillers and about four hours after that to an epidural so that they could turn the drip up. Throughout my labour, I felt incredibly disempowered. The midwives caring for me kept making comments about how the bodies of first time moms often don't know what to do. I had the utmost confidence in my body to birth my baby naturally but didn't feel she was being given the chance. Peter was ultimately born with the assistance of forceps after 36 hours of labour. I spent a long time feeling traumatized by this experience, knowing that these interventions likely weren't necessary, and I'm still working to heal from it physically, mentally, and emotionally. We aren't planning to have more children but if we did, I know I wouldn't give birth again without the presence of a doula. I thought that arming ourselves with information was enough and completely underestimated the intensity of the situation, not to mention the lack of sleep. Having a professionally trained, knowledgeable advocate seems vital to me now. But I hope that my experience will help me to work with other women in processing and healing from similar experiences, as well as advocating for changes in the system. I love Pam England's approach of applying the Japanese concept of kintsugi - repairing the cracks with gold - to birth stories. That's the process I'm now going to - finding the pieces of beauty, meaning, and learning that came from that difficult experience. Which isn't to excuse some of the treatment I received but rather to make sense of our story in a way that feels empowering for me. Later this year I plan on training with Pam to become a birth story listener.
And in those early days with a newborn, how did you find those?
They were at once beautiful and relentless. I'd read The First Forty Days and had planned for a very cosy postpartum period but that didn't end up being my experience. When he was two weeks old, Peter got strep B meningitis. We spent a week living in a local hospital and another week with him being given IV antibiotics at home. The trauma of that experience coupled with my birth trauma left me in a state of shock. In order to regain some sense of normalcy, I pushed myself too hard to be out in the world. We'd moved to Liverpool during my pregnancy and I often found myself feeling lonely and isolated. I felt like my whole life revolved around sitting on the couch and breastfeeding. It would seem like a huge accomplishment just to shower and feed myself. Netflix and biscuits were my main sources of nourishment. I regularly called my husband at 3pm desperate for him to come home from work early. And when he did get home, he’d give a well-intentioned “What have you two been up to today?” And I’d want to shout, “THIS! THIS COUCH IS MY WHOLE LIFE NOW!” But at the same time I was very aware of the sacred process I was undergoing as I birthed myself into this new role as a mother. I loved those newborn baby snuggles and now I look back on them with rose-tinted glasses, wishing I could back slip into them sometimes as life with a toddler is considerably more active! Like all of life, it was a time ripe with contradictions.
Was there a moment when things started to get easier?
I don't think there was any particular moment or event that made things easier. I like to say that it's true that parenting gets easier and then it gets harder and then easier ...probably ad infinitum. There are certainly milestones where things became less relentless, especially around six weeks and then again at three months. Mostly I think it's a process of your own internal capacity growing and coming to recognise your ability to get through the difficult times, coupled with creating rhythms that make life flow a little bit easier.
Looking back now, what is the most important piece of advice you would bestow on any new mother?
My best friend’s mom told me something that has really stuck with me: “Don’t be afraid to say ‘This is what works for our family,’ and end the conversation.” So simple. So powerful. You don’t owe anyone explanations or rationalizations. It’s so tempting to get sucked into a conversation or feel like you have to justify your choices, but you don’t. You were gifted this incredible, fierce intuition. Trust it. If it works for your family, that’s all that matters.
I love the way you incorporate your ‘witchiness’ into life with Peter. Have you had to adapt much to life with a child in this way?
It's been a pretty drastic change. Gone are the days of elaborate ceremonies, long periods of meditation, or extended retreat time. Even many of the tools I used to rely on - tarot cards, crystals, etc. - aren't a big part of my life now. Sometimes I miss my connection to those tools but ultimately motherhood has been a big lesson that they're just that: tools. They're not the source of magic, our energy and our connection the energy of all life is the magic. I can honour my own internal rhythms, the seasons, and the moon through the structure of our daily lives. I find ritual in small moments of gratitude, connection, and intention setting. And I love sharing this with Peter in small ways (and I wrote about this a bit more here and here). We go for full moon walks and as he grows, I hope both to reconnect with some of the practices that have slipped away and also share more of these beliefs with him. For now, everything has been stripped back to its simplest form. Becoming a mama has really helped me to live my magical beliefs, rather than "practicing" them.
And with those magical beliefs, what are the things you hope for Peter to gain from them?
I'd like for him to gain a reverence for life, a respect and awe for the interconnection of all living things, and a belief in his power to co-create with the universe, in his ability to mould his life into a work of art.
What have you found empowering in motherhood?
Although I've talked about how disempowered I felt during birth, almost every area of my life has been empowered by becoming a mama. In my experience, having a child requires you to stand fiercely in your power. It's crystallized who I want to be, the impact I want to have, and what's really important. I'm always willing to say the hard thing, go against the grain, and weather the disapproving looks when it's for Peter. It's been a process of inner work and growth and constantly trying to align my actions with my values. Often it's easier to do the difficult work knowing it's for your child and creating the life you want for them, but ultimately that has improved my life and empowered me too because I am more in alignment, more in my flow, and more and more, I'm standing in my power.
And finally, how do you create pockets of mindfulness in your day? What do you do?
I suppose it's no secret that joy, calm, and contentment are found in the present moment. The more mindful I am of the here and now, the more alive I am to the magic that's all around me. I love the perspective offered in Everyday Blessings by John and Myla Kabat-Zinn that parenting is its own kind of meditation retreat. We are constantly be bringing brought back to the present moment by our children and the more we can help ourselves stay there - by focusing on our breath and our senes - the more mindful we will be. A few long, deep breaths - in through the nose, out through the mouth, way down into the belly and womb - are often all I need to recenter myself and "find the extra rope," as Alfie Kohn puts it. I also have a few "alignment practices" that always bring me back to a mindful state: walking in nature, dancing wildly to my favourite songs, and reading inspiring passages from my favourite books. I'm also slowly coming back to a formal meditation practices - 5 or 10 minutes as soon as I put Peter down for a nap, guided by audio tracks on InsightTimer or Tara Brach's website. But ultimately I want to bring my presence to all of life's daily tasks. Cooking dinner can be a beautiful meditation when we slow down, breathe deeply, tune into the rhythm of chopping vegetables, fully immerse ourselves in the meal's aromas. Of course this isn't easy in the often busy, frenzied pace of our modern lives. But the more moments we can come to with our full awareness, the more magical life becomes.