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September 12, 2019

Becoming Mom: A Deep Living Practice

In February 2001, I traveled to China to adopt my first child. I had been working with the Enneagram for several years, but my understanding was still quite limited. At that time, I thought that understanding my type structure was a means to fixing it and a linear process leading to a perceived material goal of Presence. 

It was through my journey to Motherhood that I came into a deeper understanding of the Enneagram and had a direct experience of the gifts of my Enneagram type structure as Presence itself. Years later, through working with the Deep Living Institute, I have learned that there is nothing to fix about my type structure. I have found that the Deep Living Institute practices of turning toward reality and being with it in embodied presence offer an opportunity to experience the gifts of type structure. This is what I intuitively did on my journey, and in doing so I moved toward wholeness. Deep Living practices offer a way to cultivate this movement. 

Dealing with Fear and Dramatic Changes

On the plane from LA to Hong Kong, I am suddenly immersed in another culture. The predominant language I hear around me is now Mandarin Chinese, not English. As I close my eyes and listen, I don’t understand a word but enjoy the beautiful musical sounds as they wash over me. As I continue listening without understanding what is being said, I feel anxious as it occurs to me that our daughter will have a similar experience coming to her new home. She will suddenly find herself surrounded by the unfamiliar sounds of a language she doesn’t understand. Only unlike me, at the tender age of 11 months, she will have no psychological preparation for this sudden shift in her world.

As I my eyes open, I am drawn to parents speaking to their children in Chinese and I notice the connection between them through shared language. I am suddenly overwhelmed with anxiety, deep sadness, and concern for my little daughter waiting on the other side of the world. She has been surrounded and immersed in Chinese culture and language for the first year of her life. Now, without anyone asking her what she wants, two strangers from a foreign place are coming to take her away from everything she is used to. 

How could she possibly be prepared for the major upheaval that is about to take place in her life? How can I help her with this adjustment when I don’t speak her language? Language is the ultimate transmitter of culture! How am I going to communicate with her? How frightening and cruel the impact will be for her no matter how good my intentions! Who the hell do I think I am to inflict my selfish desire to be a Mom on this unsuspecting baby!

A Smile Makes a Difference

My eyes fill with tears as grief and fear take hold. To distract myself, I lean my head against the window and watch the California landscape passing below. As I dab my eyes with a tissue, I sense that I’m being watched. I look at the window seat in front of me to see a little face turned toward mine about 2 feet away. She has beautiful brown eyes and pink pacifier pumps pensively in her mouth. She looks directly into my eyes with such sweet curiosity, that I find myself smiling and laughing through my tears. I wave and say “hello”. At my gesture, everything in the little face comes to a complete halt. The pacifier stops pumping, the eyes grow wide with surprise, and for a moment I’m not sure if she will laugh or cry. Then suddenly, up comes a chubby little hand. She waves Chinese style (similar to the Queen’s royal wave only much faster). She smiles as the pacifier begins to pump again. The eyes search my face intently, then drop to look at my hand and back up to my eyes. I raise my hand and wave Chinese style. Her face lights up. She waves again, and then we’re off!

Throughout 15-hour hour flight we communicate nonverbally. We play with finger puppets that I have brought with me. We play clapping games then peek-a-boo. As we are leaving the plane, she is sound asleep in her Mother’s arms in front of me. Her eyes open as we near the exit. She smiles at me and waves American style! I wave back Chinese style.

Facing Unimaginable Challenges

Three days later, we are in the lobby of the Yin He Dynasty Hotel in Chengdu, Sichuan Provence, China. We are with our travel group of 4 other couples, all nervously awaiting the arrival of our babies from the same Social Welfare Institute. As they enter the lobby all of the babies are silent with a stunned, frozen look about them, except for one who is crying, screaming and clearly terrified. She is in the arms of Mrs. Jiang the orphanage director and is clinging to her blouse with clenched red little fists as she screams. I immediately recognize her as my new daughter from her referral photo. Mrs. Jiang walks up to me, asks my name, thrusts my new daughter into my arms, and swiftly moves away. My daughter pushes her clenched fists against my chest with all of her might as she throws up on me. Then while straining every muscle to push away from me, she turns her rage flushed, tear-streaked face toward Mrs. Jiang screaming. 

Mrs Jiang and other orphanage staff respond by trying to both shush and placate her in that false way that adults sometimes do in the face of a child’s pain when it is inconvenient for them. Plus other guests in the lobby are taking notice and seem amused in that adult superior way. My daughter is looking at anyone but me. Perhaps because they are Asian and I look different to her? Perhaps she is seeking mirroring of her anguish in their faces? I am disturbed that they seem to think her pain and terror are cute! I want her to meet my gaze to show her I understand, but she avoids my eyes. 

With a sinking feeling, I realize that what is needed to help her through this is way beyond the capacity of a little Chinese wave and a few finger puppets. I recognize this as trauma. Trauma that I am participating in creating. I am horrified at this realization. This isn’t what I thought I was signing up for! But as I look around the room at all of the inappropriate behavior going on in the face of this trauma, I realize I am possibly the only adult here who understands this. 

Suddenly Fully Awake

I am suddenly fully awake. I know without any doubt that I knew exactly what I was signing up for. I know that I came here specifically to rescue this particular sweet being from this insanity. I know that on some deeper level I responded to her call from the other side of the world. As this knowledge lands me fully in my body, I feel Maya’s rage and terror drop into my belly and heart. I feel the weight of responsibility to protect her with my life if necessary. In that moment I am her Mom. I sense a gentle, silent, stillness that forms a bubble of protection around us and our eyes connect briefly. During our brief eye contact she stops screaming and is momentarily peaceful. When it returns her tone sounds less traumatized. 

And then my legs begin to run for the elevator. I know I have to get her out of this lobby even though the orphanage rules require that we all stay until the director decides we can take the babies to our rooms. I know these rules are for the safety of the babies. We are, after all strangers to them. But the lack of emotional safety in the lobby is traumatizing my daughter so their rules mean nothing to me. I am now bound by something higher than institutional rules.

The orphanage director, 3 orphanage staff and our group translator chase me as I run for the elevator. They are shouting at me that I am not allowed to take her to my room yet. Their voices are muffled from inside my bubble and their words can’t touch me. I don’t care about their rules. I give no response to them as I hit the close button inside the elevator. I am relieved when the door closes before anyone else can enter. 

Up in our room, I put Maya in the middle of the bed, pillows surrounding her to prevent her from falling off. It is clear that she is still uncomfortable being held by this complete stranger who talks funny and smells different. I notice that she keeps sniffing at me and making a face. She is still crying and shuddering but is much calmer. I notice there is a pink pacifier on a string around her neck which is leaving a mark on her skin. I remove it, take the pacifier off the string and offer it to her palm open. She takes it from my open hand and puts it in her mouth. She still won’t meet my gaze but her crying quiets a bit more. 

I try singing, but sense that the unfamiliar words frighten her. I hum instead. She quiets a bit more and this time looks directly at me. I raise my hand and wave Chinese style. She stops crying and for just a moment looks as though she might smile. I reach out and gently touch her back. She is still softly crying but doesn’t pull away. At that moment I know we will be ok. I close my eyes, breathe, feel my body soften and let myself rest against the head of the bed. While my eyes are closed she crawls onto my lap and with her face resting on my chest sniffs me, then quickly falls asleep.

As I reflect on this experience, I am so deeply grateful for my Deep Living practice. I know now that my type structure is not solely about fixing things and a linear process leading to a perceived material goal of Presence. Clearly, becoming a mom has changed things for me in magnificent ways that I could have never predicted.

   ~ If you want to learn more about Deep Living and how this work can support your own movement toward wholeness contact the Deep Living Team for ongoing circles, retreats and courses.

1 Comment

  1. Janet Johnston says:

    Thank you, Devon. Beautifully told and inspiring.

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