Childbirth Isn’t Scary

An article in the most recent edition of Mother Jones calls into question the natural childbirth movement (among other things).  Strong reactions to/against the natural birth movement — especially in regard to home births and the use of midwives — are nothing new; however, Kiera Butler’s article isn’t exactly a critique of natural childbirth.  Instead, it asks a seemingly simple question with some heavy implications attached:  If doctors are required by law to disclose the dangers and side-effects associated with cesarean sections, why shouldn’t they also disclose the potential dangers of vaginal births?  Good question. Butler’s ultimate point is that if we are to truly empower women in the process of pregnancy and childbirth, then they need all the information, and that includes information about vaginal birth injuries.

As someone who sustained a very minor, but long-lasting, injury from a vaginal birth, I was kind of in awe to discover the prevalence of these outcomes ranging from a minor tear, like my own, to broken pelvis bones and prolapse (which often doesn’t appear until middle age).  According to Butler’s piece, 50 – 80 percent of women who give birth vaginally sustain some kind of injury.  My first reaction:  wow, I am not/was not alone!  Part of the purpose of her piece:  women need to talk about these body damaging results of vaginal birth.  There is no shame.  It’s natural, after all.

As a pretty hard-core natural birth advocate, I did take issue with a number of elements in Butler’s piece.  For example, yes, like some of the women she describes in the piece, I labored for 40 hours without meds.  Do I tout this like a badge of honor?  Um, not on a daily basis or anything, but damn straight that I’m amazed by and proud of my ability to bring a child into this world through a mentally and physically arduous process.  It is a badge of honor and should be.  As, should be, a six hour labor or a two hour labor or a c-section.  As, should be, hospital births and births in cars on the side of the road.  All of the different labors in this world (as the name indicates) are hard work and should be recognized as such.

Additionally, some of her points are a bit fast and loose.  For example, bringing in numbers about the growing cost of nursing home admissions and the growth of the market for adult incontinence products.  It isn’t at all clear what percentage of this is actually the result of vaginal births (and figuring this out might be close to impossible).  It’s also never clear to me the exact number of women and/or doctors she interviewed for this article, and she obviously hand-picked the more nightmarish stories.  I’m guessing the pool of subjects wasn’t all that large.

Lastly, I have a huge problem with her use of the word scary.  In a recent episode of The Longest Shortest Time, Butler is interviewed by the show’s host, Hillary Frank.  In the opening, Frank states the title of Butler’s article, “The Scary Truth About Childbirth,” and then says, but Butler doesn’t want us to be scared.  Well, if you don’t want to scare people, then don’t use the word “scary” in your title (seems obvious enough).  I understand it gets readers, but come on….  This is supposed to be about empowering women through shared information about childbirth; however, I have a friend who is pregnant right now, and she is already a little scared.  Would I want her to see the title of this article?  Hell, no.  Also, I both read the article and listened intently to the interview, and I have to say, if they didn’t want us to be scared, they did little to provide positive reinforcement for the benefits of unmedicated vaginal births.  I have already been through childbirth, and I was scared AF! after reading/listening. While I truly believe that women should have access to some of this information, I would hate for them to read it through this particular lens of “scary.”

All that being said, I did listen/read with a truly open mind and great interest.  After all is said and done, I still firmly believe that unmedicated vaginal births are far preferable (when and where possible for the mama) to c-sections (this is fairly undisputed in the medical community).  I feel that even given the worst case scenarios — things like a broken pelvis and prolapse — the outcomes of vaginal birth are ultimately less risky in a life and death sense than those associated with c-sections.  I also believe strongly in all of the research that associates vaginal births with supporting a baby’s microbiome, which impacts their long-term health.  I do believe the evidence showing that epidurals potentially interfere with breastfeeding outweighs the evidence showing that they don’t.  Even given all of these ways in which I might be seen to disagree with Butler’s article, I still think she offers a valuable perspective and important information.  As I said in the beginning of this post, simply knowing how not alone I was is deeply fascinating to me.

I remember feeling almost ashamed when our group of babes and parents would meet up for playdates or other events months after our births (Levi has a small group of friends all born within three months of each other), and I still could hardly stand up and certainly not for an extended period.  It hurt to walk and move about.  When I did tell other mothers, they seemed shocked.  Now, it’s worth noting, that a few of the mothers that I hang out with are younger than myself, so they might have bounced back much more quickly.  Although, I also just spoke with a mother in her twenties who is suffering from the same painful, unhealed granulation tissue that I suffered from.  It is so important for women to share these stories, and it was truly eye-opening to read the stories of the mamas in Butler’s piece, who are/were far worse off than me.  Like Hillary Frank, I too read, Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Natural Childbirth like a bible while I was pregnant and had been envisioning one of these ecstatic home births for myself.  When mine was nothing like that, I struggled for close to two years to feel okay about it.

Lastly, the article did make me think more closely about what exactly I knew about vaginal birth heading into mine.  My midwife is a kind of legend in the area and, with thirty-five years of experience, is one of the most knowledgeable, experienced childbirth practitioners one could ever hope to get.  She spent countless hours giving us information. Of course many of those hours were spent addressing the more immediate fact of pregnancy — discussing symptoms, taking care of your pregnant body, checking on how the babe is doing, and so on.  Many of our hours were also spent weighing the very difficult decision between home and hospital birth. As we got closer to the actual event, we put a birth plan in place.  I learned the mechanics of birth — the what would actually happen to my body as the baby made his way out and earthside, but in retrospect I knew very little about what effects all of this would have on my body.  I knew from friends who had children that at six weeks you have an exam that tells you whether you can return to life as normal.  I had BIG plans for this moment, as, even before baby arrived, I was eager to return to the active lifestyle I was accustomed to.  Did I know how long is too long to push?  I didn’t.  Now, my midwife might even disagree with the ACOG guidelines of no more than three hours of pushing for first time moms, which is fine, and I’d be open to her perspective.  The point is that I simply didn’t have that knowledge going into the birthing experience.

(I’ll stop after this, I promise).  One more thing that this article points to, but doesn’t mention explicitly, is something that I’ve thought about ever since my own experience:  We need to change the expectations around time-to-heal for postpartum women.  While many women are cleared for “life as normal” at the six week mark (I just wrote sex week mark there – ha!), some of them have sustained injuries that go undiagnosed and many others just are not ready for that at all.  I know that given how healthy and fit I was, I just assumed that at six weeks I would have fully bounced back.  I never knew you could be in pain for up to a year, and now hearing some of these other stories, I know the pain could be even longer-lasting.  I do agree with Butler in this sense.  These stories about injury and long-term healing after birth (vaginal or c-section) need to be told more often and with a bigger spotlight.

 

Why We March

Long post. If you don’t have time to read, feel free to skip ahead to the FAQs.

(Also, I chose to use the “we” instead of “I” because, while I don’t pretend to speak for everyone who marched and their own personal reasons for marching, I do think the collectivity of the event is so important and therefore the “we” seemed most appropriate).

So mostly my social media feeds have been like WHOA! yesterday and today. Fierce love, triumph, redemption. Images and sounds of voices rising up. Determination, bravery, resilience. More love.

But I’ve also seen a few comments from folks who are confused about the marches. Questions about what we expect the outcome to be. A lot of “what’s done is done” kind of stuff. He’s our president now, and if we don’t understand this, then we don’t understand democracy. This last one gets me the most. I am here to answer your most pressing questions regarding yesterday’s worldwide women’s marches!

This IS democracy. This is what democracy looks like — live and in action. Democracy is the freedom to speak out against your government. Democracy is system within which all citizens have a voice, and that voice is not limited to the voting booth. It goes far beyond that.

(I’m not a history scholar, nor a political scientist — not even a civics buff, so hang with me here and feel free to correct me where I am wrong…). The bill of rights was created as a means of limiting government control. It was there to ensure that democracy stayed in place and we didn’t end up with a fascist, dictatorship, or otherwise. Take our two most controversial, yet fiercely protected, constitutional amendments: The first amendment is, in part, there to ensure we can take to the streets, or the op-ed pages of newspapers, or to town hall meetings and express our ideas about how the government is or is not serving us. It is also there, in part, to protect the press — to help ensure that the media can keep us well informed as a citizenry. The second amendment, which we hear so much about these days, is there so that we the people can be adequately armed should we ever (God forbid) need to exercise violence to resist oppression and rise up against a government that has gone rogue. I’m not even trying to make an argument for or against these amendments — that’s far too big and complex for what I’m getting at here. I’m just trying to point out that by the definition and tenets of democracy upon which this country was founded — here we are looking at it straight in the face. Democracy isn’t always this shiny, happy thing that we make it out to be when we make statements about wanting to spread it across the globe (this is not to say I’m not a supporter of our democracy). Sometimes it looks like this: messy. Sometimes the messiness also looks beautiful — like it did yesterday.

We the people ARE the checks and balance system of government. This is how democracy works (or should work. We just don’t get to see it working all that often).

So civics lesson on democracy over. Onto why we march.

We march because it matters. It is important to send up the message to our government and to the world that the the ideology just voted into office doesn’t necessarily represent this country. It doesn’t represent all of us. It doesn’t represent me. We march to say loudly that we don’t support bigotry and misogyny. That we don’t hate people who appear different than us. We march to say to Trump and his administration that we are here, we are loud, we are not going away, and that it is his job, in fact, to listen to us and to take into account what we have to say. And what we have to say is that we will not tolerate hate. We will not tolerate bullying. We will not tolerate the objectification of women. We will not stand for xenophobia, Islamaphobia, transphobia, homophobia, racism, sexism, and ableism. We march to exercise our right to use our voices — especially collective voices — to say this outcome is not okay with us and we don’t plan to stand idly by and let our government run amuck. We march to say, together we can do this. We have each other. We care about each other. We march so that our political representatives will listen and do their job in holding Trump accountable.

If Trump is truly a POTUS of/for the people (and yes, I’m sorry/not sorry, but I don’t call him my President, and I’m just not at the point of acceptance), then he will acknowledge that more than four million people worldwide took to the streets yesterday to send him a message. He will spend more time acknowledging this than how many people were or weren’t at his inauguration, and he will go, “Huh, a lot of the people take issue with how I’ve been doing things thus far. They don’t like the words I use. This isn’t good. This is divisive. This is not what a President does. A President works toward unity. I think I need to recalibrate. I think I need to make some changes.” (I’m not naive enough to hold my breath on this one, but in terms of outcomes, that is kind of what we are aiming for).

So, in sum:

FAQs:

Is marching a form of democracy? Yes.

Why do you march? To exercise our right to speak out against xenophobia, Islamaphobia, transphobia, homophobia, racism, sexism, ableism, and general hatred.

What do you expect the outcome to be? For Trump to put on his POTUS pants and listen to what the people are saying.

(Just to clarify this last one a bit. I do realize that there are people who support Trump, and that those people have other concerns — concerns that they felt they voiced in the voting booth. I am aware that they too have a voice, and as long as that voice isn’t expressing hatred, then, of course, Trump needs to address their concerns as well. I, personally, have serious doubts about the potential for this, but let’s see…. Part of the job of the President to listen to the various voices and find ways of building bridges, looking for common ground, seeking ways to bring us closer together not drive us further apart.)

Lessons from Levi

Last Christmas, my aunt (one of Levi’s primary caretakers and certainly his favorite) gave us a bird feeder.  She did this because Levi loves birds, as does she.  I call them true kindreds.

We were certainly delighted with the gift, though I had never for a second considered having a bird feeder in my yard, and I had no understanding of people who study pictures of birds in books and then attempt to identify them in their backyard.  To me this seemed somewhat boring and certainly unproductive.  Perhaps as a retirement pursuit it makes a modicum of sense.

Yesterday, I found myself watching my Levi stand in our sliding glass doors so that he could keep an eye on all the activity at the bird feeder.  He has spent countless hours over the past year at these sliders or in our dining room window just watching, pointing, chatting, and, seemingly, day dreaming (or the baby/toddler equivalent).  I am as enchanted by watching him as he is watching the animals scamper and fly in the backyard, and I realized that I now cannot imagine what our life would be like without the feeder attracting this small array of wildlife into our yard.  Levi loves to remind us of every animal he has seen in the backyard:  birds (he knows cardinals and blue jays specifically), squirrels, kitty cat, bunny rabbit (hop hop), mice, and chipmunks.

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My mom gave me a copy of Katrina Kenison’s Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mother’s in Hurry.  I found it to be a useful reminder of many of the things I already know.  Kenison’s message is essentially, slow down and become present.  Her book of reflections on motherhood and family life provides an antidote to the frantically hurried (and harried) lifestyle that we all know so well.  Lately, I am constantly reminded of my own role in this “hustle for worthiness,” as Brené Brown calls it, and I’m working hard to fight the urge to do more, over-schedule, show off my productivity.

Kenison, no doubt, would be a huge fan of one of Levi’s favorite “activities” — staring out the window.  Most mornings he likes to pull his little camping chair up to the sliders and start his day there, munching a banana and watching.  He is practicing his human *be*ing-ness, and I have much to learn from him.

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I also hope that as he gets older we can hold onto his willingness (his natural inclination so it seems) to live slowly, to make time to observe nature (or anything around him and us), to just be present.  I know that in the years to come screen time will probably become a “thing” — a battle even, and I’ll be reminded of all the many hours he spent in front of windows as his form of entertainment.  I think ahead to the years of chauffeuring him off to various practices, school dances, movies with friends, and so on.  I feel overwhelmed. Someday I will pull out these pictures and remind him — look, see how still you used to be!?  My consummate observer of the world and constant reminder to just be.

In stillness, we find our peace.  Knowing peace at home, we bring peace into the world.  ~Katrina Kenison

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Even when we travel, windows = go to source of entertainment

 

Evening Kindness “Routine”

I’ve played around a lot with my evening routine over the past two years.  Out of necessity: pumping was a huge part of my evening routine for  well over a year.  And out of choice: working out an evening routine was part of my Abundant Mama experience. Until recently my evening routine was rigidly kept on course by reminders on my phone that would ding loudly, giving me a half hour to clean up the house and a half hour to do yoga and/or work (the breakdown was 3 nights of yoga, 3 nights of work and 1 night to do anything I wanted).  This would be followed by my nighttime snack, getting ready for bed, and reading in bed. It was hectic, as sometimes the half hour wasn’t quite enough to get the house back into shape, meaning I’d start yoga or work later, meaning I’d get to bed later… and so on.  It often involved long, complex to do lists that never got done.  It was tiring, and sometimes I simply didn’t have the energy to do all of it.  And if I didn’t do it “right,” I wasn’t very nice to myself, inflicting lots of self-scolding and guilt (so Brené Brown would probably call this shame, but I am still working through the differences and see this as guilt).

Toward the end of 2016, I was tired a lot at night, and a new evening “routine” started to emerge on its own.  This basically involved leaving Levi’s room and instantly hopping into bed!  The problem was that I would immediately open Instagram or start texting (usually both) and fall down one of those social media rabbit holes that lasts way too long and makes you feel kind of hungover at the end.  So that wasn’t effective either, but I knew I was onto something.

At the close of the year, I decided that in 2017 I wanted to revamp my evening routine to take into account my low energy in the evenings — to really honor it by finding a way to be okay with it — essentially giving myself permission to be tired.  Here is what I came up with.  I call it my “evening kindness routine”:

  • As soon as I leave Levi’s room, I set a timer on my phone for fifteen minutes.  I very quickly assess what still needs to be done and what is the top priority.  This usually means dishes or folding diapers or putting away laundry.  But if (on a rare night) all of those things are done, I get to some of the things that never get attended to like organizing my office, online orders, etc (this part hasn’t happened yet, but it’s only week two…).  The idea is to do whatever/as much as I can in those fifteen minutes. Things that make the next day easier are given high priority. Once the timer goes off I’m free to keep going if I have the energy and feel so inclined.  However, (and here is the really important part, because it’s the part where I exercise kindness to myself) if I don’t feel like keeping going after the fifteen minutes is up, I’m free to get ready for bed and retreat there with my stack of journals, books, and coloring.  This means that sometimes I am in bed by 8pm, writing, dreaming, coloring, reading (sounds like a luxurious fairy tale, but it’s now my real life!!).
  • I’m currently nursing a shoulder injury, so yoga is not part of the evening routine for now.  Eventually, once I’m healed (in oh so many ways), I will use that time block immediately upon leaving Levi’s room to do a half hour practice (at least two nights a week).  After that I will assess my energy and see what (if anything) I can get done.
  • If I don’t get out of Levi’s room until 8pm, I am free to fall into bed and dissolve into Instagram or just fall asleep.
  • If I’m just totally exhausted (even if it’s not 8pm), I can just collapse into bed — none of these other guidelines apply.
  • I label the state of the house as “good enough” and try like hell to mean it.

So far, so great.  Most of the time I work slightly past the fifteen minute mark, but not by much.  Some of the time the fifteen minutes is actually enough to get things into shape; however, I have gone to bed three times this new year with some dishes left in the sink! All in all though, I’m experiencing this magical feeling of doing more even though I’m technically doing less.  I highly recommend it.

Even the break from yoga has been surprisingly good for me.  For the first three weeks or so of my injury I made myself push through getting on the mat because it’s good for me. But it wasn’t.  It was making my shoulder worse, and then when I hurt too much to practice, I would beat myself up over it.  I’ve chosen to give myself a full month of recovery time at which point I hope to get back to practicing (or will see a doctor).  But this experience has helped me to see how truly hard on myself I tend to be (something I somehow never realized before!).

Every night since Levi was born I do these “room scans.”  That is, I go through each room of the house scanning it quickly to see what’s wrong with it, what needs to be done, and then fixing the situation.  I continue to scan the rooms, but I’m letting things go.  Last night there were toys piled on the coffee table instead of into their bins (this was after I’d spent my fifteen minutes folding diapers and getting them ready for daycare), I fought the urge to sort and stow them.  They weren’t on the floor, so it was “good enough” (not really, but I’ll take care of it today at some point).

I’m feeling pretty uncertain that I will be able to hold into this perspective and this “routine” when the semester starts next week, but we will see….  Ultimately what matters more than the details and parameters of the plan is the way that I treat myself when executing it (or not).  That whole “practice kindness” thing applies to how we treat ourselves too (only took me 41 long years to figure this out).

The Pursuit of Imperfection

Per my last post, this blog will (hopefully) be heading in a new direction for 2017 than the one it started with.  And perhaps “new direction” is too dramatic a description for what’s happening here.  After all, over the past two years I documented many more failures in my quest for perfection than anything else.  I spent a lot of time showing how I wasn’t living up to my own expectations, and then trying to make myself feel better (or sometimes worse) about that.  In that sense, my blog writing might seem to continue business as usual!  The shift might be more subtle — related to my own inner dialogue about how I (re)define things like perfection, success, and failure.  In the words of one wise mom:

Because my imperfection is success. I’ve successfully been a human-fucking-being. Fallible and aware. And trying.

This morning I came across a draft of a post that I started about six months ago, in which I was reflecting on the premise of this blog:

I realize fully that it does/will end up documenting many more of my “failures” in that quest than anything else; however, I never quit trying.  There is a lot out there these days in the self-help genre on the idea of imperfection.  This quest that I am on is the exact thing causing us strife and stress, according to most self-help authors.  In fact, I was reading Brené Brown’s, The Gifts of Imperfection, while I was pregnant .  The message is to start living for ourselves and not others.  Great message, and I am a huge fan of Brené; however, I feel that my desire for everything to be perfect is about me and not about what other people see or think of me.  At the end of the day, when I pass judgment on myself, it is all about how I am left feeling (often defeated) based on my inability to control the chaos that grows up around me.  Nobody sees that or judges that but me.

I was so proud of myself for resisting the “imperfection movement” and staying dogged in my attempts to do and have it all.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I didn’t think I needed Brené Brown’s insights.  I was all set with that.  Her work didn’t apply to me.  I have to laugh now at my naivety and my ego.  In my recent, more open reading of her book, I read, “I want to show the world how great I am at balancing my family and career. I want our yard to look beautiful.  I want people to see us picking up our dog’s poop in biodegradable bags and think, My God!  They are such outstanding citizens” (37), and I was struck with the very uncomfortable realization:  me too.  Me too!  It is difficult to admit, but you know what they say about that shift from denial to acceptance….  And so that, to me, is the change of direction.  That, to me, is what I want to make 2017 about.

Yesterday Levi turned two.  It seems like I just started this blog, and yet I cannot even remember starting this blog.  That is how strangely, confusingly time passes (especially in motherhood).  I didn’t make cupcakes, but I made oatmeal, carrot, zucchini muffins with mini chocolate chips instead.  Last night I was going to post a picture of the baking process to Instagram and stopped myself.  What was I trying to do with that photo except show the world (well, my handful of IG followers) that I was pulling off my son’s birthday.  I built a train table and wrapped it in a bow, worked, made dinner, AND managed to bake a healthy birthday treat from scratch.  Now that is a lot to be proud of, no doubt.  But I just needed to resist the impulse to show everyone how well I was pulling it off.  This isn’t to say I will never again share accomplishments via social media (hell, I guess I just did it via this blog post), but I did want to take a moment to kind of cement this new (for me) way of thinking about how I want to be perceived and by whom and for what reasons.

My writing prompt this morning was to look at a family photograph and write about what you cannot see.  As we well know, pictures posted to social media sites are mere representations of a selected sliver of life.  Perhaps it would be helpful to all of us if we posted these pictures with a description of what cannot be seen (the baby wailing in the background, the one counter covered in egg and flour, the garbage that needs to be taken out, the depression and anxiety lurking in the heads of the photo’s subjects, etc.).  I know for myself, I hope to head into 2017 keeping it more real than ever and trying so hard (oh it is SO hard) to drop/change/minimize my expectations for having/doing/being “it all.”

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Enough is Enough!

On New Year’s Eve I was a little freaked out because I wasn’t ready yet for 2017.  I didn’t have my latest strategy for becoming a better person in place — that is, I hadn’t set my resolutions, therefore, I hadn’t created the schedule for making those resolutions happen. I hadn’t sketched out my new semester schedule.  I hadn’t figured out what books I should be reading to self-help my leaf-turning process.  Basically, I was only prepared to move into 2017 in much the same way that I was living the end of 2016.  This upset me; however, I did have this one little thing in place:  I had picked out my word for 2017!  Enough.

For the past two years (Levi turns two tomorrow!), I have ended nearly every day surveying my house, my efforts, my work, and uttering the phrase “it’s never enough.  No matter how hard I work, no matter how much I accomplish, it’s never enough.”  I would look around at my environment with a scowl.  I was never satisfied.  I uttered this statement to Dawn almost daily in Levi’s first year of life.  I would come out in nearly a whisper because I was so exhausted by the days efforts, but still feeling like I was getting nowhere.  I didn’t care about all the damn mothering articles that told me it was “enough” to just sit and cuddle (or play with) my baby all day.  I just assumed those women didn’t care as much as I did about striving to have it all.  They just didn’t understand my journey, I told myself, and I stubbornly moved forward in my quest.  The quest that started this blog.

Toward the end of 2016 I started to give in.  I gave in to the fact that I am never going to have “it all.”  Or, more accurately, I came to the realization that “it all” is simply a matter of perspective, as opposed to a quantifiable, reached goal.  (I’m still not quite sure that I believe this, but I figure if I keep telling myself long enough…).  I started to reconsider my nose-turning-up attitude toward all those gurus, writers, and thinkers who were peddling the idea of “imperfection.”  I went back to my bookshelf and dusted off my copy of The Gifts of Imperfection, which I had previously stashed way unfinished because I thought “it wasn’t for me.”  I thought I didn’t need it.  I was on a different journey, aiming for perfection.  I didn’t care what anyone else said (including the amazing Brené Brown).  I read sections of Present Over Perfect and A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough (from which I attained my word for 2017).

“Enough is enough,” we often say.  We say it aggressively, when we are fed up with something.  We say it to put an end to something we are bothered by, something that’s a nuisance or driving us up a wall, something that simply should not go on any longer.  That is the way that I am saying it to myself:  Enough is enough with this negative thought process, this constant dissatisfaction, this endless striving with no end in sight.  Enough is enough with it all never being enough.  And yet, I will also use it in a more positive and gentle way too.  When I sit down at night and look back at the day, I will tell myself, “enough is enough” in a kind way — as in, yes, you’ve done enough.  It’s time to hang your hat on this day.  It’s time to stop (become a “human being, not a human doing, as my former massage therapist used to always say to me).  It’s time to celebrate all that you’ve accomplished today.

And so with this word in place on New Year’s Eve, I was able to try to convince myself that it was enough to only have the word to kick off 2017 with.  It is enough even if I don’t have a plan for 2017 all figured out and color-coded in my journal and calendar (yet).  It is enough even though I don’t even have my resolutions set.  I am enough with or without a plan in place to get a step closer to perfection in 2017.