Mothering for the Daughters of Narcissists

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cropped-baby-and-mom-hands.jpgIf, like many new moms, you are plagued with feelings of unworthiness, you may wonder how you will instill appropriate self-esteem in your own child. As you begin to mother, you may find memories of your own childhood—scenes you haven’t thought about for years—springing into your mind. As you look into the small face of this vulnerable little being who has been entrusted to you, you may find yourself wondering how your own mother felt and what she thought when she looked into your small face, so many years ago.

None of us gets to have a perfect mom. So let’s just get that right out there. Your mom wasn’t perfect, and you won’t be either, despite your best intentions. Let’s keep it real. We make mistakes, we forgive ourselves, and then we try to do better the next day. It usually works out.

But what if you really had some poor mothering when you were a child? What if it went beyond making some very human mistakes? What if your mom was actually mean and destructive to you? How will that impact you as a mother yourself now?

If this is striking a chord with you, read on.

If your mom was a narcissist, you were left with a feeling of “not being good enough.” In fact, there is a popular book you will want to read, entitled “Will I Ever Be Good Enough?” by Dr. Karyl McBride, Ph.D.

How do you know if your mom was a narcissist? Start with these two questions:

  1. Was your mother capable of showing you (or anyone) empathy?
  2. Was your mother capable of loving unconditionally?

If the answer to these two questions is “no,” then you will want to investigate further, because these are two red flags that could be signaling narcissism.

The narcissistic parent (yes, narcissists come in both genders, in fact) is more concerned with outward image than with her children’s feelings; she blames others for her own transgressions; she is very critical; the world, she seems to believe, revolves around her; she must have everything all her own way; she can be very good at playing the victim or martyr in order to manipulate her family.

If any of this is sounding familiar, you are probably feeling you have some inner work to do. You are also probably worried about doing anything in your mothering that even remotely resembles what your own mother did.

Keep in mind that narcissism is on a spectrum. Sometimes a person would not qualify for a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but still may have enough of the narcissistic characteristics to have severely impacted their family.

Check out Dr. McBride’s book. Work with a therapist that understands the dynamic of the narcissistic parent. There is a registry of such therapists on Dr. McBride’s website: http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com/resources/find-a-therapist/

Daughters of narcissists benefit in therapy from some re-parenting techniques, and from learning to love and accept themselves unconditionally as they should have been loved, accepted and cherished as children. I have seen, time and again, that you actually CAN give what you never got, despite the old saying to the contrary. It just takes a little healing.

The Value of Breastfeeding Meetings in the Age of Social Networking

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Dear young mother,
Q: Do you need to go to a meeting of Breastfeed USA or La Leche League?
A: If you think you need to, then you do. If you think you do not need to, then you need to even more.
A hospital class, I am sorry to tell you, is not the same thing at all. Of course, any way of getting information is good. But what you need, whether you know it or not, is a circle of women: experienced, less experienced, those who are giving back, those who are unsure about the whole breastfeeding thing, those who have had setbacks and are looking for answers, those who just want to be with other moms who won’t judge them. You need to be able to absorb by osmosis some of the philosophy that goes along with a breastfeeding relationship.
In the 1980’s, I wrote an article for La Leche League News, as it existed then, entitled: “La Leche League Meetings: Who Needs ‘Em?” At that time, La Leche League was going strong, but there were many moms who didn’t see the point to attending meetings to learn something that they assumed would come “naturally.” Many expected that their doctors would tell them all they needed to know. How wrong they were.
Most doctors were clueless about breastfeeding (it is not an illness). And breastfeeding does not come naturally to mothers who grow up in a bottle-feeding society.
Breastfeeding is deeply cultural. We live in a society that is barely tolerant of breastfeeding. The world-wide web does not replace that age-old circle of women helping women.
Here we are in 2015, and the moms of today are equipped with google and web md and can contact all their friends at once with a tap to a screen. Surely, with modern technology, we can access all information worth knowing. Surely, we are beyond the need to sit in a circle with other breastfeeding moms and their babies and toddlers. Aren’t we?
Trust me here: with your first baby, and even with your second and third, you don’t know what you don’t know. There are questions you would not even think to ask. You can prevent problems from even occurring if you have the information up front. And not only that.
When you become part of a breastfeeding support group, you develop relationships with the other moms over time. You encourage one another. Playgroups spring out of that, with the children growing together and the moms growing together in their confidence and their own mothering philosophy.
Breastfeeding is not just about getting that great breast milk into the baby. It is also about the relationship between mother and child that forms along the way. And that circle of women will show you that—in a way that no book or website can.
Couldn’t you just ask for help from professional lactation consultants or from Breastfeed USA counselors as issues arise? Sure, many moms do. Along with that approach come preventable problems, last minute panic, unnecessary stress, and premature weanings. Why would you want that?
What will you get if you attend meetings? You will continue to learn something new each and every time. You will make friends with women who do not question your decision to nurse your child. You will develop confidence in yourself as a mother. You will pick up something that cannot be easily described, but that is very real: a sense of connection with these mothers and with mothers all around the world and throughout all of time—yes, just by sitting in a circle of women and sharing your questions and answers and love of breastfeeding. You will learn more than you could think to ask, and your heart will expand with the love that fills the room when mothers and their nursing babies gather together.
Please, give it a try. Go to some meetings, and tell me if I told you the truth.

Coping with Chaos

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Lately mothers of babies—and especially second-time mothers of babies– have been telling me, “I still haven’t figured out how to manage,” “I can’t cope with chaos,” “I’m not doing well with simple household chores, and I don’t know why I can’t seem to function the way I should.”

These moms are feeling frustrated with themselves, and their Inner Critic is on the march, telling them they are failing, they can’t handle things, and they should be ashamed.

Nonsense.

When I was having my babies in the 80’s and 90’s, La Leche League moms had a saying: “You can have a clean house. You can have happy kids. But you can’t have both on the same day.”

La Leche League, I think, was the precursor to Attachment Parenting. These are the parents who wear their babies, who practice co-sleeping, who don’t let their babies “cry it out,” who believe in “discipline with love,” and who think that being a parent is the most important thing they will ever do.

Dear young mother, if you would put your baby on a schedule of your choosing and let him howl away in another room, you could get your house clean, and run a home business while you are at it. Are you ready to make that bargain?

Of course not. If you were, you would not be an AP parent. You have chosen this path because your intuition, your instinct, told you it was the only way for you to parent. You have made mothering, parenting, your highest priority.

It is said, “You cannot serve two masters.”

I remember (with a smile) a dear La Leche League leader who was always suspicious of the moms who had tidy homes, because in her mind this neatness served as evidence that they were “not really League moms.” They couldn’t be child-focused and have time to get the house in order, too, she reasoned. Now, that kind of judgment is not what we need. However, there is truth in the observation that Attachment Parenting takes focus, time, and energy, and leaves no focus, time nor energy for anything else. So, dear young mother, if you have chosen this path, understand that you have forsaken the clear surfaces and uncluttered environment you once enjoyed.

“But,” you might say, “I need a place for everything, and everything in its place. I just can’t function in chaos.”

Really?

I’ll bet you can. Not saying you’ll ever like chaos, but I’ll bet you’ll be able to dig a path through the debris and make your AP life work. The key is in not expecting a tidy home worthy of a 1950’s sitcom while expecting yourself to also follow the Attachment Parenting lifestyle. These two objectives are not compatible.

My advice for you today is to choose one—just one—area of your home that is bothering you the most. It might be your kitchen counter, or your living room floor. Whatever it may be, it can be only one area. Your goal today will be to try to get just that one area the way you like it. You can start in the morning and see if you can achieve it by this evening. And that is all you need to do. Oh, and by the way, if you haven’t achieved it by this evening, guess what? It’s all right.

What has lasting significance is not your counter nor your living room floor. It is your connection with your children that really matters. All they need is your attentive presence, and your kindness. To be able to give them that, you need to be kind to yourself.

Let go of everything that doesn’t really matter.

How to Make Your Home a Sanctuary

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When you think about making your home an oasis from the tough world outside, a place where you and your family can relax and feel warmth, acceptance and unconditional love, what do you see in your mind’s eye?

This is not a post about scented candles and flowers.  We won’t be thinking about discarding broken items, nor about the placements of mirrors for the optimum flow of energy.  This is an article about how we generate peace and love, from our hearts.

In my counseling practice, when I ask people about their experience of growing up in their childhood homes, would you believe no one ever talks about décor?  Feng shui  never comes up.  As a matter of fact, orderliness is rarely mentioned.  What people remember are feelings.  People remember their sense of belonging, security, a sense of being precious—or the lack of all of these. 

How do parents create that in a home?

You won’t have to run out to a craft store to buy anything.  No need to hang up signs instructing people to “Live, Laugh, Love.”  What you will need is priceless and free.

The sanctuary you long to offer your children is created through your eyes, your tone of voice, your patience for listening, and your willingness to give lots and lots of your time.

Let the mirrors all be smudged, the flowers dead in their vases, and socks and toys strewn all across the floor.  None of this will be engraved on the memory of anyone.

A Sanctuary-Home is a place where there is an open expression of feelings, where everyone can be vulnerable because no one will be hurt.  It is a criticism-free zone.  There are clear boundaries and limits which foster security, and these boundaries are set with firmness, logic and love.  It is a place where everyone feels the message:  “Everything you have to say, do or offer is valuable.  You are good, just because you exist.”

You create this with a quiet presence.  You don’t have to think of anything amazing or deeply sensitive to say.  You make lots of gentle eye contact, you give focused attention, and you offer validation as needed.  Your children’s business is to grow into the beautiful people they are, interacting with the world and with everyone in their home.  You don’t have to know everything.  You don’t have to micro-manage the growing process.  You hold your children’s love lightly in your hands.  You become a safe place to fall.

The home becomes the Sanctuary, and the love in you becomes the Sanctuary.

Don’t worry if your house looks like a tornado hit it.  A little chaos never hurt anyone.  Let go of perfectionism and too-lofty ideals.  Embrace your humanity—and everyone else’s humanity.  There’s very little we really need to insist upon in life.  What’s really important?  That is always the question.

Just for today, focus on how you look at your children.  What do they see when they look into your eyes?  What do you want them to see?  Let that be.Image

 

 

 

The Stay-at-Home Mom: “Remember Who You Are.”

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alice and queen

It’s the Red Queen who tells Alice in Through the Looking Glass, “Turn out your toes as you walk — and remember who you are!” She is giving instructions on how to play the game—in this case, the huge chess game where an entire forest can equal one space on the chess board.

The Stay-at-Home Mom is playing a different game, although like Alice, she may be looking at a terrain she does not understand at first.

If you are staying at home with your baby, you are in for a bit of a culture shock. It will take you about a year to get used to the change, even when staying home with your child is something you always wanted to do.
Probably for the first time, you find yourself without a salary, boss (or professor), evaluation system, due dates, deadlines, externally imposed daily structure or colleagues. While that can sound wonderful, it does take some adjustment. It can leave you feeling isolated on your own island, wondering if the world will forget you, and wondering if your former identity will slip away.

Previously, you have been a student and probably an employee. Friends and acquaintances came automatically with both environments. Now, if you don’t make the effort to schedule social time in a purposeful way, you could find yourself quite alone, with just your baby for company. Babies require a lot of work, and the days go by quickly. You may notice how desperate you are for adult conversation when your partner comes home, no doubt having had lots of adult conversations, and maybe looking for some quiet and downtime.

Fortunately, there are more ways than ever to find the company of like minds. You can find the closest Attachment Parenting group, Meet-Up groups for stay-at-home moms, etc. Making this effort will be important. Many moms return to work because they were so lonely at home. It doesn’t have to be that way. Think of ways to connect.

And then there’s the fear expressed by some moms: “Will my brain dissolve into the diaper pail?” In other words, what about intellectual stimulation while staying home? We are talking about “the life of the mind,” and in fact, you are in a place to be as stimulated and challenged as you desire. It’s true that babies and toddlers keep moms hopping all day long. However, you can find ways to bring in studying, developing and learning while at home. There are internet programs, audio programs, home study programs. What do you still want to learn? You can take it at a slower pace, perhaps, but you can still do it.

In my years at home, I took piano lessons from another mom of a toddler. Our toddlers played during the lesson, and if they interrupted, we both understood and attended to them, and then returned our attention to the piano.

I also organized French playgroups so that I could practice my French with European mothers and their tots.

Think: what are the things you used to love doing? How do you keep them up, and how does a baby/toddler/preschooler come along? Be open and creative in finding your way.

The Red Queen was right about one thing: “Remember who you are.”

How will you feed your soul? How will you keep up the interests that make you happy?

Peace in the Home: How Domestic Violence Affects the Developing Brain

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What is your definition of “home”? If you think about it, the word “safe” is probably one of the most important adjectives to describe any home. Your role as mother includes many things, one of them being to protect your baby from harm.

Many children see violence and aggression between their caregivers. Brain science now tells us that babies are even more affected by witnessing domestic violence than older children. This contradicts the old assumption that “babies are too little to understand what is going on.”

Babies, in fact, pick up quite expertly on their parents’ internal states. Whether the abuse is physical or verbal, the baby who witnesses the altercation is profoundly affected. Witnessing violence causes permanent changes in the developing brain. We know that a child’s brain is like a sponge for learning; this is true no matter what type of learning. A baby or child living in a domestic violence situation experiences a destructive rewiring of his or her brain.

Some women living with violent partners say, “He would never hurt the baby.” What they don’t understand is that he already did hurt the baby when he hurt the baby’s mother.

How domestic violence affects children depends on the child’s age.

Infants and toddlers have the task of learning how to form bonds. An infant or toddler, living in domestic violence therefore will experience difficulty in attaching emotionally to others. Preschoolers have the tasks of learning about all their feelings and how to express them, and also about gender roles. In domestic violence, the preschooler learns unhealthy lessons about the expression of anger, and learns to see men as bullies and women as victims (if the perpetrator in the home is a man and the victim is a woman). School-age children have the task of learning right from wrong and achieving academic success; in domestic violence, right from wrong can be confusing, and children can be worried about parents to the point of being unable to focus on school work.

Babies growing up in strife, tension, and violence have a greater tendency to suffer mental health problems as they grow.

Dear young mother, if you are being bullied or hurt, physically or emotionally, and are staying in the situation “for the good of the children,” please think again. There is non-judgmental, practical help for you.

Here is the number of the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233.

And here is a video clip from the Attorney General‘s Office that tells more about how domestic violence affects a child’s brain: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=brVOYtNMmKk

Talking to Baby

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One of the most important things you can do for your baby is to talk with her.

Begin talking with your baby while you are still pregnant. If it feels “funny” to talk to the baby you can’t see yet, try reading some of your favorite children’s books aloud instead. Find copies of treasured stories from your own childhood, and start developing your read-aloud skills. Even in utero, your baby can hear your voice; when she hears it again after she is born, she will recognize it as yours, the voice she already will know so well.

When you have your newborn in your arms, talk with her. Make eye contact with her. It used to be thought that a newborn baby cannot truly see, but now we know that newborns do, in fact, see—about the distance from mom’s breast to her face.

As your baby grows, continue to talk, and also to listen to her utterances, and respond. This early talking is where self-esteem begins. She learns that she is important, because you are paying attention to her, and you value her earliest attempts to contribute to the conversation.

Read, talk and listen. Your toddler and pre-schooler will learn that reading and communication are happy activities, associated with bonding with you.

During the toddler and pre-school years, take opportunities to count with your child: count the green beans that go into the pot; count the squirrels in the yard; count the clouds in the sky; count the toys as, together, you pick them up and drop them in the toy box. This helps your child develop her “number sense” and for her it is another communication game she can play with you.

Avoid having the television on for “background noise.” Studies show that when the tv is on, even if “no one is watching it,” parents and children speak far fewer words to each other than when the tv is off. With the tv off, people focus on one another and learn to communicate well and bond with one another.

As your child begins to express herself in sentences, listen to her seriously and kindly. Encourage her ideas, and respond to her. As you do this, you are teaching her respect, by modeling it for her. Treasure your “little conversations,” which will one day grow to be “big conversations.”

What children truly want, more than toys, more than anything else, is attention, loving attention, from their parents. Your child’s future relationships will be modeled on her relationship with you. Relax and enjoy this time. All you need to do is talk and listen with love.

Pregnancy as a Faith Walk

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Pregnancy is a faith walk, if ever there was one.

Now that my own children are grown and I am beyond pregnancy (and I must say, although I enjoyed my baby days immensely, it does feel good at this point in life to be able to write that!), whenever I see a pregnant woman, my heart is touched—especially if she is smiling! Her body is a statement of hope in the future, of willingness to step out into the great unknown, of being willing to, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, “take the first step,” even though she may not be able to “see the whole staircase.”

She is willing to take on any risks, discomforts, and changes to her body image (be they temporary or permanent), for the opportunity to bring into the world a little stranger, with an unknown temperament, genetic package, and destiny of his own, and to be legally, physically, financially and emotionally responsible for whomever she gets for eighteen years, and to have her heart inextricably interconnected with this mystery-person’s heart until her very last breath on earth.

That’s what I see, when I see a pregnant woman. I see a being who is saying “yes” to life, whatever it may bring.

This is a very spiritual undertaking, this carrying of life and bringing it forth. What you experience during pregnancy —your dreams and emotions– will be your own unique walk, affected by hormones, your own beliefs, and the influences around you.

Of all the decisions you will now be called on to make, perhaps the most important is the choice of health care provider. You have the right and the power to make a considered choice here. The person you choose to “deliver” your baby will have a tremendous influence over your experience.

When you choose an obstetrician or a midwife, be intentional in your own role with that person. You are hiring that person to collaborate with you on bringing your child into the world. Notice how you feel when you are in your provider’s company. Do you feel cold, small, confused, stressed, condescended to, or rushed? Or do you feel that you can ask all your questions, and that you are respected and treated with consideration?

Do your research and reading, get information from your local Attachment Parenting, La Leche League, or Breastfeeding USA groups, and ask the questions they might suggest.

Consider not only your provider’s answers, but also your provider’s attitude in answering your questions. Pay attention to your “gut.”

If you find you are not confident in the person you have chosen, remember that you are the consumer, and have the right to make a change to a different provider with whom you feel more confident.

You are in the balance between saying “yes” to life and trusting the process, and at the same time doing your research and setting up the circumstances of the birth to be as favorable as possible.

Don’t Break Your Own Heart

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Part of the spiritual quality of motherhood is the opportunity to learn about how the universe works, and about our part in this universe.

No sooner do you learn that you are pregnant, than you are faced with choices: childbirth education classes, or not, and if so, which one?… Natural childbirth, epidural, water birth, homebirth, who will be present for the birth, and on and on…. Back-to-work-after-baby, stay-at-home-mom, or half-and-half?… Breast or bottle?

All these choices have the potential to do various things to us, emotionally.

They give us an opportunity to learn from our “mistakes.” They present us with an opportunity for emotional and spiritual growth, as we choose one thing, and then another throughout motherhood, and throughout life. Our choices may give us a feeling (illusory, in some sense) of power and control in our own lives; they might also give us a sense of anxiety because now we have the possibility of choosing “wrong”; they could give us the impression that one path leads to perfection, peace of mind, and few regrets, while the other path does not; they may make us fear judgment from others who will not agree with whichever choice we may make; and they may lead us into being judgmental ourselves, out of our own insecurity or intolerance, judging those who make different choices from our own.

Choices complicate our emotional lives. Yet we would not give up our right to those choices. Most people—especially women– around the world, during most of history, have had slim- to- no choices. So we will keep our choices, thank you very much.

But here is where the heartbreak comes in.

Sometimes a mother makes a choice that she regrets. A mother who had breast reduction surgery to relieve chronic back aches now finds that she has a limited ability to breastfeed her baby, something she wants to do with all her heart. A mother who wants to practice attachment parenting caves in to her mother-in-law’s insistence to have the infant “sleep over at Grandma’s house.” A mother who voluntarily goes back to work because she loves her job and is bored at home finds herself crying in the restroom because she misses her baby and feels she is “missing” the most important opportunity she has ever had. A mother who enjoys her work chooses to stay home with her children, and then finds herself feeling invisible to the world, lonely and isolated, and cries in her grief, wondering if the person she once was has disappeared.

All of these choices, and more that you could think of, carry with them a feeling of being trapped, stuck with a decision that has already been made. Some of them carry with them a potential for real grief. All of them offer an opportunity to learn and grow, to see ourselves through the eyes of loving-kindness, unconditionally.

To see ourselves through the eyes of loving-kindness: this is to see ourselves through the eyes of a kind mother, the way we intend to look at our children all their lives long.

First of all, you are not truly trapped. Know this, and you will step out of the Victim Spot. That relieves anxiety. Second of all, let go of Fault-finding. It is not useful; it is counter-productive. Doing this, you let go of anger and depression.

It is sometimes by seeing what we don’t want, that we can know what we do want.

We may not like all of the consequences of all the choices we make. This does not mean that we made a “wrong” choice. It certainly does not mean that we are somehow “wrong,” or defective in any way.

We are simply on our path, learning as we go.

There’s always an alternative. You can always make another choice. Sometimes the alternative is simply to change the way you are thinking about the situation. Reframe whatever you are saying to yourself with compassion.

Visualization for Pregnancy

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(This is an exercise using conscious breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization to help you to release anxiety and feel your own inner light and healing power. Have someone read this script to you, or alternatively, record yourself reading it.)

Plant your feet flat on the floor, close your eyes, and get comfortable in your seat.

Begin by taking some nice, deep, slow breaths, and as you breathe in you are breathing in light, health, peace. As you breathe out, you are releasing stress. As you breathe in, you are breathing in gratitude. As you breathe out, you are letting go of all that you no longer need.

Continue breathing. Your breath is bringing oxygen to your blood, heart, and brain, making you more alert and relaxed. You are bringing oxygen to your baby, who is enjoying relaxation with you.

Continuing to breathe, bring your attention now to your body, starting with your scalp. Relax your scalp. Smooth your brow. Continuing to breathe, relax the area around your eyes… your cheeks… your jaws… your chin… your mouth.

Relax your neck. You could turn your head gently from side to side, to feel the relaxation moving along your neck. Relax your shoulders. Let your shoulder blades slide right down your back. Relax your arms, your forearms, wrists, hands, fingers, and any tension that is in your body can go shooting right out through your fingertips, right through the floor, leaving you so relaxed, leaving your arms feeling warm, heavy, and relaxed.

Relax your chest. Acknowledge your beautiful, beating heart with love. Relax your stomach, your waist, your gut. Relax your hips. Continuing to breathe, relax your glutes, your thighs, calves, ankles, feet and toes, and any tension that is still in your body can go shooting right out through your toes, leaving your whole body warm, heavy and so relaxed.

Now mentally scan your body, and notice where you may have tensed up again. That’s ok. We usually do. So just sent relaxation to those areas of your body, and allow yourself to just relax, completely.

Now that we have relaxed the body, let’s go to the mind. And see yourself, standing in your mind. See that you are surrounded by a beautiful light. Notice this light. You can give it any color you like, or let it be clear. Notice its temperature, which is perfect for you. Notice your beautiful light. This is the light that you brought with you when you came into the world.

It is a light that shows you the truth, a light that can heal. This light can heal relationships. It can heal us of worries. It carries inside it the healing power of prayer. It is a sacred light. You can use this light to bless and protect your loved ones. This light expands without limit, and has the power to go all around the whole world. We always have our light, but sometimes we just forget.

So as you enjoy your light, allow yourself to be blessed by it. If you like, you can bring your baby into this light, to be blessed and protected. And your baby has a light, also. Your lights merge, and become one beautiful light. And as this light has no limit, you can bring in others in your life who come to mind, who need healing, protection, blessing.

Enjoy this moment, sharing light.

Now, we will take a nice deep breath again, and let all the loved ones, let baby, gently go to their own sacred lights. We can always come back to this place, to stand in our light, to share light.

For right now, we will very slowly and gradually, still keeping eyes closed, begin to prepare to return to this moment and this space in time. So take a few nice cleansing breaths, and begin to wiggle your fingers and toes, stretch and yawn if you like, flutter your eyelids, and, feeling recharged and re-energized, open your eyes.