On the first night of the Warrior Mom Conference, the attendees were treated to a beautiful candlelit dinner at the St. Botolph Club in Boston. After a cocktail hour with passed hors d’oeuvres and wine, the women drew seat assignments at random, allowing them to enjoy the company of those that they may not have gotten to meet during the first conference session that day. The tables were lined with candles and vases filled with red roses. Sprinkled among the glittering glass were red and pink rose petals.
After brief toasts from Susan Petcher and Katherine Stone, the mic was handed to Deborah Rimmler, the chairwoman of the Postpartum Progress board, and the mind behind Climb Out of the Darkness. Her two-part speech was so beautiful that the only way to do it justice was to reproduce it here, in her exact words.
“As survivors of maternal mental illness, we all staked our claim on motherhood with the special passion of one who had to fight for this right. Not with the birth of our beloved babies, but with passion and hard work and sacrifice did we become true mothers. Able to be present to the love and joy of being a parent without the deep fog of depression or paralyzing anxiety or heart-stopping intrusive thoughts or mind altering psychosis.
When I think of us mothers, better now or on the path to healing—through a myriad of professional help, medication and other alternative therapies—I always harken back to a red rose. For me, it is a symbol of the blood and thorns from which the beauty of motherhood emerged for those who suffered from maternal mental illness.
Yet even now, many years after my intrusive thoughts have lost their hold on me and are just a distant memory, I am always—always—surprised by the little moments when my two sons give me their unbridled love. The six-year-old looking me in the eye and telling me how much he loves me or my four-year-old wanting endless goodbye snuggles before I leave in the morning or running to the door when I get home. Really, I think: “They actually love me? After all we’ve been through?” I know in my head that I’m a good mother and that my children are not suffering from my suffering (or if they are… we can deal with it). But I have to work constantly on getting my heart and soul to believe that the moments of true joy and connection to my family are real.
So I’ve started to picture a pink rose, like the petals here, of softness and compassion mixed in with the red. A simpler and lighter and less complicated symbol of what I always dreamed motherhood could be. The red rose got me to where I am today and will always be my center, but I want to be open to embracing that I have survived this terrible ordeal and that motherhood going forward can be ordinary. No surprise that my kids love me. And no surprise that they are naughty little devils more often than not.
I wonder if others here have the same hard time relaxing into the simple pleasure and joy of being a mother. When they randomly present themselves? I mean, you gotta take it where you can. Honestly, I just can’t spend the next 50 years having this moment over and over.
So I propose a toast, for myself, and hope that it resonates with you all as well:
To mothers who fought like a red rose to survive unfathomable darkness to be the true strength and beauty of their families.
To mothers who can also live moments without the shadow of these struggles … showered in pink rose petals, bubbly like this champagne, and grounded in the playful love and joy of family.”
Deborah went on to discuss the idea she had about rewriting the famous Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” to tie in the host city’s history. She confided later that she had no idea if it would go over well, but after you read it, I’m sure you’ll agree with the attendees that she deserved the standing ovation she received.
Listen my mamas and you shall hear
Of the Warrior Mom’s message of cheer
On the 11th of July, Twenty-Fifteen
Your compatriots’ support rings supreme
She whispers; when you struggle alone in the night
Light your candle, my dear, as a signal light
Depression, anxiety, psychosis, OCD, and I on the opposite shore shall be
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every internet village and farm
For the Warrior Moms to be up and to arm
Then the mothers assembled said goodbye to their friends
Wishing this gathering would not have to end
Just as the moon rose over the bay
They travel home to their families where their moorings do lay
Remembering always this vision of candles alight
Knowing they will never be alone in this fight
So through the night rides the Warrior Mom Spirit
And so through the night goes her cry of alarm
To every internet village and farm
A cry of defiance, and not borne of fear
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door
And words that shall echo forevermore
For borne on the night-wind, at times roughly blown
She chants forever to remind us—you are never alone.
When the toasts were finished, the attendees were treated to a delicious meal and fabulous dessert. The love and happiness in the building were palpable, tears were shed, and friendships were formed. The laughter drove out the darkness for those still suffering, even for just a few moments.
To make that feeling last, each attendee was given her own commemorative votive holder in which to burn a candle when she found herself in need of the light she felt that night. Everyone left refreshed and ready to greet the second day of the conference, together.