Mother To Mother

The only way to speak the truth 
is to speak lovingly.

Henry David Thoreau

Daughter to Mother
by Rebecca Young

Even in the middle of speaking about that which matter most, Catherine was always a mother first. Here, I clearly want her attention!

Catherine in December 2000, before her hip operation. No matter her situation, she was always smiling.


My mother touched each and every one of us. I first said that line on Friday, September 14, 2001, as our friends and family gathered at Knox United Church in Clifford, Ontario to celebrate the life of Catherine Anna Young. Other family members spoke about Catherine the mom, the sister, the cousin. I spoke instead about Catherine the publisher. In the wake of her death, there has been an amazing outpouring of tributes and stories from her global community, some of which we have reprinted on the last 5 pages of this issue. I also read a few of these statements at the funeral. I managed to make it all the way through my eulogy, but as I started to read the words of women who loved my mother so simply and utterly, the tears rolled down my cheeks.  I cried again as I cut and pasted other tributes into the pages of her magazine, this magazine which is now weighing quite heavily on my shoulders. 

I am not a mother, as the title of this editorial clearly explains. I need the mothers who are reading this to guide me as I put together each issue, sharing your stories, advice, and wisdom. I am but your tool of communication, so please, use me. This is what my mother wanted, and I am willing to carry on her work for at least the next year. Hopefully by then someone will come forward who can take over this labour of love, and I will have reached a point in my life where I am willing to say goodbye. Until then, I am here to serve my mother's vision. What follows is the eulogy I read on Friday. This is how I saw my mother's life.

My mother changed the world. Mom was a leader, a pioneer and an icon in the breastfeeding community. She had the rare and precious combination of strength, courage and conviction that leads to greatness.  Her vision was singular, her life devoted to promoting natural pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. To this end, she published a small newsprint magazine. The magazine was a voice in the dark, unapologetic and unabashedly radical. 17 years ago, Mom started to write what no one else was saying, pushing the boundaries constructed by a birthing industry that had become medicalized. It turned out that she was saying what thousands of  women were thinking, but no one else dared to verbalize. She was a pioneer, blazing a path that would become a well-travelled road. And I live every day so enormously proud that MY MOM was responsible for creating a safe space for women to talk about breastfeeding in public, and birthing naturally.

Her style was in-your-face and all-or-nothing.  Her passion sparked controversy, but in its wake always ignited debate and made us all reconsider truths previously held unquestioningly.

In the summer of 2000, I was hired to work at the Hamilton hospital where I was born 21 years previously. A few days after I started, I had a meeting with the lactation consultant. Throughout the meeting, we talked about the internal political issues surrounding the World Breastfeeding Week celebrations, and I interjected that such compromises would shock my mother. The lactation consultant was interested to know about this well-informed mother of mine, and I elaborated that my mom had a small breastfeeding magazine, The Compleat Mother. This woman shocked me by shrieking, "You are Catherine's daughter!?!" That was my first realization that Mom's influence stretched outside a few select hippie communes, but certainly not my last.

Mom, you have left your mark on souls around the world. I will do what I can to ensure those souls have a page to share their version of your voice as they choose to write it. I will make mistakes, as you did. I will make changes, as you did. But I will never forget you, and will always honour you.

Daughter to Mother
by Rebecca Young

7 days before Christmas and the grass at the farm is still green. Evidence of the only snowfall to date can be found in a few small piles behind the barn, but for the most part, one would be excused for thinking it was March around here. Yesterday the mail brought a package from Helen in Florida, six beautiful Christmas ornaments personalized with Mom's name on them. We weren't planning on having a tree here, but now I have decided to put up a garland for the decorations.

Amanda, Zachary, my partner Jeremy and I will spend some time at the farm over the holidays, and we will go to Mom's parents for our traditional Polish Wigilia feast. It will be quiet, without the usual other guests we have had in previous years. At the same time, I am really looking forward to this celebration as a chance to re-affirm our family-ness. Since Mom died, the three kids and the grandparents have been together on Thanksgiving and for Amanda's birthday, almost monthly. I was so excited to talk to Zak the other night and hear him say he was looking forward to Christmas. Being happy together is a way to honour Mom's memory, and I know she will be with us as we repeat the traditions she presided over for most of my life. Many people have said that the three month mark is difficult, and I pray that this holiday season is bitter-sweet.

Has it been three months since September 11, since the last issue, since all of our lives were changed forever? It feels as if I looked away from the last
magazine as it was being put to bed, and when I looked back at the paper in front of me it said Spring 2002.

This issue is my first, as Mom had finished most of Winter 2001 before going to the hospital. The compilation of an issue was not the daunting task I expected it to me, as women from around the world generously submitted their stories, illustrations, photos and letters. Rather it was the editing, what not to include this time round, that made me pause. Jody and I discussed Mom's unique ability to know what her readers needed, and I humbly acknowledge I do not know enough about you to make such a judgment. So for the most part, space and a balanced content were my two measures for including work. Please, let us know what you think needs to be changed, what is lacking, and hopefully, what you like about this issue. You are my guides, so show me the path I should follow.

One editorial decision I made was to print only a few of the tributes we have received since the last issue. They can be found in Litters. This was a difficult call, because the sheer numbers would suggest the tributes are an important part of your grieving. However, my first and last thoughts were about what Mom would do, and I think she would use the space on these pages to share stories of pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding, and leave the tributes to the website and your hearts.

A friend told me that grieving is a selfish process. I think it is also surprising. After Mom died, I received many letters with suggestions and comments about other women's grieving processes. My experience matches few of those. Perhaps that is because most of us have never experienced a day like September 11, 2001.

A few minutes before my mother died, two planes flew into the World Trade Centre. And as the Pentagon was being attacked, I was watching her take her last breath. When the plane crashed in Pennsylvania, I was making a list of her possessions at the hospital and trying to watch my sister out of the corner of my eye. By this time Jeremy had called from Bosnia, where he was stationed as a NATO soldier, to say that he may not be home for the funeral, because there was no air traffic planned to North America for the rest of the week. And I watched the footage on television over and over again, feeling only shock and amazement. All of my emotions were locked up, because I had a magazine to put to bed and a funeral to plan and a life two hours south of the farm to put on hold. So when I was talking to my best friend who knew people working in the towers, or the woman I volunteer with whose aunt lives near the crash site in Pennsylvania, I had no empathy to share. I simply didn't know what to say or do because I couldn't imagine what it must be like to be emotionally affected by the attacks.

The following month was a series of painful explanations, to women calling the farm and to people who are trying to be supportive by asking, "so how are you doing?". The reality was that that my nights were filled with dreams of Mom and my days filled with the work she left for me to do, but I did not want to try and explain that to the first person who asked each day, let alone the sixth.

And then people stopped asking, and we drifted into November. That was almost worse, because it felt like the world was too rapidly spinning away from the last time I held Mom's hand. I stopped crying, and started working more, and then started crying again when I realized November 11 had slipped by without my notice. Ironic, to forget the two month mark on Remembrance Day. That wasn't possible on October 11 and December 11, as the date was remembered internationally. The reasons may be different, but it all means the same to me: my mom is gone. That emptiness is like nothing else.

As I look ahead to the spring, I hope for the symbolic feeling of re-birth to grace my life. I'm going back to school in January, after a break this fall to deal with everything that needed me more urgently than my studies. But now that I have a routine with the magazine and the tea, I can fit a couple of classes into my schedule and I am excited about getting back to my life.

I hope you all had a celebration that gave you some happiness in December, the darkest month of the year. Even in times of struggle and despair, the healing properties of family and laughter are indisputable. I leave you with Mom's favourite poem, the Serenity Prayer.

The Serenity Prayer

by Reinhold Neibuhr

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;

Enjoying one moment at a time;

Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace.

Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it.

Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will;

That I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.


~ Rebecca Young, owner of The Compleat Mother Magazine




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