Ever since I was a child I have admired tattoos while finding them scary and thinking the people sporting such body art were a combination of confident bad-asses who were insecure about their body and felt the need to modify it. It was confusing. For a long time I thought only a certain type of person would do that to their body and it wasn’t a “good” kind of person either. Through my parents I knew a few adults that had tattoos and they were really nice but had scary stories of how their lives used to be, the ink etched into their skin a reminder of a past life steeped in drugs, crime, and general roughness. Their tales served as a warning to me and tattoos served as the neon signs to be sure I would always be aware of the permanent pain such choices could cause.
But secretly, I really, really wanted a tattoo.
I wasn’t sure what or where, just that the idea of a lasting piece of art on my body was intriguing and I began to dream of what I would get if I ever was brave enough to do so.
Thankfully, as an adult my perception of tattoos and the people that have them changed. That, and I stopped judging people so much and just got to know them, letting them and their stories speak for themselves. As I heard more and more stories of meaningful tattoos I knew that some day I would find the right piece to visually illustrate an important part of my life story directly on my body. For me personally, I knew that any permanent ink would have to be full of personal meaning, significant enough already in my heart to deserve a forever place externally. After becoming a mother, I knew it would somehow be related to the lasting change that motherhood wrought within me.
I am far more than a mother and not defined solely as such but motherhood has had a profound impact on me and shaped me in life altering ways. Beautiful, challenging, life altering ways. The path has been full of difficulties and high points, always worth any pain and suffering along the way. And for me, this was the case from the very start. With horrible pregnancies plagued by Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG), my initial journey into motherhood included some overwhelming physical suffering of severe dehydration from constant vomiting (I would stop counting how many times I threw up in a day when I reached the same number of times I was old, I was easily vomiting over 30 times a day), multiple veins infected from IV lines that blew, internal organs failing, and dropping down to 83 pounds by the time I was 5 months pregnant.
And yes, I’m crazy enough to do this 6 times. Because that was the right motherhood journey for me.
My pregnancy with our youngest, now 2 year old Sugarbaby, was my best pregnancy in large part because I agreed to a PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) line at 16 weeks gestation. Inserted in my right arm just above my elbow crease on my inner arm, I had a tube that snaked through a peripheral vein to my heart to daily administer fluids for hydration, medicine, and vitamins. While this wasn’t my first PICC, it was my longest lasting one from 16-34 weeks gestation. Not surprisingly, the insertion site scarred and though the scar was subtle on the inside of my arm and almost nobody could see it, when I looked down at my arm the scar reminded me of an angry face. I had a love/hate relationship with my PICC, I hated that I needed it but I loved that it helped me grow my baby. I had gratitude for my PICC and the subsequent scar as well as a feeling of sadness at the memories of pregnancies robbed of the joy growing a baby should bring replaced by a struggle to survive. The problem was, the scar wasn’t the whole story. It claimed a spot on my body without any explanation. The angry face I saw wasn’t all there was and though I could look at my children for all the reminders I needed of the beauty that grew from that scar, I wanted to reclaim the space. On my terms with great meaning to me personally, I wanted to permanently turn that space into a symbol of what that scar really means.
For it is from that spot that I found strength to stretch and grow. Like a tree growing by a stream, I flourished and my baby did to. That scar reminded me not only of the suffering and struggles to grow all of my babies, but of the triumph and surviving spirit my family has. When you just look at the HG, I’m crazy to have gone through it more than once but when I look at my family, like my scar, I know there is so much more beauty than HG can explain. Still, there was a lot of grief, hurt, and suffering associated with that scar. It represented so much more than the line that was in my body, it also reminded me of how my body was too weak to grow my babies without that help. A reminder of my failure and triumph.
I wanted a tree to grow from my scar. A tree with beautiful, strong roots and limbs that stretched up in strength and celebration. A symbol of the beauty and strength I found I had within me revealed by my motherhood journey. And from that tree, 6 birds taking flight representing my 6 girls. Roots to anchor them and wings so they can fly. This is our story. Picturing it was healing, thinking through the meaning and symbolism was motivating, how much more would the actual piece encourage me?
For two years I dreamed about what this spot on my arm would eventually look like with a tattoo that symbolized all this. When I shared my vision with Laney Kolker at a MommyCon event, she encouraged me to see it through and even went a step further asking her husband to help me realize this dream. Thanks to their gift, two weeks ago it finally happened. Laney’s husband, Colin, listened to what it was I wanted, looked through artwork I found inspiring, and designed me a custom piece that perfectly captures the feel and meaning I wanted it to have.
I love it.
The actual process hurt some, not as much as I expected most of the time and way more than I expected in some spots. But it was worth it. There’s no way I’d compare it to child birth, a very different kind of sensation, but I will say that like childbirth, focusing on the end result helped me manage the pain. It was significantly less painful than repeated IV placement attempts. Way beyond the physical experience though, I was caught by surprise by how much getting this done really meant to me. After celebrating, admiring my new tattoo in the mirror, and showing off the finished work to my friends in the shop, I burst into tears when I looked down at my arm. As Jeremy held me and I cried, relief that now I saw a new scar, one that was a symbolic reminder of the beauty I’ve enjoyed even through the hardships of my motherhood path, overwhelmed me. Through the pain, I found healing from the grief I’ve felt over my horrible pregnancies and joy washed over me at my own strength and the strength of my family and the certainty that God has given me all I need to be the mother our girls deserve. A tree planted by a stream of water.
I’m not the only one that loves my new ink, all of our girls and Jeremy regularly comment on how much they enjoy it. When Sugarbaby nurses, she traces the lines and looks for the birdies. Like our girls, the birds are in 2 groups of three, the older girls and the younger girls. At this point I’m not planning on having the design filled in with color, I love the simplicity and contrast of the line work on my skin. And it’s important to me that the scar is still visible.
Like a tree I am still growing as a person, as a mother but I am well anchored in my family even as my children spread their wings and fly.
Head over to The Leaky Boob for information on getting tattoos while breastfeeding AND a giveaway from Motherlove Herbal for their Tattoo Care which is what I used as my ink healed as well as a giveaway from Chroma Collective Tattoo just outside of Denver, Colorado for a 2 hour tattoo sitting with the same artist that did my piece.