The Caged Girls: How to Grow Wings.

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Part Seven of The Caged Girls: How to Grow Wings (Chapters 20 through 24).


Chapter 20

I’ve never been happier in my life, than when I was pregnant with you.

This doesn’t mean that my life was perfect.

I had difficult people running in and out, under the guise of challenging me to grow. I struggled to earn a reputation as not just a good yoga teacher, but a great one. I wasn’t rolling in money and our bathroom toilet frequently backed up—the only one in the house, mind you.

Yes, I had morning sickness—or, more accurately, all-day sickness—making the frequent joke that this term must have been made up by a man.

I taught classes at six in the morning, went back to teach at noon, sometimes subbed in between and then regularly subbed in the evenings. In short, I worked a lot and life wasn’t faultless—but, still, I know without a shadow of shaky idealistic doubt that I was positively the happiest I’ve ever been, when I was pregnant with you.

But then life doesn’t always happen according to plan.

Struggles that seem like they’ll break you rise and shine and start each new day and you watch the man you love more than anyone in this world—besides you, my dear child—dissolve into fits of anguish.

I had forgotten entirely what it felt like to be a shell of a woman.

I’d let go of that eating disordered girl years before—just turned my back on her and walked away. However, it wasn’t until I’d hit the largest obstacle of my life to date—without resorting to anorexia—that I knew I was truly healed, and I learned another lesson, too: that turning your back on something and letting it go are two entirely different things.


(P.S. That’s me at five months pregnant with you.)


Chapter 21

Hot tears stream down your temples.

They run in a quiet yet small stream that remind you of riverbeds made of black Egyptian kohl eyeliner.

Your hot tears trickle onto your bed where you lie on your right side in the shape of an L, bent at your hip creases.

You are letting go.

You tell people that you are not a crier. You know that this only partially true and that we all cry, some of us just more—or less—willingly than others.

Ironically, you also consider yourself a fragile human being, but this fragility has encouraged you to move through your life with a nicely-built, thick shell—a shell that you falsely think is impenetrable to outside attack.

And you know that you are quite vulnerable in reality. Over time, you’ve encouraged yourself to drop your mask—watching it shatter and crack into fragments—only occasionally gluing it haplessly back together to don it once more.

You wear a mask of ego, of confidence and of an easy social butterfly—and sometimes you are these things—it’s not a mask, it’s the real you.

Your eyes are clamped shut and you hear a rustling at the edge of your bed where you still lie sideways in an L.

The soft whisper, whisper of movement is your tiny daughter as she comes in gracefully—delicately—to wave bye-bye to you before Daddy takes her to pre-school. The tears fall harder—now less of a quiet stream and more of a gathering storm.

You hear your husband in the kitchen, moving quickly and capably, to fill your last-minute request of child prep and school drop-off because your headache makes you feel that you cannot face the muted light of the cloudy day, much less the bright faces of other children and their bustling parents.

You’re thankful; thankful for a man who so lovingly steps in and for a daughter who, with your eyes re-closed, you feel gingerly brushing your hair for you—it’s a loving gesture from one female to another, even though one is only a girl of barely three.

You’re grateful for—no, mesmerized by—the old soul that inhabits a body of such miniature proportions.

She hugs you gently, and looks deeply into your wet eyes as she pulls away. She smiles and runs after her Daddy as he opens the front door.

The door shuts and you let your tears fall heavily onto your turquoise quilt.

This is the anatomy of letting go.

You saw your massage therapist yesterday and she released a spot underneath your shoulder-blade that you’re not sure has ever known relaxation—it’s uncomfortably close to your heart.

You drift into such a state of peacefulness that your skilled therapist notes your tranquility out loud. She tells you tostay there, so you do.

You observe later that the release has moved up from your shoulders—from the back of your heart—and into your throat.

Your throat becomes irritated and you lose your voice, much to the disappointment of your duet-loving daughter.

Still, you recognize that release—that letting go—isn’t meant to be comfortable.

You’ve held onto these emotions so forcefully that your muscles have knotted in places and your jaw can’t help but clench in your sleep. You dream of crumbling teeth.

And you slept well last night—much better than usual despite your aggravated throat—and you woke with a headache so fierce that you thought you might throw up.

Your head pounds while the space behind the back of your heart is strangely calm and still relaxed.

Your voice is still gone and there’s an enormous pressure between your ears, but you know that this is simply your clung-too past leaving your aching body.

You clumsily find your phone and call your doctor, making an appointment that gives you just enough time for a hot shower.

You know that she’ll most likely tell you that you have another sinus infection—you’re almost positive—and, yet, it doesn’t matter because you know that this is simply how it feels to let go.

This is the anatomy of liberation.

You pat your dripping hair with a warm blue towel after turning off the shower. You throw on yoga clothes, not because you think you’ll practice in them today as normal, but because they—in their own funny way—are an armor of a different kind—one of health and wellness, of happiness and ease.

You know that your pounding headache won’t last forever, although it worsens when you bend over to tie your jogging shoes. You know that it won’t last forever because you’ve become both too tired and too strong to hold onto your suitcase of burdens anymore.

It’s now your turn to open the front door, and, looking over your shoulder at your daughter’s pint-sized pink and white table and matching chairs, you visualize her waving bye-bye and do the same, and though your hand doesn’t move, you are saying good-bye—and you know that you’ve just made space to carry what lies ahead.


Chapter 22

I sit stiffly at my old dining table.

I feel rigid.

My fingers are pale from the lack of winter sun kissing it and my nails are painted a rich, dark blue. My ruby ring—shaped like a slice of the moon—is large and heavy and it doesn’t turn while my fingers race across my laptop keyboard.

My skin is not only pale, but it’s dry from the lack of humidity in the air. Strangely, however, I’m not ready for the end of winter to come.

Others are counting down days, while we sit patiently or irritably within this Midwestern season of arctic cold and snow accumulation. Yet I feel as if this parched season of chilliness settles perfectly into the stillness—the tiredness—of my bones.

My fingers move more cautiously than normal. The words don’t want to come, because I don’t want to anchor into my beating, churning heart.

This morning my tiny lady and I drove to her music class and I purposefully—and unusually—left my sunglasses off. And it wasn’t just the several inches of white that had fallen and then stuck the night before, but the ironically dry road that reflected the sun so brightly that it reminded me of an ocean—a sea of blinding yellow-peach light that felt like I was driving my little silver Volkswagen into a strange morning dream and not towards a shore of store fronts and rush hour traffic.

What hit me most about that gorgeous wash of early sunlight on the street was that I felt like it was washing me. 

A euphoric calm penetrated my depths, as I sat on my heated car seat with my hands at ten and two o’clock. My daughter was quiet in the backseat, looking out the window.

And as I’m driving and this sensation is beginning to approach me on a conscious level, I recognize that the song playing through my car stereo has the refrain “big hard sun.”

I listen, I drive and I feel like everything will be okay, even though mentally and externally it seems that life is not coming together the way I have falsely—rigidly—designed.

We pulled into our destination—a muck and slush-covered parking lot next to the music building—and the tranquility dropped away, but I held onto that indescribable internal stabilizing and settling as the day wore on; as I eventually put on my sunglasses; as I drove home with a different song playing in the background—and as my emotions became more and more turbulent.


 Chapter 23.

The family heirloom ring that I wear most days on my right fourth finger twists and turns as I type. The words do not want to come out.

Normally they burst forth with such a wave of passionate explosion that I can’t contain them, even when I sincerely give effort to doing so.

My right hand hovers above the laptop keyboard, moving quite a lot even though I’m willing it to hold it still.

Nerves are a funny thing.


I’ve been up since three a.m.

I awoke next to my daughter in pink princess sheets—her breath softly filling up my inhales; her delicate sleep sighs making me quake with love. I tip toe out of her room; shutting the door quietly but it still creaks into place anyway. I move methodically through making myself coffee; opening up the laptop.

I realize fairly early on that I don’t want to write about feeling this way because how do you describe anxiety as anything besides its unpleasant play of tangled emotions, sitting in the base of your stomach, making you want to vomit before you’ve had anything to eat or drink.

It hits me suddenly that this one person is my home; that this one, fragile human life has been my home base.

And how do you tell someone, in their tender earthbound skin, that they are your gravity; your weight; your lifeblood? How do you make enough homemade chicken soup to soothe an always breaking and repairing human soul? How can words not fail—despite all of their glory and aspiration—to convey something as unlimited, as unquenchable and as indefinable as love when their own shapes have beginning strokes and ends?


We tell people that it will be okay and that all things work out for a reason, but is this really true? Or are we just filling the uncomfortable space of the uncertainty of life with our flat and hollow mortal words?

I will not pour emptiness into the space just to watch it fill up.

But then I find myself shyly whispering it’s going to be okay.

Because, as it turns out, I’m not filling space with shallow words—I’m filling up another’s heart with love from my own.


Chapter 24.

We hold feelings and experiences in the tissues of our bodies—this is another belief and reality of a yoga practitioner.

I don’t doubt this because I observe the way I clench my jaw, my abdomen, and how I grip throughout my hips when I’m stressed or anxious.

Our hearts and our emotional beings are intrinsically connected with our physical selves.

I notice that I can work so hard to mentally get myself out of a bad mood or an intellectual funk and then I get onto my mat and flow and breathe and be and it just disappears all by itself, by working my muscles in and out of yoga poses.

And as an extremely sensitive, empathetic person, my yoga practice has played a crucial role in my self-love and my willingness to want to get out of my cage—to want to grow up into a strong, whole woman instead of living as a broken little girl.

But that’s the strange thing about healing and about love—we don’t always want to get well.

We don’t always want to be whole. It can be much easier living as a hollow, breakable individual because we’re not filled up with the gooey, mushy, penetrable parts of us that are never immune from pain; from hurt.

And the anorexic attempts to break herself first—a preemptive strike; a self-defense.

It doesn’t work.

Instead, she lives in a constantly broken state of pain and every small, inevitable blow of life comes crashing down with full-force blunt trauma that has the speed and power to cripplingly wound rather than temporarily disable.

What begins as self-salvation from a terror too large for her to handle turns into her Achilles’ heel; making everything that comes her way nearly impossible to manage.

She digs herself into her own grave, even though that was never her intention. Rather, her aim was to set herself free—to fly high above her worries and her sorrows—but now she has nowhere to go but down, down, down or up at a nearly vertical angle.

So what does she do?

Does she keep burying herself?

Or does she grow wings, so that she can finally fly, as she’d originally tried to do, but in vain.



Photo credits: Author’s own; Arwen Abenstern – KWP/Flickr.

8 thoughts on “The Caged Girls: How to Grow Wings.

  1. Jennifer,

    Your words are like a stream of consciousness of my own mind! These 24 chapters have taken my breath away. I am currently in recovery from an eating disorder and yoga has been essential to my healing. Hearing the stories of others is always healing as well, especially when they come from another mother and yogi. Thank you so much for your beautiful writing. I can’t wait to read more.


    1. Britt, your words have fueled my heart all week.

      You completely get my style. You get my content. You shared such inspiring and uplifting words back with me and I cannot find the proper ones to thank you in return.


      1. I am so happy to hear this, Jennifer! I am just thrilled that I came across your work. I think you may have mentioned that you are in Ohio, but maybe it was just that you are in the midwest. I know you are recovered, but we are hosting an amazing event In Findlay in March called Yoga, Food & Body Image if you would have any interest in joining us. You can get the details at

        Have a wonderful weekend,

        1. Oh that isn’t far from my old stomping grounds! I’m a few hours away and I have rare, rare plans in March, but I’ll check out the dates! Thank you! Keep me posted on things like this! xo

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