lessons from labor

near the end of September 2016 i gave birth to a little girl. a baby. a child. and on that day, through the hours of pushing and screaming and crying and sleeping, i was born with her.

we birthed each other on that day. she wouldn’t be born without me, nor i without her. it’s a relationship like i’ve never experienced. this symbiotic, perfect, little relationship that has been growing from seed to bud to blossom. the roots are deepening each day, each hour. each smile as we meet eyes across the room. each little chuckle and gurgle as we communicate through spit and sounds. through words that us adults have forgotten. when will google translate tackle baby talk? oh, but the magic would be lost then. i prefer the mystery of the wonder. when we don’t get lost in the meaning of words….

only recently have i started to sink into the reality that yes, we birthed each other on that day. we did this, together. through giving birth to her something was born in me, too. and i don’t mean me as mother was born. no. while yes, i technically became a mother on that day, the mother in me wasn’t hatched overnight. or over 3 nights, for that matter. it’s been a slow awakening, an even slower deepening and revealing.

what i write about now are the most poignant details of my labor and delivery. because, true to form, everything is metaphor.

push. then push some more.

when my water finally broke, i suddenly felt the intense urge to start pushing. it happened unexpectedly and quickly and there was no questioning what i was experiencing. my doula, Sierra, encouraged me to go with what my body was telling me to do. so i pushed. for 3.5 hours. at one point, my midwife, Sarah, told me that i would have to keep pushing after my body stopped giving me the signal to push. that was hard to hear. i thought my eyes were literally going to explode. but i did it.

this was important to me, especially upon reflection, because we often talk about listening to our bodies and only doing what our bodies want to do. to a certain degree, and in certain cases, yes, that’s true. but sometimes we do have to push ourselves beyond our perceived limitations, beyond the signal to stop. this is true whether we’re laboring a real or metaphorical baby. it’s the ego that uses this “only do what your body is saying yes to” as fuel for resistance. because i can tell you i was not eagerly wanting to force myself to push, probably because i didn’t think i could do it. and there’s the gold: the “i don’t want to” or “i don’t feel like it” is really, “i’m scared and doubtful in my ability.” that glorious soft underbelly known as vulnerability.

waiting and doing: a dance

so, while Sarah was encouraging me to push, and then push some more, she was also patient as my body revved up to push again. i would push, and then push some more, and then wait. there was nothing i could do, and sometimes i wondered if the urge to push would even come back. but, we all waited. sometimes i fell asleep (Sarah and Sierra were full supporters of this, the body being the strange wonder that it is). sometimes i just laid there, wondering, waiting. and sure enough, i could feel it as one can watch a wave rolling in to shore. the slow build up, that little inkling of something on the horizon. and i was fully in it again. this dance continued: push and wait. push and wait. it was one of the biggest lessons from labor – there’s a time to push and a time to wait.

in the waiting is the trusting. it’s a total surrender. to not know when the next urge will come. or the next heart opening. or the next cry. if i had pushed when i didn’t feel the urge to push, i may have done more damage. or worn myself out completely. or who knows what. it could have gone just fine. but, that wasn’t my way. i had to wait for my body to give me something to work with, but once that ball was rolling, only then could i push it a few feet further. it was the most beautiful dance of masculine and feminine. doing and being.

it’s all about choice. even when you think there isn’t one.

after it was all said and done, one of the nurses said, “you were so in control.” to which i responded, “i’m glad i have experience with meditation.” really, i think meditation got me through with most of my sanity intact. (thank you Susan Piver!) i was able to direct my attention on to something that helped my mind not go completely bonkers. sometimes it was on my breath, mostly it was on counting through the contractions. but, the ability to focus attention truly is a superpower. when i could have shut down completely out of fear i was able (though not each time, not going for perfection here) to choose to lean in.

i talk about meditation here because in these moments i could have easily chosen to focus on how scared i was (meditation has taught me otherwise, hence the connection between meditation and choice). how much i didn’t want to feel the pain. how i wanted to run from it. how doubtful i was i could even go through it. of course i voiced all of this, somewhat reluctantly (my own issues were surely present with me, too – didn’t want to scare anyone else by saying i was doubtful about going through labor while in labor), but at various moments i clearly remember stepping into my strength when most of me wanted to shrink into the bed.

and so, i say this to myself and to anyone else terrified about change: it’s okay to be scared. it’s okay to not know if you can do it. because you’ve never done it before. you don’t have to know how it’s going to play out (this was another big lesson from labor). in fact, there is no way to know how it’s going to play out.

life is a beautiful evolution. the future is something we live into one day, one minute, one breath at a time. we are stronger than we think and softer than we acknowledge….all worthy of love just the same.

nature as guide

IMG_0804over the years, as i have continued to traverse through more and more transitions, i’ve found the one thing that always works to bring me back to center: Nature. while there are other resources that bring me relief and peace and guidance, nothing speaks directly to my soul the way Nature does. when I’m lost in the storms of change i can rest in the arms of Mother Earth, knowing she’s supporting me, my lighthouse in the hurricane, always with a sense that whatever is happening is happening just as it should, as it must.

when i’m stuck in a place, whether it’s a place of confusion or grief or despair, when i can eventually drop the story and connect with Nature’s energy i’m able to grasp something much bigger than whatever is happening in my tiny bubble. i can see, almost viscerally feel, that the strife and pain and hurt is just a part of the package. there’s a sense that yes, life is difficult, yet so, so beautiful in it’s challenges all at once. this is what i hear, “look what we go through in order to survive, to thrive. look beyond the stuff of the human world and watch the trees moving in the wind, recognizing that some have become casualties to a force stronger than their roots. look how green the grass is after a good rain.” the beauty and the pain hold hands.

lately i’ve been pondering Nature and all its wisdom. what has bubbled up are these 5 teachings that have been helpful little reminders:

1. The wind is no compass (we can’t follow our feelings)

*If we were to use the wind as a compass we’d be lost who-knows-where. The wind can’t guide us; it can inform us of what’s happening on the planet, in our worlds. The wind helps us know what’s going on, but it’s always changing. The wind (our feelings) provides information, but the wind (our feelings) will never be a reliable compass.

2. The weather is all over the place during seasons of transitions (change is messy)

*Transitions are messy. When winter shifts to spring, one day it’s warm, the next it’s snowing. Some days consist of rain, then snow, then it’s suddenly sunny and then warmer at night than it was in the afternoon. The weather is messy, and we expect it to be. This is true for our inner transitions, too, and we need to expect the same mess that we tolerate (however begrudgingly) with the weather. Some days are going to be better than others and some are going to a whole complicated mess. Such is the nature of transition, of life. When we can see it for what it is – that things are just shifting and recalibrating – we can soften to the experience and allow change to happen.

3. A frozen ground thaws (our hearts naturally open after closing)

*The Earth freezes because the Earth freezes; it’s just what happens. But when it does eventually thaw, as it always will in time and with patience, we find life. Flowers bloom, insects and earth creatures make their way through the soil. The same is true with our hearts. We go through periods of being frozen, closed. But when we eventually thaw and reopen, we find what comes out is what’s been there all along, just waiting.

4. Change is happening, even when we can’t see it (trust the process)

*When flower bulbs are planted, the Earth is different than it was before the addition of the bulbs. Something has been added, and yet there are no visible signs of change on the surface. Before it even reaches the light of day, the seed breaks open, moving toward the sun until it eventually breaks ground. This is how it works for us, too, when our inner landscapes are changing. Seeds (little inklings of new thought patterns, beliefs, habits, etc.) are planted deep into our psyche. Nothing on the outside is different, yet there’s something new present, something that wasn’t there before. In time, what’s been planted will grow. What’s been present for much longer in the deeper, hidden layers will bloom on the surface.

5. Dress for the weather (wishing for things to be different than they are is what creates suffering, not the situation itself)

*Fighting against what we can’t change creates suffering. So often people wish for heat when it’s snowing, wish for sun when it’s raining. We complain. Moan and groan about how we want things to be different. Yet all the complaining in the world won’t part the clouds. All it’s good for us making us miserable. The weather will do what it does; it’s how we adapt that makes all the difference. The same is true for our inner worlds. When something is off inside we can either try to will it away or put on our metaphorical raincoat and welcome the downpour, maybe even, eventually, dancing in the rain. Instead of willing our thoughts and feelings away we learn to be with them, trusting that, like any weather system, our moods will eventually shift. Misery is born from fighting what is.

to know that life, Mother Earth, is supporting us no matter what, that She goes through much of the same as we do, i hope provides some relief. she’s not always the most gentle in her teachings (hurricanes, tornadoes, etc), but she’s always wise. it’s easy to feel lost in this crazy world, but when we can find that ever-present wisdom available to us at any moment, we can rest knowing we’re not doing this thing called life all alone. for me it’s Nature, for you it might be something different. either way, this wisdom that lives within and around you is probably much closer to the surface than you might believe.