In summer, all of life answers the call of the sun. Reaching, growing, expanding. All answering the urge to become the fullest expression of one’s being. And then... there comes a moment when the pendulum hangs in the air. The pause between breaths. Golden stillpoint. All is ripe, complete. The Golden Autumn, just before giving way to Darkening Autumn, Eldritch Autumn. Electric blue sky. Whispering of golden leaves. The call of a hawk high overhead. Sitting outside on a day like this, I feel the stillness, the fullness and richness that comes from a season’s work well done. The moment is so… pregnant. And then - suddenly, silently - one golden leaf drops.
In the last days of pregnancy, this double voice can be heard, if we allow ourselves to listen. Culturally, our focus is all on the joyful firsts… seeing, holding and feeding the baby for the first time. Baby’s first smile, first rolling over. And these things are indeed magical and to be cherished to the fullest. However, if we fail to acknowledge the entirety of the experience of becoming a mother, including that autumnal awareness that some things - important things - are coming to an end, we not only fail to prepare properly for this new stage of life (and, I would say, increase the likelihood of postpartum depression), but we miss out on this exquisite paradox.
Two major things that come to an end with childbirth are the maiden self and the state of pregnancy. Some women enjoy being pregnant and others do not. The experience of being pregnant certainly can be fraught with discomfort, uncertainty, and intense emotions. However easy or difficult one’s pregnancy, it is indeed a special state experienced perhaps once or several times during a lifetime. It is common to become impatient as the due date approaches, wanting to meet this new little person and wanting relief from pregnancy discomforts (in fact, the Spanish expression for “When are you due?” is “¿Cuándo te alivias?” or “When will you be relieved?”) To be sure, there is a collective sigh of relief whenever a baby finally makes her appearance.
I invite you to take some time to enter into the stillness and rich fullness of your last moments of pregnancy. Feel your heartbeat and his, the Original Song. Cherish one more time that odd, unique feeling of arms and legs moving within you. Reflect on nine-months’ work well-done. All is ripe, complete. Never again will you hold your child this close. Never again will your baby’s needs be met so perfectly and continuously. Soon, very soon, that first golden leaf will drop. Your baby begins her own path. Soon, too soon, you will learn the work of mothering, the work of letting go. Allow yourself to feel all of this. Honor all of this. And then open your arms to embrace the joyous adventure that is just around the corner.
Parents are continually trying to explain to people without children that having a child changes everything. It is difficult for them to explain what they mean and impossible for those who haven’t experienced it to understand. For women, there is an archetypal shift that occurs: from Maiden to Mother. To help my students reflect on what this change means in their own lives, I give them a drawing of a tree and a seedling. There are roots and footsteps leading toward the tree. Here I have them write where they have come from - the strengths and challenges that they bring, and that have brought them, to this journey. Half of the tree is in summer and half in autumn. On the summer side, I invite them to write words that represent their independent, self-contained maiden self. On the autumn side, they write what they anticipate letting go of in order to become mothers. The seedling represents what they will gain and the ways in which they will grow through the experience of being a mother.
So as you sit in the darkness with your soon-to-be-born child, sit with your maiden self as well. Sit with the girl and woman that you have been and have become. Acknowledge her, honor her, laugh with her, cry with her, conspire with her. Feel the beauty tinged with sadness. Tell her you must leave her soon to start a new journey. Ask her to watch your back. You will meet again.
YOUR INNER GARDEN
Weeding is an activity that I enjoy, and also one that brings up inner conflict. I love the meditative focus of it. Getting down at root level, amongst a forest of plants, reignites the sense of wonder I felt as a child, exploring the garden from a bug’s eye view, noticing the tiniest details. But pulling up living, growing plants always makes me feel kind of bad. Reflecting on this conflict as I pull weeds each year has been good medicine for me. It teaches me that destruction is a necessary part of creation. Both are active in the feminine archetype. As I choose what to discard and envision what I will grow in its place, I am reminded that I can’t hold onto beliefs and dreams that I once had, or that others have for me, that are not relevant to what my soul is now creating.
When I moved to this house, the flower beds were empty. I innocently planted St. John’s Wort to fill in some of the space. I transplanted it from my previous house, where it was the only thing that would live (though it didn’t thrive) in the hard, un-nurturing soil of that place. Since then, I have been adding plants more consciously, with a certain vision in mind. Each spring I add plants, move them around as they grow and change shape, and remove some that no longer fit with my evolving plan. My never-ending task is removing St. John’s Wort, which threatens to take over. This is a great plant for filling in a space like, say, a freeway median. It does its job well. But it no longer works for me because I no longer want to simply fill space. I want to create the specific vision that I have in my mind. Still, as I rip it out by the roots, I think what a shame, this plant thrives here; it requires no care. And those big yellow flowers are kind of nice. Doesn’t matter! Allowing this plant to grow means negating what I am creating.
Weeding is a great time for thinking and connections between gardening and life sprout in my mind:
YOUR BIRTH STORY
Knowing that they will soon be raising another human being, many pregnant women feel an urgency to sort out their true beliefs and values. As they transition from Maiden (archetypically) to Mother, there are many issues to contemplate. Who do I depend on for information? On what do I base my decisions? How do I balance my needs and my child’s needs? What is my identity now? How has my relationship with my partner changed? How has my relationship with my parents changed? What is my relationship with my care providers? What do I need to do to be “good enough”? Where is my tribe? What is the cost of “leaving home”? How do I know these things?
Your birth story garden was planted long ago, when you were a young child. These plants are so familiar, so well-watered, that they grow effortlessly. But which ones are weeds? Which ones give you more personal freedom and which put limits on what you can be? As you prepare to give birth and be born as a mother, what vision is your soul creating and what weeds are competing for root space and sunlight?
By birth story, I don’t mean the unfolding of events of your birth, which are complex and ultimately outside of anyone’s control. I’m referring to the meaning that you assign these events - the story that you create and the way it is experienced each time you tell it, each time it is listened to. Often there is a part of the story that is like a revolving door that you can’t get out of.
What you tell yourself about the way you acted, the way others treated you, and the interventions that occurred are rooted in the seeds that were nurtured and watered throughout your life. When we are unaware that we have been watering certain seeds in our birth story garden, our story feels solid, unchanging, monolithic. If you observe any garden over time, you will see that this is not true.
By becoming aware of your birth story garden before giving birth, you have the opportunity to weed it - not to change the events of your birth, but to soften and gain more freedom around the way you experience those events. This is one of the reasons for making birth art in childbirth class. Fortunately, the garden continues to grow after the birth - and for years after - which means you always have the opportunity to cultivate the seeds of self-love and uproot what doesn’t serve the evolving vision of your soul.
I just came in from mowing my lawn (by which I mean dandelions) and mulling over this post. I feel I need to clarify that this post is not meant as a prescription for a positive birth or a how-to guide for healing emotional birth trauma. Rather, I hope that you do your own exploration of the metaphors that resonate with you as you pursue your own creative seeking within. Happy hunting.
Christy is a doula and Birthing From Within childbirth mentor committed to strengthening families and communities through storytelling/storylistening, meaningful celebration, mindfulness, and reflective work.