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.
“Studies from Australia,Belgium, China, France, Saudi Arabia, the U.K. and the U.S. concur: when expectations match experience, that’s the single the most important factor in a woman’s ability to emotionally integrate the reality of childbirth. It’s not, as you might expect, about how painful labor was,” writes Ananda Lowe in “What To Expect When You’re Birthing At Home: A Hospital C-Section (Possibly)” http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2015/03/what-to-expect-when-youre-birthing-at-home-a-c-section-possibly)
Every woman has expectations for her birth - a unique dream of her ideal experience. And yet, the one thing that can be counted on in childbirth is that it will unfold in unexpected ways. So how can a woman prepare for childbirth in a way that reduces emotional trauma if there is no way to know if her expectations will, in fact, match her experience? You can prepare yourself for this profound experience by exploring your expectations; cultivating skills for finding your way in unfamiliar terrain; and creating a story map that allows for meaningful interpretation of the events of your birth.
Are your expectations limiting you?
Look deeply into your expectations
Be curious. How do you know to have these expectations? What stories have you heard, from infancy to adulthood, that have helped form them? What does it mean about you, as a woman, as a mother, as a person, to have or avoid certain experiences? What problem do your choices solve for you? By asking yourself these types of questions, you begin to hone in on what really matters most to you and why. When you bring awareness to your thought patterns, you get to choose what is working for you and what is not. As you uncover the layers of your expectations, you may find that they are less about specific details and more about the way you want to feel about your birth, your relationships, and yourself. You can explore these feelings and the different ways that they can be achieved.
Unearth your Agreements
Beginning in infancy, we form agreements with ourselves about what we need to do and be in order to be loved/worthy/okay. Unexamined, these agreements feel like matters of life or death because as infants our survival absolutely depended on our being lovable. Even as adults, we are social beings that need to live in community in order to survive. While we remain unaware of our agreements, we don’t get to choose if they are really working for us or not. In order to bring awareness to your agreements, keep an eye out for conditional statements about your birth - “It will be a good birth IF…” “I am a good mom AS LONG AS…” “I am a strong woman IF…” or “Women in labor SHOULD…” Pay attention to the way these statements feel in your body. Do they feel expansive or limiting? How will they affect your body in labor - will they support you or hold you back?
Now you have taken an inventory of your agreements. Perhaps you have let some of them go and decided to keep others because they are good guides for your everyday life. But we are not talking about everyday life. We are talking about a rite of passage that transcends the everyday. The pathways of birth take you to another reality, an underworld, an otherworld, a sacred space (meaning a safe space set aside for a special purpose). Laborland is a realm where everyday agreements do not apply. Agreements such as: be modest, stay in control, be logical, take care of others, be nice… Think about what it will feel like to drop your agreements one by one, like layers of clothing as weather heats up. Which ones will be hardest to relinquish? Acknowledge that it may be extremely difficult or it may be ecstatically freeing. Recognizing this shedding of agreements as a necessary part of your rite of passage will help you integrate the experience afterward. Remember, too, that you will have the opportunity to reclaim each of them during your journey home from Laborland.
Prepare yourself for the unknown
Practice Not Knowing
You know that the only thing you can expect is the unexpected. So how do you prepare when you don’t know what you’re preparing for? We generally avoid experiences in which we don’t know what to do. We want to get it right. One way to prepare is to consciously put yourself in situations where you don’t know what to do. Feel your way through it. Be curious about your mind’s and body’s responses. Journal about it. This is an experiment, not a judgment.
Making art is a powerful way to prepare for the Not Knowing of birth. The more you practice making art, the more you learn the feeling of not knowing what to do and doing something anyway. There are many interesting thought patterns (or “Dragons” as process painting pioneer Michele Cassou calls them) that try to get in your way when you make art. The Dragon of Getting It Right can be a powerful one. Just wait for it. You will get to a place where you actually kind of like what you’re drawing and you become paralyzed because you don’t want to mess it up. Ask yourself: What if it were okay to mess this up? Or you drew something that you think is ugly or embarrassing or dumb or otherwise too revealing and you want to cover it up. Ask yourself: What if this needed to be here for reasons I don’t yet understand? What if I trusted the process? What if I let this part of me be seen? This is childbirth preparation. Not knowing what to do and doing something anyway. Being in completely new territory. Surprising yourself.
A zen proverb states that "To live without sufficiently powerful questions is to be unarmed in the thick of battle. And these cannot be another’s questions, but those which arise from your own tacit experience. It is a sad thing to rely on another’s question." In ancient and modern lore, laboring women have been likened to warriors. Preparing for childbirth, then, is an important time to formulate your powerful questions and to practice asking them. A Deepest Question, Living Question, or Warrior Question always leads to action. It helps you know what to do when you don’t know what to do.
Take a moment to jot down some questions you have about yourself in labor. Now look at these questions and cross out any that can be answered by someone other than yourself. These are Getting It Right questions. Your Deepest Question can only be answered by you. Have any questions left? If not, list a few more that come to mind.
Now, if any of these are yes/no questions, go ahead and erase them. Yes/no questions are dependent upon your mood and lead to uncertainty, not action. For instance, “Am I strong enough?” or “Is this the right choice?” Notice how these questions feel in your body. You don’t want to ask these in the heat of battle.
Finally, make sure your question is in the present tense. Instead of, “How will I listen to my inner voice?”, try “How am I listening to my inner voice in this moment?” It’s this present tense that makes it a Living Question. A Warrior Question. It becomes a question that you can ask yourself at any time. Ask it right now. Feel it. It doesn’t just apply to yourself in childbirth, but to yourself in your life. Right here. Right now. Keep playing with your question until you find one that strikes a chord. You may choose to begin with an intention that is strong within you and transform it into a question. For example, if you have an intention to act out of love rather than fear, you might ask yourself, “How am I acting out of love rather than fear in this moment?” Be curious. What effect does the asking of this question have on you? How will frequently asking your question prepare you for the unexpected?
Create an Soulful Story Map
A Hero’s Story
Humans are natural storytellers. Our brains seem to automatically take any information or experience and put it in the form of a story. Story is our way of making sense of reality. Another way to explain the emotional distress that can be caused by the mismatch between birth expectations and realities is to say that the “story map” that a woman brought into labor did not have the appropriate slots, or receptors, for the experience to plug into. Certain things that happened during the birth have no place to settle. These events just spin around, wanting to fit into the story, but having no place. They cannot be integrated. This can be tremendously unsettling.
Even though the specific events of birth will remain unknown and unexpected, if we view birth through the story map of the rite of passage or hero’s journey, we can expect certain elements and create a map in which these “slots” lie waiting to be filled. Indeed, Michael Meade writes that the soul expects to experience rites of passage in this life and when it senses that a rite of passage has begun, it expects to see it through to its conclusion. So, on a soul level, this story map has already been created. What can we do to bring it to a conscious level as well?
A rite of passage entails leaving behind your old life, crossing into the unknown, coping with ordeals, then returning to the world reborn with an opened heart to share your new gifts with your community. If you read any story of a hero’s journey (Innana’s Descent, Daughter of the Forest, Cupid and Psyche, Star Wars) you will notice these elements and others.
A few of these elements that I’d like to touch on here are Stripping Away Old Identities, Coping With Ordeals, Emotional Thresholds, and Empowerment. By expecting these elements ahead of time, you create space in your story map for the events of your birth to plug into. It doesn’t matter if your dream for your birth is a scheduled Cesarean, an epidural as soon as you arrive at the hospital, an ecstatic spiritual experience, or anything else - you can expect these elements and you will find them.
Expect to Lose Yourself
Giving birth is a significant event in the process of entering a new stage of life: Motherhood. In order to become something new, an old life must be left behind. In his description of the Hero’s Journey, Paul Rebillot writes that “The old forms must fall away so that the new form can emerge.” The intensity of birth seems designed to bring about this surrender of old identities and beliefs, yet it is sometimes this very experience that causes emotional trauma. This could occur when unwanted interventions are employed, when a woman loses her decision-making capacity, when she breaks her Agreements, or when she enters an altered state and surrenders to her body, to name just a few. A woman cannot prepare for these moments, in the sense of having control over them, for that would defeat their purpose, but she can create space in her story for this type of experience. What symbols can you come up with that represent this transition? What actions during labor might symbolize this shedding of old forms to make space for the new?
Expect to Do What Needs To Be Done
Women’s feelings about coping are often tangled up with their Agreements. In class, I ask women to see themselves coping at different levels of intensity during labor. Sometimes women will say they see themselves screaming or cursing and I ask them if that is a way of coping. They might giggle nervously and say, “no”. But when we talk about the meaning of “cope”, which is “to strive or contend with on equal terms”, we see that whatever gives them the strength to meet to force of labor with equal intensity is indeed coping. Screaming, cursing, even chanting “I can’t I can’t I can’t” may be what is needed in the moment. In her article on homebirth Cesareans, Ananda Lowe quotes Sue Burns, a mother who planned a homebirth but was transferred to the hospital and gave birth by Cesarean, as she talks about her emotional trauma as a result of the wide mismatch of her expectations and reality. After feeling invalidated so often by people offering their sympathy, she managed to find empathy for herself and reframe her experience as that of a hero coping with her ordeal:
“I finally was able to say those things to myself. I labored at home for a ridiculously long time. I endured. I had stamina and an unbelievably high pain tolerance. And then I did the thing I most didn’t want to do: I went to the hospital. I was brave enough to let someone cut me open and have major abdominal surgery AWAKE! so that I could be her mother. I am a warrior.”
This mother broke her Agreements, did what she most did not want to do, and that was her act of heroism. As a part of your hero’s journey, expect to do whatever needs to be done to contend with the intensity of birth on equal terms.
Expect to Cross Many Emotional Thresholds
A rite of passage entails crossing the threshold into the unknown and Laborland is unfamiliar terrain. A story map will help you recognize the landmarks of this terrain even though you don’t know when or where they will be or what form they will take. Somewhere along the journey you will cross other thresholds. These thresholds may include confusion, fear, and self-doubt, as well as joy, love, determination and mystery. It’s important for the laboring mother and her companions to recognize that these are normal emotions of birth and to view these as milestones, doorways to be passed through, rather than something to be avoided or minimized. In this way they space can be created for the events of birth, facilitating their integration postpartum.
The Empowerment Comes Later
The term “empowering” is frequently used to describe an ideal birth. Childbirth has the potential to be an incredibly empowering and transformative experience. It’s important to note, however, that the empowerment does not occur during the ordeal, but after, during the long journey back home, in which the experiences are integrated, the story unraveled and re-woven, the true gifts realized. There’s no set time limit on this. Your story continues. You may have felt empowered during birth, you may have felt helpless and afraid, probably you felt some of both, and a lot of other things as well. Regardless of the way your birth unfolded, you never lose the opportunity to weave your story, ask Warrior Questions, re-examine your Agreements, play with your Dragons.
Your story is sacred. Choose with care when and how to tell it. Honor it and ask it to teach you.
As we go about our daily lives, we inevitably lose parts of ourselves as well as pick up debris along the way. With a huge change such as becoming a mother, it can seem like large parts of our identity are lost and a lot of unwanted baggage can weigh us down, keeping us from being as present, patient, joyful and creative as we'd like to be in our parenting.
This simple meditation will support you in regaining the parts of yourself lost along the way and letting go of accumulated debris. I learned it from Lynn Andrews.
As you breathe in, call back to yourself all the pieces of yourself that have been left behind as you moved through your day. As you breathe out, release all of the things that are not you that have stuck to you throughout the day. Continue breathing in the lost parts of yourself and breathing out the accumulated debris. The Universe absorbs the debris and has the ability to transform it. Let it float away. Let the breathing in and breathing out be a breathing back-and-forth between you and the Universe. Breathing and being breathed. Welcome... Release. Embrace... Offer.
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Go ahead, try it now.
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How do you feel?
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Here is a story about reclaiming the lost pieces of yourself. I first read this story in Women Who Run With the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, and then the story was brought to life when I heard it told in person by Virginia Bobro.
La Loba is an ancient woman, a woman without age, who lives in the lonely desert hills. She makes her solitary home deep in one of these hills and spends her days, spends her nights, walking the desert, looking for bones. She gathers all kinds of bones: jack rabbit, snake, hawk, mouse... All bones are precious to her, but the bones closest to her heart, the ones she loves best, are wolf bones. When she uncovers a bone, when she chisels a bone from the dried mud of an arroyo, when she uncovers a bone from beneath a rock, when she carefully extracts a tiny bone from a pellet... she brings it back to her hollow hill home and places it on a table where piece-by-piece she reconstructs each skeleton. When at long last she places the final bone of a skeleton... she waits. She turns to her cooking pot, gives it a stir... turns to observe the skeleton a while... sweeps her floor... regards the bones... chops some wood... waits... waits... and when finally she knows the song, fully knows the song she will sing over the bones, she sings it. And as she sings, flesh begins to cover bones, blood courses through veins, fur grows thick. The wolf opens her eyes, springs to her feet, and runs. And if you happened to be in that lonely part of the desert on that particular day, you would have sworn you saw, laughing and howling with the wind, a wild and vibrant woman, running naked toward the woods.
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Here is something I wrote one afternoon in Mexico, watching the vultures wheel over the desert. I think it is a message to help us let go of what is no longer needed and to trust that it's just the beginning of a process that benefits all beings and becomes a gift to ourselves in surprising ways. When we talk about Birth as a Hero's Journey --Inanna's Journey-- this is a big part of it.
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The vultures follow the currents looking for the dead things and consuming them, leaving behind the bones to be gathered. One by one. La Loba does not gather the freshly dead carcasses... The animals- the vultures and buzzards, the insects, worms and bacteria, the Earth and the plants, all are nourished by the discarded flesh, while in turn cleaning the planet and nourishing others.
Once all of these have benefitted from what has been left behind, only then, only when the time is right, only then does la Loba seek them and do they reveal themselves to her. It is a slow, slow process... but a disciplined one, discipline without attachment to outcome. It is a lonely process, but for the presence of that which lives in the desert, which are many and silent and powerful and ancient. And tricky.
Always remember that your death will be thus. What you leave behind will be eaten, purified, will nourish the planet in untold ways and, in time, will be gathered, fragment by fragment, by She Who Knows and when the essence, the core, the structure, the bareness of what you let go of is once again connected, it will reveal its song to She Who Knows and, in singing that song, she will breathe a wild life into those bones and so it continues.
Lately I have changed the way I ask about women's birth experiences. Using a few simple questions that I learned from Pam England (birthpeeps.blogspot.com), I have learned the most amazing things about these women and about the power of birth. I ask women to tell me about one moment of their birth that stands out for them. It's important not to put your own preconceptions into the question (avoid asking for moments that were “beautiful”, “magical” or “empowering” etc.) Just ask for a moment that stands out and that she can picture in a single image or scene. As she is picturing this scene, ask her what she knew to be true about herself in that moment.
It seems like women rarely tell their birth stories to each other in a meaningful way. The casual birth story generally has one of two narratives: birth is horrible or birth is wonderful; and has the effect of dividing women. These stories also tend to be rather clinical, a chronology of medical events, rather than something experienced from within.
The next time you talk about birth with someone, ask them these two questions. Not only will you find out something surprising about her and about birth, but, most importantly, she may begin to view her birth, and herself as a woman and mother, in a new way. It may change the way she tells her birth story and be a very healing experience.
Little one, this food is for me, this food is for you, this food is for our birth... this food keeps me strong and healthy, these good fats feed my brain so I won't become too forgetful... this whole food keeps my blood sugar and blood pressure down... it helps the muscles of my uterus grow strong and well-coordinated and able to bring you into this world smoothly...
My child, as I eat this food, I strengthen my body so that I will be healthy and have lots of energy to care for you for many years, and to enjoy my time with you for many more. As I eat this food, I am laying the foundation for how I will feed you and how I will teach you.
This food builds a big, strong placenta, that miraculous organ created by us both to nourish you, give you oxygen and orchestrate this amazing process of gestation... baby, when you experience the challenges of birth, this strong placenta will ensure that you get plenty of oxygen... this food makes a thick, resilient umbilical cord... even if it gets twisted up during the journey of birth, it will keep you healthy and strong...
As I shop for food and prepare meals for your mother, I am feeding you with love, I am feeding her with love. By eating mindfully while your mother is pregnant, I am learning how to love and how to keep us all strong.
The flavors of my favorite foods are influencing your own tastes... when you are born, you will recognize the smell and the taste of this flavorful amniotic fluid, you will recognize it in the scent of my breasts... you will know you are home... this food is creating your idea of home...
Once you are born, and you get your nourishment from your mother's milk, I will contribute to the nutrition of that milk as I prepare good food for your mother to eat. In this way I will feed you with love. By eating mindfully while your mother is pregnant, I am learning to care for you when you are born.
Little one, this protein is forming the building blocks of your brain, your heart, you liver, your kidneys... determining how strong they will be FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE... This fat is building your brain and your nervous system... all of this good food is programming your metabolism FOR LIFE...
This seems like the heaviest of burdens, this responsibility weighs heavily on me... but I remember that many of the effects of my eating will not be seen in you, my child, but in my grandchildren... and so your health, little one, is also the result of how my mother ate when she was pregnant with me, and how my grandmother ate, and on and on in an unbroken chain of women, and those that loved and supported them, stretching back to my unknown ancestors... and in this way I am sharing in the creation of the future as I become one link among many in the heritage of unknown descendants... this is the amazing creative power of women!
My dearest, I confess, sometimes I eat marshmallows... sometimes I am so nauseous I can't eat any of the good things I should... I can't always afford organic food, the healthiest breads, the best oils... I sometimes have a difficult relationship with food... but when I eat marshmallows, I eat them mindfully, I enjoy it to the fullest, I share with you this bit of fun, a special treat... and I LOVE MYSELF, I love myself eating a marshmallow, I love myself eating broccoli.
I give myself a break because, like you, my metabolism was programmed in utero, my tastes were formed by my mother's eating habits, by what my father liked to eat, by the food I was fed as a child, by the stories and meanings that my family attached to food. So, while it may not be quite accurate to say that I choose what I eat, one thing is true: I choose to eat in awareness, I choose to connect with you as I eat, I choose to make eating an Act of Love.
Through eating-in-awareness, by bringing our love to the table, we strengthen our family, we strengthen our bond, we learn to take care of each other, we learn to love ourselves and each other unconditionally, through marshmallows and broccoli, through thick and thin. We are giving a gift to countless future generations.
distractions of daily life going on around you. When people are talking to you or when you are trying to take care of others or get things done, the left brain keeps getting re-activated, making it more difficult to go deeper and deeper into the forest. You can't prevent such distractions, but your practice can help you let go of them.
Eventually, there is no need to work so hard to stay in the right brain. The right brain takes over, she sinks completely into the primitive, Feminine realm and reaches a point of complete surrender, as when the woman steps into the boat and lets the waters take her. She surrenders to the power of birth and enters “Laborland”. She goes completely within and may be unaware of or uninterested in what is going on around her. She may be, however, very open to suggestion at this point, and the people around her should consider the impact of their words and emotions on her.
In the story, the man meets her in the Feminine and takes her to the Masculine realm, where he can protect her. During labor, let us consider everyone besides the mother as inhabiting the Masculine realm. She alone is immersed in the trance-like, primitive state of Laborland. No one can fully understand what she is experiencing, and she can't tell them. During labor women cannot express themselves as well as they normally do, and at some point in labor probably can't speak at all (verbal communication is a left-brain skill). Because he met her in the Feminine and was open and attentive enough to experience the Otherworld while journeying with her, the man knows how to hear what she is saying without speaking. The birth partner can meet the mother in the Feminine by tuning into her breathing and her rhythm, by noticing signs of tension or fear, and, most of all, by trusting that what she is experiencing is real and purposeful. Her demeanor and actions may seem unfamiliar and unsettling, but they have purpose. This is not only a good way to support her, but allows the partner to experience labor on a deeper level, which can be transformative, as we see at the end of the tale.
The woman in this story is intelligent, strong and capable. She needs to be protected, not because she is weak, but because she is using all of her resources to complete the task before her. A woman in labor needs a Sacred space in which to focus on her work. (Sacred: safe, set apart for a special purpose.) She needs to know that she can let go and focus completely without worrying about any real or perceived threat to her Work. This is important no matter where she labors: at home, in a birth center or in a hospital.
In our story, many things start happening quickly as she gets close to reaching her goal. The shirts are nearly ready, the swans are arriving, the woman is standing in a ring of fire but still intent on completing her task. It can feel this way during transition and pushing: many things happening quickly after such a long time of slow, repetitive work. The fire represents the total collapse of ego that can occur during this time of intensity. There is no “I”, only the work, only the goal. Women often recall that they felt like they were dying at this point. And many say that they did not care. They were sensing their ego-death, not their physical death.
Another important element of this story, and of labor, is that the woman suddenly gives up her dream and, without thinking twice, does what needs to be done in that moment. For so many months, the woman has worked and pushed herself to her limits with one goal in mind: to save her brothers. And yet, when she has almost reached her goal, she uses her voice to save the man, and risks losing her brothers forever. This part of the story is a metaphor for handling unwanted surprises in labor. Perhaps a woman is counting on pain medication to assist her and this is not an option, or doesn't work as well as she thought. Perhaps she has dreamed of a peaceful, meditative birth in a tranquil environment but ends up laboring in a loud, chaotic place. Perhaps a woman has practiced and worked and given all of herself, for hours, for months, with the goal of birthing naturally, and, suddenly, there is an unforeseen complication. Everything has changed. What is needed in that moment may be a transfer to the hospital, pain medication, or Caesarean birth. Preparing for childbirth is preparing to handle unwanted surprises, even the loss of your dream, with ferocious love and compassion.
This started out as a story about the birth partner, but it has strayed far off course. Or perhaps not. It is good for the birth partner to understand what the laboring mother may be experiencing in her psyche. Like the man in the story, if the birth partner is open and respectful of right-brain world she inhabits, he will know what she needs without verbal communication. He can maintain a Sacred space around her, minimizing the intrusions of the outer, left-brain world. It is also helpful to realize that this right-brain state does not end when the baby is born. The postpartum weeks are also experienced in a kind of altered state. Mother and baby still inhabit a sacred space, separate from the everyday world going on around them. The father can better support mother and baby and enjoy this special time more if he understands this.
Opening to this primitive, Feminine side of life can have a transformative effect on the birth partner. Birth is a rite of passage for mothers and fathers alike. It is an initiation into parenthood. Women and men are re-born as mothers and fathers. In our story, the man has an encounter with the inner/other/underworld, a rare occurrence for people of his left-brained land. This experience changes him. He becomes more aware of and open to other ways of life. It helps him to open his heart to how he really wants to live. He walks away from the life that had been planned for him and ventures into the forest. His quest is to find and embrace a previously unrecognized part of himself. As a result of his initiation and rite of passage (experiencing the otherworld and caring for the wild, mute woman) he is able to find his way through the uncanny forest and speak from the heart when he arrives at the center.
There was a woman who lived with her family in the heart of a wild and uncanny forest, the last refuge of the arrogant, trickster Fair Folk. One day her six brothers were turned into swans by a sorceress. In order to turn her brothers back into human form, the Fair Folk told the woman that she must go alone into the forest and sew a shirt for each of them. With her bare hands she must weave the fabric from fibers of a plant that causes stinging and swelling when touched. She must not speak until she is done. If she speaks, she will lose her brothers forever. She spends many months alone in the forest working on her task and undergoing many trials.
When this existence overwhelms her, she goes to the water and gets into a boat, letting the voices and currents of the water take her where they will. Close to drowning, she is discovered and rescued by a man from another land. He finds her to be strange and wild, having been living alone in the forest for so long, and not being able to speak. Despite her strangeness, he brings her to his home and becomes her Protector. Along the way, the man has his first encounter with the Fair Folk, beings of the Otherworld.
The man's home is far from the mysterious forest, in a “civilized” land of logic and commerce. While in his home, the woman spends her days in the sewing room with the ladies of the house, they stitching delicate embroidery, she maiming her hands weaving coarse, ugly shirts. Everyone distrusts her and thinks she is crazy, or worse, a witch. The man cannot understand why she does what she does, but he trusts that it is important and so does everything he can to help her complete her task. His love and trust makes the task more bearable. At the edge of her awareness, he and other Allies stand guard over her, protect her and provide her with whatever she needs so that she can continue her work. He offers to do the work for her, but, of course, she is the one that must do it.
When five shirts are finished and the sixth one is nearly complete, the time comes to place them on the swans' necks and return her brothers to human form. At this same moment, the woman is facing her own death. She is about to be burned at the stake, but her focus never wavers from her task. Before she has a chance to put the last shirt on the last brother, she uses her voice to shout a warning to her protector, saving his life. She thinks that, by speaking before her task is completely finished, she has doomed her brothers to be swans forever, but she does what needs to be done in that moment, without hesitating. She did not fail her brothers, however. Somehow, the last shirt had reached the last swan in time and she and her brothers were saved.
Her brothers are in a hurry to return with their sister to the forest, for they are enemies of this land. The woman is now faced a difficult choice: stay in this civilized land with the man that loves and protected her or return to her homeland, the otherworldly forest. She returns to the forest. She soon realizes that she truly loves the man, but knows in her heart that she belongs in the forest. Meanwhile, the man gives up his land and finds his way through the uncanny forest to her. His ability to move through the forest and tell his story from the heart convinces her brothers that he is worthy of their sister. He remains with her in the forest, a man with one foot in each world.
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.