Shawn was born after 15 hours of slow and intensely painful labor. That experience was both terrifying yet thrilling. At one point while I was nearing transition, I was crying and I looked up at my mother and said, “Mom, I can’t do this. I am going to die. I am going to die.” She looked right back at me and said, “You know what, Rebecca? You ARE going to die. The carefree maiden you have been all your life is dying. You are giving birth to yourself, as a mother. It is the hardest thing you have ever had to do. And you CAN do it, because look at you – you ARE doing it!”
My mother always viewed birth as a rite of passage, a spiritual transition, an initiation into a new realm. She firmly believed that a woman must put her blood, sweat, and tears on the line for the child she was birthing – that it was an opportunity to demonstrate that she had the strength to be a mother....
This was not a time to avoid pain, because motherhood is painful at times. This is not a time to seek comfort, because motherhood is not comfortable. This is not a time to shrink back, because motherhood requires that a woman reach deep inside her soul and show what she really stands for. It is in birth, my mother taught me, that a woman must stand up, show her trust in herself, and her trust in God, and be consciously involved in a deliberate act of creation by giving your heart, might, mind, and strength to what is before you.
Even though I felt the truth of my mother’s teachings, there came a point during labor that if I was offered drugs, I would have caved in and taken them. And then I would have been really disappointed in myself. DEEPLY disappointed. I am grateful that I was not in a hospital where that would have likely been offered to me. Gratefully I was surrounded by my mother, and two sisters, and a supportive husband, who saw me as doing a beautiful job and birthing perfectly, even in all my wailing….
In the midst of the effort, I heard a voice inside me say, “Rebecca, there is nothing you can do about this. It’s not going to hurt any less, it’s not going to go any faster. May as well go with it.” That voice was calling for surrender, and I did. In that moment I stopped fighting the pain and went through it. I focused. I worked really hard. I pushed for an hour and finally Shawn was born, 8.5 lbs and healthy and beautiful. I am so grateful I birthed him at home, and quickly realized that it was indeed the best choice for us, and thought it was painful, I would do it again.
Lo and behold, I became pregnant with our second child at the same time of year I conceived our first, which meant my babies would be due the same time of year and exactly two years apart.
This second pregnancy found me in the midst of some pretty serious studies in spiritual psychology for my program at school. I was diligently doing a lot of “inner work” which included consciously cultivating a willingness to experience whatever was before me and truly live in the present moment. As such, while I was four months pregnant, I was at a retreat where I had the opportunity to write down and reflect on the things I feared in life – the terrible things I imagined could happen to me. Following the exercise’s instructions, I made a list, beginning with seemingly harmless to the downright daunting. For example, I captured thoughts such as “what if I get a really bad sunburn? What if I have to go to the bathroom and can’t find one?” all the way to “What if I get maimed? Raped? Lose someone I love? Lose the baby?” I completed my list of fears as best I could, and then I meditated on each of them by actually opening up to the idea that I would be willing to experience those things, if it did in fact become “my turn” to experience them. I began to see the reality that any of these things could happen to me; they happen all the time to all kinds of people. And even thought I don’t want them to happen to me, the simple risk of being alive is that these things could happen, even if I did everything I knew to do to prevent them. I began to accept the risks inherent in mortal life.
As I let that awareness set in, I went one step further and began to try on the idea that I could be willing to experience any of these things if they were actually happening to me. In other words, if I did have the misfortune of getting a really bad sunburn, could I be willing to have it? (as if I have any other choice at that point) Or would I sit and fight it and cause more suffering? Could I be willing to experience physical discomfort, or embarrassment, if that was what I was feeling? Or would I try to numb out and avoid it, downplay it, suppress it – and hope that it never impacted me? Realizing that resistance really is futile, my rational mind began to see times in my life where I had endured such things and I survived.
But getting to the harder things… “I’m willing to be raped? Lose the baby?” Hm. Sounds strange, but as I meditated on this, the wisdom that came to me showed me that yes, if it just so happened to be ‘my turn’ to experience loss or violence, if I just so happened to find myself in the wrong place at the wrong time, no fault of mine – could I simply remain sane and mentally intact in that moment, and fully accept what had happened to me? Or would I hate it and fight it and hopelessly try to change the past and compound my suffering?
The Buddists say that pain is inevitable – but suffering is a painful feeling about pain. Pain is simply a sensation, but suffering comes from thinking that what is, shouldn’t be. (As author Byron Katie says, “When I argue with reality, when I ague with what is, I lose, but only 100% of the time.) So which orientation – resistance to “what is” or willingness to receive “what is” – which of the two would leave me more peaceful? Which would leave me feeling fragmented and wounded? The answer became clear. I saw that no matter what happens to me in this life, I could trust that God has me in mind, and that life happens for me, not to me. It’s all for my good. Maybe.
The words that the Lord spoke to Joseph Smith popped into my mind… “If the very jaws of hell shall gape open after thee, it shall be for thy good and shall give thee experience.” Could the same be true for me? Could it be that I truly could trust in God, no matter what? Even if the very jaws of hell gaped open after ME in one way or another?
As I continued to reflect on the words “I am willing…. I am willing…” another passage of scripture came into my mind: “I am willing, send me. Here I am, send me.” The words of Jesus became my words. I envisioned myself looking at all the possibilities for my earth life, accepting all the risks, and saying, “I am willing, send me. I am willing to be the one who is betrayed. I am willing to be physically uncomfortable. I am willing to lose a child. I am willing to be raped, lost, confused, hurt, offended, upset, in pain, maimed. I am willing. I am willing. I am willing. Send me. I want to feel what it is to be alive, to love, to forgive. I am willing to face pain so that I might know true joy.” This took root in my heart so powerfully as truth reverberated through my body, and I felt a change of heart – a melting away of fear – an acceptance of the inherent risk that life is – a trusting that whatever happens to me TRULY happens FOR me and that I chose it this way! That IS our Heavenly Father’s plan – for us to learn and grow and expand to become like him. Living in fear is not part of the plan.
Then another scripture came to mind: “…being willing to submit to all things that the Father doth see fit to inflict upon you.”
ALL THINGS? Seriously? Yes, seriously. All things. I began to see that I do not know the mind of God. I do not know what He sees fit to inflict upon me, but I do know that His Son was willing to endure all kinds of discomfort in his lifetime. I do know that God loves me, and He knows more about what I need than I do. But do I really trust that? I began to feel that trust opening in me. I thought of all Christ suffered. When Christ went through his ordeal, he knew there was “no other way.” He trusted God and knew God’s plan must be fulfilled.Tears streamed down my face as I realized I have lived my whole life in fear of so-called bad things happening to me, that could in fact, be the very things that I need to experience in this life to attain glory in the next. If that is the case, why would I shrink back from anything? In my attempt to avoid the fear and pain and discomfort that comes with mortality, I couldn’t help but see how I drew it nearer to me and caused more pain. In this new awareness I found myself saying, “Yes, I AM willing. I Am. So be it.” My heart burst wide open and all those fears just slipped away as I said YES to all of life.So what does this have to do with childbirth?It was in this state of mind- this intense willingness to feel what it feels like to be alive – to intently receive EVERYTHING that life has to offer me – that I gave birth to our second son. I was totally, completely willing to experience birth fully, unlike I had ever done before. I knew it was going to hurt, but I was willing to feel whatever it felt like. I knew I was going to reach that intense point during transition and have thoughts like “I can’t do this, I’m going to die” - and I welcomed those thoughts. I didn’t take them seriously. I knew they would come, and I welcomed them. I was totally open to the possibility that this could be another 15 hours of excruciating back labor.So, here’s how the birth of my second child went: As the contractions began the morning of September 13, 2008, I did not really think I was in labor. I focused on being as relaxed as possible, allowing my body to do what it needed. These early contractions were welcomed, and they even felt invigorating like a good workout. Around 3 p.m. they jumped to 3 minutes apart, but still were not painful. How was that even possible? My midwife Chris arrived at 4:45 p.m. and shortly thereafter, hard labor kicked in. The contractions became much more intense and I could not talk through them, but again, they were not painful, just lots of pressure. I got in the birthing tub around 6 p.m. and continued to remain as relaxed as possible. My mind knew what to expect, and I opened to it. I even observed those thoughts of dread going through my head like “I can not do this. Do I really have to do this again? This is not happening already!” – but because of my mindfulness focus, I was able to simply notice the thoughts and I did not have to react to them. (By the way, every woman in labor says “I can’t do this” and usually does so right when birth is imminent!) I surrendered to each contraction, much like one would surrender to contractions of the respiratory diaphragm when vomiting or sneezing. As I reclined against the wall of the birthing tub, I repeatedly whispered to myself “Just feel this. Just feel what this feels like.” I just observed my body in the process, doing what it knows instinctively to do. My body was shaking uncontrollably as the baby descended down the birth canal. I felt like I had to go to the bathroom, and I warned my midwife. She said, “Honey, that’s the baby’s head.” I couldn’t believe it. I reached down and sure enough, there was his wrinkly little head beginning to crown. The contractions continued and it actually felt so good to feel him moving down the birth canal. (I would say I “pushed” but it actually felt effortless, like I was being pushed.) His head was fully born in about two contractions, but his shoulder became stuck. After about thirty seconds, my midwife said “stand up,” which I couldn’t, until she took both my hands, with my arms and back stiff as a board, and pulled me up like a lever so I could bend over the edge of the birthing tub. She came around to my backside, and with one final, intense push, he was born with the assistance of gravity. I could not believe it when he was out. He was born at 6:32 p.m., less than two hours after hard labor began. He was 9 ½ pounds, and my body suffered zero damage or tearing during delivery. (I am only 5’3”). I sat back down in the birthing tub and clutched him to my chest. The experience was so ecstatic, so joyful, and so incredibly wonderful. The first thing I said was, “That was awesome.”
While the physical sensations I experienced were very intense, it was not painful. It did not hurt! It was truly, transformative, and I attribute much of the wonder of the experience to my commitment to birthing mindfully and willingly, to fully experience whatever it is that is before me. I felt like the queen of the world—a true Goddess in Embryo. I wish all women could feel what it is like to give birth without fear and to fully know what they are capable of.
Sunday, February 7, 2010
I have been waiting for the right time to share this story, and I think it is a great one to illustrate my most recent blog post about welcoming challenge. Rebecca de Azevedo Overson is a clarity coach and massage therapist in SLC that specializes in prenatal massage. She had two home births. I think that the first is a beautiful story (I especially love the mother daughter dialog) but it is very different from the second, where she welcomed challenge. I have edited somewhat for length and left out the part about her decision making process to have a home birth (maybe that will be for another day). I hope you enjoy her stories as much as I did.