A Mother’s Body

A Mother’s Body:

Shapeshifter

Giver of Life

Bone shifter.

Doorway to the next generation of family story-

her body a vessel,

she has become Whole:

Holy,

Irrevocably marked.

 

When it is all said and done,

death calling her to another form

she will see that ‘perfect’ doesn’t matter.

Not “perfect” hips but Birthing hips.

Not dainty light spritely

but feet and legs sunk deep in Earth,

heavy with responsibility:

weighted,

Big.

Vast with circle of Love.

The Other Side: Paying Homage to Life

The moments after birth: I call it ‘being on the other side.’ Giving birth is one of those moments in life when there is a clear before and after – the continuum of life as it is known is profoundly interrupted. There is a giant pause in the experience of time’s passage just after. Time slows down. Priorities shift. A new normal slowly emerges that can’t fully be imagined before. There is the anticipation, the waiting and wondering, the anxious uncertainly (for me) about labor’s when and how… And then, all of a sudden, you are on the other side. Birth happens. Baby is here. A mystery in the form of a new child has come into the light. And, despite my wish for time to stop just for a moment, life moves on.

There is a lesson herein for me about savoring and acknowledging life’s great transitional moments. Something dramatic has happened. A new life has come into the world and I am changed by it. For these days and weeks immediately following baby’s arrival, I am steeped in a slow wonderment. Life is centered around this tiny being and my immediate present moment home, yet at the same time there is the largeness of a full lifetime perspective. Memories of my own childhood flash. Family stories come to the fore. My mother tells me of my own birth. I feel the presence of old friends. I look at my children and wonder about their future.

The lesson of this particular time has to do with a practiced awareness that there is only this one lifetime in this body and that there is no repeating any moment. Birth has happened and there is no repeating it. Baby and children grow. My son will only be a newborn for this short, precious time. We age. We change. The trouble is that life can sweep us up in a flow so fast that we can forget the sacred markers of being alive. Like signposts on a journey, they are there to be greeted and tended to, but too often the pace of life prevents us from fully slowing down to steep ourselves in awe and gratitude at the passage of time and the blessings bestowed. So how to mark this time? Savor. Acknowledge life’s great transitions.

The experience of pregnancy and birth offers the opportunity to mark a threshold for both baby and mother (and family). Crossing from one side to another in any life transition offers the opportunity to pause, reflect and wonder. We can pay homage to what has been while also gracefully entering into the newness of what is becoming. Most importantly, we can pay homage to life itself…

Birth: Entrance into This Crazy World of Light

A slow, uneventful early labor leaves me wondering whether he really is coming. I clean, burn sage, take a walk, make dinner, call my mom and tell her to come, help with bedtime (all between mild contractions). I roll into active labor at 7:25 pm with back to back contractions, dipping into the timeless realm of touch and go pain, blurred vision, doubling over, calling for help, shaking wondering and awe. I roll into the realm of surrendering control and I hear myself say how much I hate it. Modesty slowly goes out the window. The midwives have arrived and now I’m fully in the dance of dilation. Not “contracting” but rather expanding – and I try to meditate on the star-gazer lilies I’ve bought for this moment. “All you have to do is float…” says the midwife. “You don’t have to do anything…” But there is no floating, only the shaky handing over of myself to one moment and then the next. There is no floating, only the raw practice of trusting a process that is greater than myself.

I move to the tub for relief and finally feel the urge to push. Has it been one hour or five? I have no idea. I only know that I don’t want to be alone and I don’t care anymore about words. Chris tells me to “stay with it” and I hear myself say “I have no choice but to stay with it.” There is no getting out. No escaping. No distraction. “The only way out is in,” I hear my yoga teacher’s voice as a fuzzy line of background noise. The only way out is in.

It is one of those moments in life where the rawness of physical pain and discomfort serves as an edge upon which I serve myself up to a force greater than myself. I’m terrified of I know not what – except perhaps the searing truth that this passage of bringing new life is really happening and I’m responsible somehow for overcoming exhaustion and doubt and mustering the strength and wilfulness to push a baby down and out. Its true: “you don’t have to do anything…” All you have to do is trust that your body was made for this – AND: you can’t just ‘give up’ either. At the very least the moment requires presence. At the least, the moment requires a square confrontation with the reality of what is arising, particularly when the reality doesn’t match up with one’s preferences…

I’m so, so tired and its one wave of pressure after another. I have no idea where to go or how even to move with a head like a bowling ball two centimeters away from crowning. All I know is I have to get him out. I’m dripping sweat now and standing over my bed. I see stars and beg for rest, even though I know that the final moment of reckoning is upon me like a pressure cooker. This is when I have to dig deep and find a reservoir of strength that I’ve only tapped into twice before with my other births: A woman’s gritty wilfulness to make something happen that feels impossible. For me, this is no easy birth. It is raw, uncomfortable, painful. There is no bliss, no rest, no peaceful hypnobirthing place to relax into. For me, birth is a series of deep, wild screams of disbelief coupled with absolute, unfiltered awe in the face of great mystery. How the hell does all this work? How the hell do women do it? So normal, no big deal – and so literally transfiguring at the same time.

And then: he’s out – blue, sticky body on my chest, loud cries and the midwife comforts him by saying “You only have to do this part once…” And in that moment I feel again my own birth – squeezing into life through a narrow passage, “contracting” into form… And I simultaneously feel my death, which perhaps will take me into the opposite realm of expansion. And I feel back to the burst of my waters breaking earlier – a crackling preparation for baby’s entrance – and I wonder if somehow we come via darkness and water into this crazy world of light and go too from this world into a different light?

All this passes through me as we welcome my son – and really all that matters now is the skin touching skin, and the awe-filled reminder that being in this body is a blessing unlike any other. Sensation! Touch! Love! Pain and pleasure blur into one of the most glorious moments of Grace…

A Poem for Birth

Birth Blessing: A Poem by Natalie Evans – shared at my sister-in-law’s Blessingway last weekend

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Close your eyes and breathe deep

Breathe in peace, breathe out pain

Imagine your feet

Toes curling into dirt

Think of yourself as rooted

Think of your place in the earth

How did you come to be here?

Through generations of women named-

A maternal lineage that brought you to this place

Think of their birth stories

What you know, what you believe to be true

Realize that their births carry deep wisdom

Some may carry the memory of joy and transcendence

Each birth is a powerful experience

Each birth traces down to you.

Just as you pass this knowledge on to your baby,

Understand that your birth is your own.

It will be different from all others

Like the swirls in your thumb

Your birth will have a unique pattern

Unfolding with each contraction

Rising and falling like a newborn’s chest

This birth belongs to you

This birth is an opening

This birth is the end and a beginning…

Fixed v. Fluid

Attach: from Old French ‘to attach, fix, stake up, support;’ related to the Frankish word ‘stakon:’ a post or stake, and the Germanic word stake: to fasten, affix or connect. By the 13th c. ‘attach’ and ‘attachment’ had become legal terms: “to take or seize property by law.”

Confession: I am attached to my non-pregnant state of bodily being.

It seems no coincidence that the word attachment is related to a stake. Attachments are fierce. We stake our claims and hold to them. It also seems no coincidence that attachments are historically related to property and the law. This is serious territory. We own our attachments. They can be as strong as stakes in the ground, holding up a seemingly firm foundation. We can rest with the illusion that our attachments support us. We can be affixed to them.

So here it is that I find myself again: holding on to my attachments to bodily form as if holding on for dear life. I see it happening and think that I’ll practice differently this time. Haven’t I learned this lesson yet during two other pregnancies? Our bodies aren’t fixed entities. Our identities aren’t married to the outward shape of bodily form. Women are shape shifters. Our bodies are vessels, conduits. We are fluid, not ‘fixed.’ Life is Change. Pregnancy is a rapid crash course in the inevitability of transformation of state and being and the ultimate inevitability of aging and death. And yet, my attachment tendency pulls me to the illusion that who I really am is something apart from this bloated, nauseous, huge version of myself. Who I am is ‘fixed.’ Who I am is “pre-pregnancy” and “post-pregnancy.”

Of course these latter statements aren’t true, and yet I confess that I resist the changing bodily form inherent in growing a baby. I profoundly dislike the heart burn, the steady weight gain, the pressure on bladder and stomach. I cling to what I was and what I hope to “return to” as a “norm” after baby is born, even though I know it isn’t a reasonable aspiration. Its just that I’m more comfortable in my skin 20 pounds less. Its just that pregnancy shows me where I falsely rest my identity. Vanity is revealed, and then obliterated. I look at myself in the mirror and momentarily am mortified by the popped blood vessels around my eyes (harken to my last post where I describe my vomit fest granted by a visiting stomach virus). Its perfect: I feel wretched in this stage of pregnancy! Its only fitting to look the part, too.

And then: it coalesces into a vague (perhaps grim) acceptance of the truth of impermanence – and that there is no “fixed” version of oneself to orient around. The only constant is change. We are fluid, changing entities, interrelated, worked on, moved by Life. There is nothing to return to and nowhere to go – only grace to relax into and trust to practice. There is nothing static. No stake to hold on to. No foundation to attach to. Pregnancy is a crash course in these insights at a fast forward pace. It is life’s simultaneous decomposition accompanied by creativity and newness: A mother’s bodily expansion and loosening and a baby’s slow growth into new expression of Life. There is no return to anything but to the present moment of reality where each millisecond is a different expression of Self and Truth and Body. If we can relax attachments to who we think we are outside of the ever-shifting present moment, we can tap into the fluid expression of spontaneous awareness that has no limitations. This is the realm of freedom…

Be In Conversation With the Divine

Maybe it is the third child in utero. (What? Yes!) Maybe it is the accompanying exhaustion and nausea. Maybe it the impending move next month and the uncertainty of next steps. Maybe it is the relentless house searching. Maybe it is the simple truth that the householder, parenting dimension of life absolutely devours you such that writing and reflection take a back burner to completing the necessary functions of daily life.

Whatever the truth, my practice of writing and reflection has been harder of late. I’m reminded of a post I wrote several years ago on Practicality and Practice, where I realized that the realm of the practical is indeed also the realm of practice (the words even share the same etymology). It isn’t that spiritual practice, creativity, self-expression or “realization” of any kind is any less important than it always has been and is. It’s just that the practical, logistical domain of life is so all-consuming at times it is difficult to see outwards from this place.

Subsumed. Consumed. Devoured. Annihilated. Submerged. Gone into temporary hiding. Practical life somehow has eclipsed me. It can sneak up on us, and all of the sudden a year (or ten) has passed. Instead, daily life practice becomes waking with some semblance of grace at 5:45am when the stars are still twinkling, making breakfast and school lunch, going to work, closing on the house, changing diapers, mitigating sibling conflicts, getting on the floor and playing legos and dinosaurs, cleaning the kitchen, picking up said legos and dinosaurs, making dinner, cleaning up after dinner, (oh, and dealing with the fruit fly pandemic), bedtime routines and then voila: wake up and do it all again! (Oh, and don’t forget to eat 65 grams of protein a day and take your folic acid, too).

The trouble is without something to come back to over and over again in myself (aka the ballast of a practice, the relief of clarity that comes through reflection and writing, or the act of creativity) I begin to feel groundless and unsettled, missing the restfulness and peace of living from a clarified center of intention and attention. In the midst of The Practical and The Logistical, there is the less rational and less logical realm of soul, psyche and spirit calling, where the home of my dreams is more wild – and I’m called to swim without goal in a vast, deep ocean.

My husband reminds me to “settle into the unsettledness.” There are no problems to solve. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with this iteration of our existence. Different than expected, yes. Exhausting, yes. How I imagined mid-life? Perhaps not fully…But regardless, when I finally do sit down with the pen and journal and ask the simple question, “Where to go from here?” An immediate answer arises: “Be in conversation with the Divine.” 

What does this mean? For me it means that it doesn’t matter what I do (or don’t do), where I live, how many hours sleep I get or how late I am for work or that play-date. It doesn’t matter that a month has gone by and the pen hasn’t hit the paper or the body hasn’t met the meditation cushion. What does matter in this light is to be in conversation with the Divine, and to be merely present with what is. Every ordinary interaction in a day, whether it be with dish-washing soap, the garbage can or my precious (but sometimes frisky) sons, can be experienced as part of an ever-present holy portal, always present, beckoning my full-bodied entry. I can be in relationship with this holy portal. I can stand there and feel into it. I can move swiftly to keep my son from tripping and still feel into it. I can clean the drain and still feel into it. Its not a conventional ‘dialogue’ but more a relationship through feeling, from the experience of the whole body. 

Being in conversation with the Divine means that I am paying close attention to what is arising, both internally and externally. And I am paying attention in such a way that my presence is surrendered to an awareness of a mystery at work greater than myself and beyond my understanding. I can choose to submit myself to the present realm of what is required as a mother and rest into a divine abiding with what is. Then I can reside in a truly non-discriminatory state of mind and heart: where bliss can blend in with moments akin to drudgery, and gratitude can dominate the landscape of duty.

Each of us can stake a claim to our own definitions of Divine. But be clear: move beyond the cerebral, beyond Merriam-Webster defining. Then, whatever the task, whatever the situation, we can feel full-bodily our participation in That. We can live fully in the practical, logistical realm of life, but rather than let ourselves be consumed by only this, we can practice making ourselves available to the possibility of being overcome by an experience of a Divine holy portal, always waiting to devour us into an experience of deeper Love.

Tree of Life

Braeden’s Placenta Print, May 24th, 2012

“She gives birth to a baby who is born attached to… something else. This something is a part of her baby, but completely different. She looks at it, and sees in its shape the same roots that burrow into the ground and grow into strong trees. She sees the roots in the veins on its surface, the trunk of the tree in its umbilical cord, and the life-giving fruit in her newborn infant.

Is it now so difficult to imagine how she would see a connection with new life in the image of the tree?”

– Jodi Selander