sacred drum thumping
the sound births
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…
Written May 23rd, the day before my son’s birth.
Waiting. Still waiting. Almost 42 weeks pregnant and still waiting. The days tick by and I try to wait as if it’s “No Big Deal.” I recite mantras like “This is all normal. Waiting isn’t a problem. Baby is fine. Women the world over go “overdue” and there’s nothing to worry about.” Birth is life and it happens in millions of ways every day: so what’s the hang up? Why all the angst and impatience and anxiety? What’s the big deal?
A friend wrote to me that “Birth is everywhere, it is like breath…” and I begin to settle in to the lessons being served up in these late stage moments of pregnancy. I even have time to look up the etymology of the word pregnant and find it fascinating that before pregnant meant ‘with child’ it actually meant something akin to “full of meaning” (c. 1400). With this in mind I feel the “Big Deal” aspect of this journey, being blown over by how taken to my edges this process of gestation allows and invites. Simultaneously full of meaning and also so normal, pregnancy and birth is as integrated to life as breath is. Yet just when I thought I’d crossed into the realm of the Stoic, Patient Waiter, new layers of complaint emerge. My feet! My back! But But But… Really? Another day of this exhaustion? Just when I think I can’t handle one more day, five more days pass. It is a continual re-frame of what feels possible to withhold.
And then: A call from a friend who just gave birth reminds me to savor the experience. She shares her unexpected grief at the letting go of this phase and encourages me to “Cherish this.” “Savor this.” “Remember this.” – and I’m thinking “are you kidding?” But the deeper layer is “Of course!” While its true I feel done, over-cooked, hot, big, ready to move through an impending transition, ready for a great release, I also feel the lesson of savoring and cherishing what just IS. I have the rest of my life to be not pregnant. I’m reminded of slowing down, appreciating the phase of life I’m in, and remembering the great truth of impermanence. So why not enjoy what’s being served up?
Nonetheless, I still feel ready to be on the other side. I feel the futility of all my efforts to speed up a process beyond my control. Here I enter into my resistance to the unknown. I’m ushered into the mystery of this process, as well as my desire to probe and know. I feel the ever-present themes of invitation to surrender, let go of control, trust… An invitation to practice gratitude for the gifts embedded in liminal spaces, the gift of waiting for something and the vast spaces opened up if you can stay with the waiting without freaking out (which I have done, by the way – freaking out, that is).
Just when I think my practice in waiting is only about cultivating patience, deepening in my capacity to trust, staying rooted in the present moment (and waiting on the biology of labor to kick in), the final days usher me into a realm where I know I’m being worked on in mysterious ways. Things begin to look different. Time slows down. It strikes me that readiness for birth isn’t confined to having the diapers stacked and the baby clothes washed. Instead, this baby offers us a gift in the wait. The dust is kicked up. Routines are disrupted. There are new things to consider. Perhaps baby knows there is yet work to be done, and not the nesting kind – but rather the existential kind. All of the sudden my partner and I are made aware of old cobwebs that need to be cleared, and this week of eternity transforms into a daily unfolding of revelations about self and past. New limits are revealed. Buried memories resurface. Birth stories are told and re-told. Our own family experiences are closer in our awareness and we consider our own experiences of being first-born and second born. We feel ourselves in a long line of emotional and genetic ancestral patterning, generational knots to be untied or left alone. What do we want to do differently this time? What patterns do we need to shift? What growth is required of us in order to foster deep peace, health, sanity and love? We consider our own preparedness to parent again. Are we really ready? What does ready mean? The waiting offers a lull in the rush of routine, a brief dip into a valley where we can see the big picture of our lifetimes from new vantage points.
All of this passes before us as we sort out old karma in preparation for a new life. Each day affords an eternity of possibilities. This time reminds us that while birth is indeed as ordinary as breath, it is also a reflection of unique and precious human life, each with an intricate weaving of story and history. This is the gift of waiting. Birth impending. Pregnant. Full of meaning, if we are available to it.
After the birth of my first son, my midwife said to me, “Don’t you think ushering new life is going to bring you to your knees? It brings me to my knees every time…”
We’d been talking about my struggle for several hours to push Rowan out into the world, and how the pain literally brought me to my knees, over and over again for four hours of pushing in the middle of the night. Those brutal hours from 1:30 to 5:30am were unlike any other: A threshold, a portal, an unmistakable glimpse into the vast power of the mystery that is life – beyond my control, vexing yet awe-inspiring, bringing me to my knees in a gesture of humility so all-consuming it took my breath away again and again. There was no way out but in. No turning away or back. The threshold had to be crossed.
And here I am again: standing at the gateway to Birth, which is akin to inhabiting a thin veil between worlds. The word ‘liminal’ comes to mind: Of or relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process, occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. The space in between. I rest in this liminal realm where I’m called this time to lay down the desire to know what ultimately can’t be known. Already I’m being taken to my knees: reminded by the powers that be that there is nothing to do other than trust a process far greater than oneself. All I have to do is be available, surrender… And yet, here I am, spinning conjectures and betting odds on when and how baby will come…
It strikes me that instead of inhabiting the familiar world of intellectual odd-betting and grasping for what is “known,” being 40 plus weeks pregnant is a time to settle into the mystery of liminality. We can choose to hang in the spaces in between. We can swing freely in the balance of the inner and outer, the inside world and outside…much like the womb contrasted by the vast space of everything else. We can walk the thin lines between darkness and light, mystery and the known, fullness and release, contraction and expansion. Even if not pregnant with new life, perhaps there is a lesson here that we can all access, for the womb is our origin and we have all made this journey from breathing water to breathing air, most of us having hung upside down in our mothers even as the rest of the world was so-called “right side up.”
For this brief moment in time, a pregnant woman holds the sublime reminder of a passageway between worlds. She is the circle of yin and yang holding a small universe of life inside. Herein lies a blueprint for living: remember the mystery from which you sprang and to which you will return. Learn to bask in the not-knowing. Trust forces at work beyond your control and let yourself be humbled by what it can take to bring new life onto this Earth. Relinquish all desires to know and control. Only then, resting gracefully in the liminal realm of mystery, will you enter into the fertile plains of free-flowing unbridled creative synergy: that which truly does propel forth new life and make the world go ’round…
With a deep sigh I slowly settle into the rapidly changing reality that is pregnancy. (Yes, baby two is slowly forming in its 18th week of existence!). I’d been thinking a lot about snakes quite a bit, seeing four of them in a 48 hour period the very week I got pregnant. So it was no wonder when crossing the street a few weeks ago (while in the throws of resisting the transformation that IS molding another being) that I tripped over a snake skin. Flattened by the pressure of cars passing by, it was still light as a feather to pick up. Rowan and I examined its exquisite detail while internally I marveled at life’s capacity for prolific metaphor. Here I was in the early months of pregnancy, and although this baby was a hoped for presence in my life, I was nauseous, tired, gaining weight just by looking at a piece of food – and profoundly resisting the changes underway. I kept telling myself to surrender, let go – and all the other wisdom clichés swimming in my being, but I was like a wheel stuck in mud. Wanting to go back to what it WAS. Not wanting to flow with transition. Moving toward the refrigerator 10 times a day with dread: I was clearly NOT shedding my skin.
So I crossed the snake skin’s path at the perfect moment. A reminder of the great transformation that is creating another being, I dedicated myself to shedding my skin in honor of stepping into a new one. I recall my first pregnancy and how it taught me that each woman who gives her body over to growing a new life undergoes a crash course in dealing with attachments; We are forced to let go of who we think we are in light of becoming something different. As our bodies and souls undergo vast changes, we are invited into the realm of letting go of attachment to particular appearances, with a quickening of change and ‘aging’ as we morph into new, expanded skin. All of the sudden I was faced with a lifetime’s worth of bodily and emotional change condensed into 40 weeks: a wake-up call to how life and time work on us, whether we choose to pay attention or not. All of the sudden as mothers we are older, transformed, wiser in some way from going through a rite of passage. A true metamorphosis occurs if we surrender into the gifts of change. Just like a snake shedding its skin, or a caterpillar becoming a butterfly in one of the most miraculous moments of metamorphosis – we too can open ourselves to the blessings of change.
For some reason this pregnancy journey has harkened more resistance than my first. As a new mother I was perhaps protected by my naivety. Not knowing the dramatic process upon me, I went with the flow not realizing how much I would be changed both physically as well as emotionally and spiritually. This time I know with the companion of subtlety and certainty that I am in a crucible. I know I am about to be split open in a myriad of mysterious ways. There is something protective in newness; This time around I am perhaps more relaxed and confident in some ways, more anxious in others. Will I gain 50 pounds again and will it take another nine whole months (or more) after birth to return to an experience of physical strength and feeling a new ‘normal?’ During labor will I push for four hard hours in the shadow of doubt? Will my second child be up every 2 hours for two years like my first? How will I manage taking care of TWO? Or will I simply surrender into the grace of what is, moving seamlessly through this life transition remembering Buddhist teacher and practitioner Pema Chodren’s wise dictum of “No Big Deal…?”
No big deal, AND a huge deal. All at once I dance around the utter normalcy that motherhood and pregnancy is, as well as the vast and seemingly miraculous (immense) mystery. A deep breath brings me back to the present moment where baby in the womb is fluttering about in a seemingly secret realm only I can feel. Like butterfly wings brushing back and forth inside of me, the soft pitter patter of tiny new limbs makes me marvel at the mystery of life. Pregnancy brings us into the realm of the great Unknown. Until we give ourselves over to the process of unknowable change, and choose to accept fully the unfolding of each moment (even when uncomfortable), we miss out on the potential for radical and positive transformation. Shedding the proverbial skin can be difficult. The key is to not hold on too tight to what has been, and to trust that you are leaving behind something equally lovely as the beauty and mystery of what is to come.