Six weeks ago tonight, at about 10 pm, my water broke.
I didn’t tell Kurt till afterward, because I was confident (and correct!) that amniotic fluid is not his idea of a great addition to an amorous encounter. We’d been endeavoring to set the wheels of labor into motion, but had no idea we’d have so much, well… impact… so soon.
Not that it sent me into labor.
No, no… THAT took another 24 hours and a dose of misoprostal, a synthetic cervical ripener. But labor, I did, after that little kickstart. Then Kurt and I swayed, rocked, om’ed, chanted, groaned, and panted through the night, held and guided by our amazing doula, Carrie. Okay, I did most of the swaying and rocking, om’ing, chanting, and panting. I think Kurt might’ve groaned some. But they kept me supplied with hot compresses for my abdomen, ice-cold cloths for my forehead and neck, and, three times – when I demanded them – barf bags.
My other experience of delivering a baby was nearly four years ago, when I had to be induced two weeks early because pre-eclampsia was threatening to break down the uterus. Our son Cooper came out in a labor made violent (but not, for a very long time, effective) by Pitocin, an intravenous synthetic labor inducer. So my notions of labor are tainted with the thought, “It can go a long long painful time and not be progressing.”
Fast-forward to February 24, 2012.
I’m in labor again, this time delivering my daughter Mira. Throughout the night, as I work with Kurt and doula Carrie through each contraction, I worry in my mind,
“Will I be able to keep this up long enough? Is it working? Are we progressing? Are the contractions really opening my cervix? They’re not starting in my low back. Does that mean these aren’t real contractions yet? They’re not getting closer together. Does that mean we’re still in pre-labor?”
I was sick with pain, but more sick with worry.
From the outside, it looked like I was doing beautifully. I sang my daughter’s name. I chanted “OMMM.” When my energy flagged, I told Kurt, “time for the tunes” and he started the playlist I’d made for myself on my iPhone, studded with such musical marvels as “Get Up, Stand Up” (strut your funky stuff…. sho’nuff!) by Frantique, John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High,” “Birthday” from the Beatles (Well! It WAS her birthday!), and Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” (“aaaa-aa-aaah-AH!”)
Dim lights and disco dancin’.
One nurse walked in during this time (I think I was singing, “That’s the way, uh-huh, uh-huh (extra gutteral), I like it, uh-huh, uh-huh!”) and said, “It looks so serene in here, but then you hear the music and something doesn’t compute!” We had the lights dimmed and little electric candles flickering everywhere, illuminating Buddha and Ganesha statues. But my sweet soulmate Mira was comin’ out to Diana Ross’ “I’m Comin’ Out” and I didn’t care who thought it was cheesy!
The music, the visuals, the support, and the movement all helped me manage contractions and rest in between, but inside my head there was a battle being waged between faith and abject terror. A part of me was certain that the contractions weren’t effective… That I was giving my all and not getting anywhere for my trouble. With each contraction, this voice said, “you’re not getting closer to delivery, you’re just getting closer to an epidural. NO way you can keep this up long enough to deliver naturally. You’re running out of steam. Give up now.”
I am laid low.
I was reminded of a legend Carrie had told us during our preparation for birth: the story of Inanna, queen of heaven and earth, going – by choice, mind you – to the underworld. Queen of nearly everything, she is a powerful woman drawn to the one situation where she’s not in charge, not in control, not tidy. She knows she’ll get her ass handed to her, but she goes for it, stepping into the underworld.
Inanna takes a number of tools and talismans with her: her breastplate, her necklace, her cloak, her crown. One by one, though, they are taken from her. They can’t protect her or limit her losses here. As she moves through the gates of the underworld, she is stripped of her royalty, then of her dignity, and finally of her life. She is hanging dead on a hook when her faithful servant comes to find her.
The story is told in birth preparation for a reason.
Delivering a baby lays you low. And six weeks into mothering another new person, I now remember that the labor and delivery are just the beginning. They’re merely a foreword to the sordid tale of early parenthood: sleeplessness, all manner of bodily fluids, the constant flow of emotional and physical energy this tiny being demands. After a month of parenting a newborn, your ass WISHES it was merely in labor again!
But I digress.
Back there in labor, I thought of Inanna. I told Carrie as much. I said, “I am laid low.” I felt my humiliation (look up the etymology of this word, and you find it comes from the same root as humus, or soil. We are grounded by that which humiliates us. Brought to earth.) in body, mind, and spirit. I was spent and eviscerated. I wasn’t sure I could go on, yet I knew there was no going back.
What those around me told me was that I was prevailing.
I was, in the only way you can in birth, rockin’ the joint.
I looked graceful, strong, and relaxed to our nurse, to our doula, to my husband, to our midwife. And I WAS those things. They weren’t just buttering me up.
At the same time, my inner experience was one of doubt, fatigue, and abject terror.
And when I saw that contrast – that juxtaposition of two truths – I realized at a newly visceral level what I’ve long told clients (and myself) about courage:
Those demonstrating courage are not free from fear. They’re shitting their pants.
What makes them courageous is that they’re staying the course while they do it.
I recognized that my triumphant, poetic birth was magnificent precisely because I felt so afraid inside, yet I continued to take contractions one at a time, to count each breath, to dance with Kurt and Carrie through each rush, and to celebrate in between the beauty and mystery of the way the four of us – counting Mira – traveled together across that dark terrain. The contractions were all-consuming while they happened, but after some of them, I felt like I’d just participated in some exquisitely choreographed dance or pantomime of deep meaning.
At about 3:30 am, Lesley, the wonderful midwife who’s seen me through 2.33 pregnancies and a miscarriage, came in and said, “let’s check you.” I was so tired and so afraid we weren’t progressing that, when she gleefully announced, “You’re at 6 centimeters and plus-one station!” I almost didn’t care.
Like a soldier whose enemy has surrendered, I felt defeated in the face of victory.
But when she followed up with, “You can get in the tub now,” I knew the hot water would revive me like a dried up little sponge. I was right: I felt like a new person, and expressed my exuberance by wailing along with Brandi Carlisle. I sang to the baby who chose a 38 year-old mother overflowing with strength and vulnerability:
“All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I’ve been
And how I got to where I am
But these stories don’t mean anything
When you’ve got no one to tell them to
It’s true…I was made for you.”
The rawness in Brandi’s voice matched the ragged edge of my emotions and my body. Her lyrics and my love for the daughter I was about to meet carried me through the end of labor and the out-of-control rush of pushing.
At 4:38 am, Mira came out into the world, unmedicated. I had prevailed.
The recognition that heroes (or heroines, if you prefer) are the ones getting shredded inside but continuing to fight on the outside has served me well in the six weeks since that night. I think it will continue to serve me. I’ve got big work to do here at Loving with Power. Not everyone appreciates what I’m doing.
Spreading the turned-on monogamy revolution isn’t easy.
And like anyone seeking to have a turned-on relationship, to use their love as a crucible for spiritual evolution, I am worked-over daily by the endeavor.
I’m a powerful womanwho, time and again – with every sunrise – seeks to go to the places where my authority is not recognized, where my might is not bowed to. Inanna and I… You, too? We go to our underworlds to find what the sunlit places can never show us: the humiliation and majesty of our most heroic selves.
How does your journey of relationship lay you low?
How are you made heroic by that humiliation?
I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Or you can email me from the contact page if your message is for my eyes only.
And the heroes everywhere with crap in their pants and fear in their minds who’re still doing the work, one contraction at a time.