Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Birthing as Heroic Task

Labour Day weekend brought many parties for us this weekend. Yesterday was Le Bouilli, a traditional harvest supper with loads of vegetables and beef cooked slowly in a huge pot at my brother-in-law's place. The whole family (or almost) was there, including two pregnant nieces. Naturally, the conversation turned towards the coming birth of one of them, due in October.

My childbirth experiences were very different one from the other, and I don't believe in frightening future mother's by telling them in great detail what I went through.  (The second child was born in the car, ten minutes away from the hospital).  But I do clearly remember the labour, the physical work and concentration required of Labour, and the total focus it required of me, and when I began to talk about it, it brought me back to the words of Joseph Campbell, who said giving birth and becoming a mother is a woman's heroic task.

Just like a warrior must focus his mind and conquer his fears before battle, a new mother giving birth brings all of her self to the task. All her courage, all her strength and energy are required.  She does need help and encouragement, yes, the nurses and doulah or companions, her husband can help her remember to breathe, but it is the inner work that gets done that is important, from the quality of her surrender and trust in the body's processes (and the more knowledge of these processes the better), to the letting go of fears of not being capable of passing this threshold.  The journey is dangerous, as the forces within move the baby out into the world from his watery womb space, forcing him to cross the threshold into life outside the safety of his mother's enclosure.  She will be turned inside out too, and perhaps lose all sense of separateness with the world.  All her senses will awaken, and sharpen once he is born, whetted by the cries of her baby, and nothing will ever be the same. It is a spiritual birth of the mother, as well as the physical birth of the child, as they journey together through that tunnel.

For the first few days, if she allows it, she will feel at one with her baby, this being from another planet who has slipped like a fish through her legs.  His eyes will be her mirror, his pain will be her pain. As she tunes into his needs and feels the milk tingle in her breasts even before he wakes, she will either accept or resist this intrusion, this call to selflessness, this giving over of the self to a larger need.

It will be the hardet (or the easiest) thing she will ever do, has ever done.  To give her self to the needs of the vulnerable tyrant at her breast, as they both navigate new territory, and learn how to find contentment and ease together.  What can prepare her?  Focus, concentration, rest, inner strength, conscious letting go of expectations...of fear, of anxiety - allowing life to hold them both in its arms.

To fight this great battle for life by letting go, by surrendering, is kind of  conumdrum. But that's what it takes.


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