Are you willing to embrace change in the face of great pain? Receiving the messages in pain – whether that pain is physical or spiritual — is one of life’s greatest challenges, and running away from it is one of life’s greatest temptations. Stay open, and you will receive exactly the insights you need to live your best life.
If you know a time more resplendent with change than pregnancy, please tell me. As a midwife, it’s hard for me to imagine anything matching it. (Note: The photo in this post was taken moments after my son was born at home.)
Pregnancy, labor and birth are intensely spiritual and physical all at once. As such, they are also apt metaphors for life. For anyone reading this who is not pregnant, consider that you are gestating ideas and dreams all the time, and it may take a midwife (read here, a trusted friend or counselor) to help you give birth to them.
Here’s the thing: Most of the instructions given to pregnant women (and anyone gestating big dreams) are inadequate – not least because they encourage women to focus on the little things related to their pregnancy and miss the big picture.
When I’m in clinic, I spend most of my time talking with pregnant women about what’s normal and what’s not. I also try to give them a bigger message: pregnancy is the “new normal.” When you’re not pregnant it’s not normal to feel nauseated, dizzy, and, most of all, in pain. But when you’re pregnant it often is. That’s the bottom line, and it’s unlikely to change.
Notice that I said pain and not something else, like discomfort. I remember when I was pregnant thinking that if I hadn’t known that such multifaceted pain was normal, I would have gone to the ER and presented my complaints with a hope for a cure. But there is no cure. There is simply the will to bear it. You either have the will to dig in and prepare for more or not.
That may sound frightening, but what I mean is that women are strong, incredibly strong. And yet even in a world full of amazing women athletes, entrepreneurs, and even astronauts (not to mention billions of mothers), most of us don’t know how strong we are until we gestate another human being.
Maybe if more of us knew our strength ahead of time, we would prepare more and become even stronger. Ideally, we would behave like people in training—Olympic athletes, or serious applicants for the space program.
And yet, even for those who have trained for years, actually performing – whether in a stadium or on the space shuttle – remains the ultimate challenge, achieved under unique and unpredictable circumstances.
My best suggestion for anyone is to go into birth with a clear vision of what you want, and surround yourself with people who support your vision.
I chose to have a homebirth with my midwife, a dear friend, attending me. As we talked about preparing for the birth she asked me what my greatest fear was. I told her that I was haunted by the story of one of my fellow students in midwifery school: She too had planned a homebirth with a midwife, but after many hours of labor at home she ended up in the hospital with an epidural and forceps delivery.
Long after the birth I asked my friend about her birth experience. She offered that if she could have changed anything it would have been to listen to her midwife more. She remembers having been almost paralyzed by the pain of labor and only able to sit and rock on the floor as her midwife implored her to move and try other positions.
I told my midwife, with my husband and doula and best friend in attendance, that I was afraid I would also suffer the same fate. However, since there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that the more a woman states what she does not want in child birth, the more likely it is to happen, I kept my birth plan simple. “I know what I want. My support team knows what I want. I will do what my midwife says.” That was it.
Was it any surprise that I came up against my greatest fear? After a fairly short labor (12 hours) I was fully dilated, but then, after pushing strenuously for two hours, I didn’t make much progress. So far everything had gone according to plan, but absent any more progress I knew I would soon be taking that ride to the hospital.
At this point my midwife told me to get into a squatting position. In my exhaustion, I told her, “After the next contraction.” When the next contraction came and I said that again, I glanced up just at the moment when all of my support people looked at each other as if to say, “Here it is: the thing she feared.”
And then the vision I had for my homebirth, the one they had supported me in, took hold. In the next moment they had taken me in their arms to support me in a squat. I found the position better for pushing, and although it took another hour, my baby was finally born.
Instead of fearing the pain and running from it I heard what it was telling me – this way isn’t working, you must make a change.
If your mind and body are prepared, the pain you feel in labor – and the effort to embrace it, move toward it, and work with it – can be transmuted into a gift that informs the rest of your life.
It takes enormous courage to stay with pain long enough to hear what it has to say.
Usually it will ask you to make big changes in your life. This can be scary, and yet, if you can do it, you’ll tap into something profound and magical that reminds you of your true power.
Tap into it and you’ll achieve your vision for your best life.