I have always been afraid of giving birth. I was afraid of it before I became pregnant. I was afraid during my pregnancy. And I was very afraid.
I’ve always thought of myself as someone who was competent in the realms of the mind and the heart but not so competent in the realm of the body. I saw labor as part of that physical realm — the ultimate challenge of corporeal endurance, courage, and acumen, something that other women (athletes, mountain climbers) could cope well with, but not me.
Over the course of the pregnancy, the fear diminished a little. It got better because I talked about it and listened to friends’ labor stories. I trained in labor breathing and relaxation techniques, and that helped me feel a little more secure. And it got better as I found a balance point — learning information that helped me feel more empowered, more safe, but not overwhelming myself with too much of it.
By the end of my forty week term, I was less afraid, but still afraid, still feeling that labor was something that other women could pull off but that I, for sure, could not.
Needless to say, it’s more than a little stressful to get to the end of a pregnancy feeling that way.
I was sitting on my purple yoga mat at the pregnant-lady-yoga-class I’d been attending for months. First let me say, I had come to have tremendous admiration and respect for the teacher. She was a midwife and had delivered hundreds of babies. She’d raised two of her own. She’d taught yoga to tens of thousands of pregnant women and new moms. She was extremely knowledgable, and she was hilarious. Her pre- and post- natal yoga classes were institutions in San Francisco. I always got a little flustered and quiet around her because I thought she was just so cool.
While we were all in our poses, she stopped by my mat. Quietly she said to me, “Is this your first baby, Tara?”
“Yes,” I said.
“I can’t believe that,” she said. “It just seems like you’ve done this a thousand times before,” she said.
I was immediately blushing, and on could nine.
And then I had the thought, “You can act as if that’s true.” And suddenly, then and there, I decided I had done labor a thousand times before. And the minute I thought that, I found a part of myself who had done it a thousand times before. It was like she raised her hand and said, “Here I am.”
I can’t tell you what part of me that was. Perhaps it was the part that is connected to every other woman on earth. Perhaps it’s a part of me that is older than my thirty-some years, a part that has, in other times, given birth. I don’t know what part of me it was but I can tell you that part was right there to say, “Yes, you have done this before.”
For the next few days, I kept feeling what became a soft, energizing, accessible sense of “you’ve done labor a thousand times before. This isn’t new to you at all. You aren’t a beginner, you’re old hat at this.” It was the precise opposite of how I’d ever thought of myself in relationship to labor.
That was my last pre-natal yoga class. Two days later, contractions began. And it turned out, yes, I could do labor, and did. All through the experience, I called on the part of me that had done it many times before.
There were, for me, three lessons in this:
1. It’s worth it to tell other people the goodness that you see in them. On the right day, at the right moment, your words might change how they see themselves. Click to tweet.
2. Act as if. Most of the time in life, we are in the process of becoming. We want to become more brave, or more forgiving, or more grateful or more confident or whatever it is. Instead of waiting to be that, we can simply try on the thought that we are that, and then act as if it were true. “I’ve done labor a thousand times” or “I’m totally qualified for this role” or “My artwork has an adoring fan base.” It’s not about being delusional, it’s about changing your behavior, upping your game, by giving yourself a new frame within which to operate.
3. And third, perhaps most mysteriously, if there is something in your life you feel lost about – maybe you feel like a novice, or like you have no idea what you are doing – maybe it’s labor or marriage or shepherding a loved one through the end of life – or maybe it’s something in your work or creative life – find the part of yourself that’s done it a thousand times before, the part of you that is bigger than your body and older than your life. I don’t know what to tell you as to how to find her but I know it has something to do with calling on her, and feeling around inside for her.
When you let her lead, I learned, she’ll take you just where you need to go.