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. I really believed I somehow couldn’t do it.
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 techniques and that helped me feel a little more secure.
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 pretty 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. 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. Her pre- and post-natal yoga classes are institutions in San Francisco that sell out with a long waiting list (and people come and stand in line) every week. She’s extremely knowledgeable, caring, super outgoing, and hilarious.
I always got a little flustered and quiet around her because I was so impressed by her and her ease in her own skin.
On this particular day, 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.”
I was immediately blushing, and on cloud nine.
And then I had the graced and blessed thought, “Tara, you can act as if that’s true.”
Suddenly, then and there, I decided I had done labor a thousand times before.
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.
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.
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. If you are looking for a way forward in these challenging political times, remember this is not (in fact) the first time your cells have done what they are now being asked to do.
Sometimes, finding the part of you that has done this a thousand times before is as simple as remembering she is there, calling on her, feeling around inside for her.
When you let her lead, I learned, she’ll take you where you need to go.
photo credit: Joey Thompson