Six years ago today, I began the 3-day initiation rite that birthed my son into the world.
I naively felt reasonably well prepared at the time. I wasn’t.
Despite my amazing hands-on childbirth, birth-dancing and postpartum classes, Chinese medical training, and multitude of other resources -- none of those prepared me for how to work with the trauma held in my Womb that would be re-triggered during birth and postpartum.
On the contrary, I had mostly convinced myself that I'd already processed early sexual trauma, and didn't think it would come up again. But it did.
I had no idea how much I was still guarding my Womb Space, until it became clear in giving birth. Then, there was no way to avoid it; the only way out was Through.
I didn't know that rite of passage was also the beginning of several years of re-birthing myself -- not just into motherhood, but into my Wholeness, with deep healing of my own old traumas and ancestral patterns along the way.
The subconscious armoring of my Womb split wide open in the birthing process, aided by the compassionate, empowering support of my midwife (once I opened to receive it!), and by the pure Life Force of my son and my Womb itself. The subsequent years of learning how to live into a new identity congruent with undefended Love required epic amounts of Presence, courage, and support for deeper embodied healing.
Within those years of re-birthing myself also grew a depth of compassion, desire for connection, and devotion to authenticity, Trust, and We-Space-orientation that I never could have understood or embodied before.
These qualities (nourished by the deepening skills and relationships I cultivated to transform my postpartum misery), cleared old trauma-based patterns, and initiated a complete transformation of my life to match my new alignment. They continue to nurture the beautiful Being who came through my Womb -- as well as the rest of Us -- in a new paradigm of Thriving, empowered by Love from Within, for which I'm grateful every single day.
My nearly-6-year-old son and I atop Mt. Pisgah on one of our Friday Hike Days. After being in such pain for over a year postpartum, every day that I can walk and move with Ease, I celebrate!
Our birth dance began on a Sunday morning. My son wasn't born until the wee hours of Wednesday morning.
In those three days, I could barely stand or walk, so painful was the pressure on my sciatic nerve. (Which was just a precursor to the pain of movement postpartum!) I was literally brought to my knees. Brought to my knees to feel the support of Mother Earth, of all my ancestors, of all the women who had birthed before me.
I spent most of our birthing time alone, largely by choice, to feel into that lineage, to Be With my own pain, to tune into the flow of energy in my body, to feel the power of my Womb and of this sacred gift of embodiment.
Or so some parts of me thought...
There were also subconscious parts of me (which I’ve only been able to acknowledge in retrospect) that chose that degree of solitude from a place of trauma.
From a feeling that the pain of being female-bodied was meant to be endured with minimal support -- related to years of sexual abuse, as well as to cultural narratives and a familial high value placed on autonomy.
(Despite having had multiple wonderful support networks in my life, and consciously “knowing better,” these were nevertheless some of the subconscious trauma-based beliefs held in my body, brought to my attention much later.)
There was also a feeling of not wanting, or even knowing exactly how, to ask for or fully receive others' support -- especially because, for generations, the men in the family were unreliable or absent. And our previous traumas were endured primarily in solitude "just fine." And, I didn't realize the full extent of support that would be necessary.
There was also, perhaps, a subconscious suspicion that birthing still might bring up past trauma, despite all the previous healing work I'd done around sexual violations. And with that, a mistaken idea that it would be easier to be with those feelings alone (as I'd done so well for years!) than to risk the vulnerability of being witnessed, which would disprove my theory that I'd processed all that trauma already. (I was really devoted to being healthy and whole, thought I'd come so far, and couldn't see the parts that were still playing out trauma-patterns beneath the surface... I have infinite compassion for those parts now!)
The Divine Feminine and the Wounded Feminine, gestating together, giving birth to a whole new integration of pain and compassion and power. Giving birth to a new understanding of how deeply trauma was held in my Womb, as well as what it needed to be able to transform -- which has since shaped my work in the world in beautiful ways.
*** Please note: while I was pregnant, I would have found the following birth story to be triggering and difficult to read. However, it also would likely have opened up my awareness to find more support, such that the following months could have been much easier! There is beauty in the painful parts too.***
My Womb at 41 weeks
At first, the birthing process seemed to be going beautifully. My midwife listened to my birth song on the phone that Sunday evening, and thought I sounded reasonably far along with the 5-minute intervals between contractions. She told my husband to fill the birth tub and she'd be there soon.
Sinking into the soothing warmth of the tub felt divine... but was premature. Contractions slowed way down. Which was a relief to my body and psyche. But not helpful for the birth.
My midwife suggested I get out, after which the contractions and nausea sharpened profoundly. (Being an acupuncturist, I stuck needles in myself to stop throwing up, which helped immensely!) It seemed that labor was progressing again, and she let me have the space I asked for.
After dawn, as the waves slowed again, she found that my cervix wasn't dilated. At all. It was soft, but closed. Which felt devastating, given the exhausting intensity of the night. But the baby was fine, and my waters hadn't broken.
We decided I should rest and hydrate, before trying to pick things up again. I spent the day sleeping in 5-minute intervals, eating and drinking what I could, and found a tolerable rhythm with the waves of my Womb.
Contraction. Sip of bone broth or water. Sleep.
Repeat every 6-9 minutes for ~24 hours.
It seemed miraculous to feel better rested Tuesday morning, having not slept more than 5 minutes at a time since Sunday morning, but I did. (I still couldn't stand fully, with the pain shooting down my sciatic nerve, but it was helpful in enforcing my rest.)
She checked my cervix again. Still closed. We discussed the options. It felt deeply healing to be able to have these respectful conversations, rather than simply to be told by a doctor what was going to happen to my body next. (This entire labor would likely have felt more traumatizing than healing to me, had I not felt like my own power and choices were being honored.)
I opted for a cervical "massage" -- one of the most painful aspects of labor thus far, but it was effective in dilating my cervix to 4-5 cm. Despite the pain, it felt important to have actively chosen that option, to have my wishes be honored, and to feel safe with my midwife's approach to my body, in such a profoundly vulnerable state.
Her hands felt strong and certain, compassionate and respectful. Listening Hands. It felt like a new experience for my Womb Space to be touched and listened to like that; I could sense my Womb's resonance with it, the desire to embody those energies more powerfully myself.
And, I could feel more clearly just how much resistance and guardedness there was still within me, that was now being asked to let go. I dearly wanted to let it go, but it had to come from my body, not from the desire of my mind...
I started taking regular doses of herbal tinctures, and stuck more needles in myself to promote labor.
When my midwife returned that evening, I was sure there had been progress, as contractions had strengthened and become closer together again. But no. Still 4-5 cm. And now the baby was beginning to feel stressed.
At this point, despite our earlier agreement for me to have as much space as possible, my midwife let me know we'd reached that limit. She watched how I was navigating contractions: apparently calmly for myself, but not effectively for the purposes of giving birth. Patiently, she coached me through what I had been avoiding feeling.
"Let the pressure build."
And suddenly, my entire organism shifted.
In the past 2.5 days, I'd been calming my nervous system by sending all that energy down through my legs to ground it into the earth -- rather than letting it build behind my cervix. I was so well-practiced at channelling energy through the rest of my body, except for directly through that traumatized, well-guarded, sacred portal of my Womb, that I had been actively working against what needed to be happening. Oh.
Once I got the difference, terrifying and unfamiliar as it was to stay present with the pressure in my cervix, I dilated rapidly, and was in Transition within an hour.
I could feel decades, generations of Fear rising, simultaneously wanting to hide and to not be left alone, needing movement but not sure what. There was so much held there, not just the intensity of birthing, but memories of past experiences of powerlessness in abusive sexual situations.
It was all being transformed into the power to birth new life. But I had to actually feel it, had to Be With and Surrender to the pressure, to allow my cervix to open.
Once I felt more connected to the compassionate, loving support of another woman who had given birth, I could Be With the internal pressure and allow it to open outward.
Surrendering to the Power of Life Force birthing through me was different than feeling powerless in rape -- but there were overlapping sensations and emotions, too. And, my midwife facilitated my coming into my own Power With that Life Force, rather than feeling overwhelmed by it.
I was still convinced it would take many more hours, at this rate, despite my midwife's delight that I'd reached "the cursing phase" of labor... Out of the tub I crawled, slowly across the floor into bed.
I couldn't feel the baby's head when invited to check for myself... I was sure I couldn't have dilated that fast, after >2.5 days of laboring so hard and remaining closed... But I had -- that shift in knowing how to be present with my cervix certainly sped things up!
In bed, I was surprised to find myself pushing, squeezing my husband's hand so hard he thought I might break his thumb.
The Ring of Fire indeed felt as described. But prolonged, as my son's head came out a bit with each push, then went back in, stuck in between worlds at the level of his eyes. Turtling in and out. His shoulder was hung up behind my pubic bone. (Also known as shoulder dystocia, a complication in ~1% of vaginal births. He was 9 pounds, and it turned out his shoulders were slightly larger than his head.)
"Get the oxygen tank," my midwife called to her assistant.
After various attempts to maneuver new angles, with another couple pushes, she said, with clear, calm urgency,
"I can't find a pulse... We need to get this baby out NOW."
I rolled sideways off my hands and knees, to let her reach up inside to manually maneuver his shoulders around my bones so he could emerge through the birth canal...
Ring of Fire times ten.
And yet, it was also a moment of Surrender, of complete Trust.
Of understanding that this wasn't "my" birth or "my" baby, going along with any of our amusing human plans.
It was splitting me open to learn what it meant to be We, to feel all the power of Life Force moving through Us. I needed more support. This child needed more support. And it was ok.
This may seem obvious to some, but it was a life-altering, paradigm-shattering realization for me: to know that it was ok to receive help, even when wildly uncomfortable. To know that co-creating with Life Force included accepting assistance. To know that allowing such vulnerability and mutually supportive energy actually nourished ALL of our strength, courage, and resilience, as well as expanded my capacity to Be With whatever I was feeling. (I had to learn this over and over again postpartum, but it started then!)
With that sudden deepening of Trust, this new Being emerged. Blue and white and limp. Our midwife passed him to me, and deftly cleared his airway as I held him to my chest, singing the song I'd sung to him everyday in my Womb:
"I behold you, beautiful one;
I behold you, child of the Earth and Sun.
Let my love wash over you; let my love wash over you."
At the sound of my voice, he made a weak movement, and after what felt like forever, at the end of the song, he took his first breath. Then another, and finally cried and gained some color.
In those long minutes, I had the utmost Trust in Life.
My entire Being knew he needed that song, needed to feel my skin contact and heartbeat, to choose to be here. And he did. I sang him into life.
(I later learned that both the midwife and my husband were significantly less certain of his health than I was, and experienced much more Fear in that moment than I had any room for... I also later thanked my childbirth educator for her recommendation to sing or read to the baby daily in utero -- it was much easier to find my voice in our well-established ritual expression of Love, and beautiful to feel how we both relaxed into song. I've sung to him nearly everyday since then, too. Thousands of hours...)
Within a few more minutes, this resilient 9-pound Being had pushed his way to my breast and begun nursing like it was his destiny. (It was; we were lucky to have such an easeful breastfeeding relationship!)
After he'd suckled a while, I passed him to his dad and tried to birth the placenta.
It wouldn't come, no matter how I pushed, squatting in agony at the pressure in my perineum, or in any other position. (Baby's cord was still attached to me too, which made it a little more difficult, but also rather comical in our maneuverings!)
My dear midwife yet again reached all the way up into my Womb, this time to dislodge my placenta. It felt like the most excruciating part of the whole birth, so raw were all my vaginal tissues by that point! But it emerged in one piece, and her assistant made bloody placenta prints with it on watercolor paper after I cut the cord.
Finally, father and baby went into the next room to bond, while I got some blissful local anesthetic with my stitches, endured some uterine massage, and took a shower.
Everyone else had cake, while I curled up in bed with the baby and tried to remember what sleep was like. (Anytime I slept for weeks afterward, I had birth nightmares... and I didn't know then that it would be YEARS before either of us would sleep through the night... but our multitude of postpartum challenges are for another story!)
In all of this, I shifted my energy away from semi-consciously attempting to hold onto having Power Over my birth experience -- which was rooted in the Fear of Powerlessness I'd experienced in past abusive situations.
Pure exhaustion helped me to Surrender, to let go of control over or resistance to my body (and to others too!). I opened to Trust the clear, compassionate support being offered to me, in a way that my body could receive.
And, it wasn't just Surrender as in "giving up" the fortifications around my Womb, but more as in "allowing" Life Force to come into Right Relationship within my body-mind-spirit. It allowed me to Listen deeply to the clear direction of Source Energy moving through me.
It allowed me to step into co-creative Power With -- with my body, with others supporting our We-Space, with my son, with Source Energy, with the Life Force flowing through All of Us.
Since then, I've grown this skill in listening deeply to my body and my Womb Wisdom, with compassion, Presence, acceptance, curiosity, and courage. My Womb Wisdom has shaped my life and work in profound, unexpected ways, which continue to unfold -- nourished regularly by the practices shared in my free mini-course, Embodying Courage in Challenging Times.
Part of that Womb Wisdom has also been insisting on co-creating more community and sharing the various skills I've been cultivating with a wider audience -- in person, in online courses, and in my private, free Facebook group, Thriving Beyond Trauma: the Tao of Sacred Feminine Embodiment. Feel free to join us!
Meanwhile, I'm living with ever-abundant gratitude for the comfort and Ease with which I inhabit my body, relationships, and the world these days.
Thank you, beloved, resilient body-mind-spirit.
Thank you, sweet nearly-six-year-old. Through all our challenges, you’ve helped midwife me into a more authentic, open, connected, aligned, Present version of myself. I look forward to this next pivotal decade together.
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