Week 38: Paradoxes
by Sharon Tjaden-Glass
Are you ready?!
This is the most likely comment that people will say to me in the next few weeks.
How do I honestly answer this?
Yes. I don’t want to be pregnant anymore.
No. I’m not ready for labor again.
Yes. I’m tired of all the fluid retention.
No. I’m not ready to breastfeed again.
Yes. I want to finally see this baby.
No. I don’t want to do all the night feedings.
Yes. I can’t stand carrying all this weight anymore.
No. The room still isn’t ready yet.
Yes. We’ll never be fully prepared anyway.
When I sleep at night on these bitterly cold days, I sweat. I throw the sheets off until I freeze. Then I pull them back over me. Repeat.
I have crazy dreams. Last night, I successfully managed to outsmart, outrun, and hide from a serial killer who had me trapped in an office building, much like the one in Mad Men (which, of course, I’ve been binge-watching lately).
At full term, a woman’s placenta generates as much estrogen as a non-pregnant woman will produce in three years.
Thus the sweating and crazy dreams.
In the weeks to come, the loss of these same hormones will cause me to shake with hot flashes and chills, to weep at the drop of a hat, and to constantly check to make sure the baby is sleeping.
Basically, their loss will make me feel completely undone.
This is the beginning of the ride down into powerlessness. This is when my individual will and desires start to bow their heads to my body’s processes and the needs of this tiny person, now coming forth.
This is when I become a passenger in my own body.
Dr. Robbie Davis-Floyd, a cultural anthropologist who specializes in the rituals of birth, points out that pregnancy is both “a state and a becoming.” If you translate the word “pregnancy” from Latin, it would literally read, “the state of being before being born.”
It is a kind of limbo. To be pregnant is to experience the world in flux. To see the world turned upside down and inside out. In her book, Birth as an American Rite of Passage, Davis-Floyd writes that,
“the near-constant inner and outer flux of pregnancy keeps the category systems of pregnant women in a continuous state of upheaval as old ways of thinking change to include new life” (p. 24).
So fluid is this state of being that I oscillate back and forth between wanting to be free of this pregnancy and not wanting it to end.
Labor also brings its own set of paradoxes.
In labor, the fastest way to progress is completely counter-intuitive.
You need to relax through the pain.
Try it the next time you burn your hand or stub you foot so hard you scream. Your first instinct is to clench and bear down. Not to breathe calmly through it.
Labor takes you out of the boat and throws you to the mercy of a series of invisible, crashing waves. At first, you might hold your breath through the pain and gasp for air in the breaks. But in time, the waves come at you harder and faster, leaving little to no time to breathe.
And that is when you realize that what you really need to do is stop fighting.
Let the water hold you down, down, down. Until you are still.
Because the more you resist, the longer labor is.
So surrender becomes your savior.
Surrendering to pain. Accepting it. Even though you don’t know when it will end.
That is the smoothest path through labor.
As a human being, I loathe this truth, that surrender is necessary in labor. I hate uncertainty and I cling to control. I avoid pain if I can.
But allow me to get spiritual for a moment.
As a Christian, I understand this truth.
Of all the symbols that Christians could have used to represent their most ardent belief, they chose a symbol of execution. Of Death.
Instead of choosing a symbol of humility (the manger) or peace (the dove) or bounty (the fish), Christians chose a symbol of intense pain and sacrifice. A sacrifice so crushing that it would obliterate body and mind, leaving behind only spirit.
They chose a symbol of death because they believed that it was only by dying to their previous lives that they would be able to embrace new life. They believed that before experiencing true humility and peace and bounty, they first needed to give it all up.
Because you can’t truly receive until your hands are empty.
Emptiness first. Then Plenty.
Death first. Then Life.
As a Christian, this is how I understand labor. I see labor as the most authentic expression of what I worship.
I follow a belief that Death comes first. Then Life.
Death to Self. Then, New Life.
As I’ve said before, January doesn’t seem like a month that goes well with birth. It stands in contrast to so many other months when we see evidence of life at work. In the United States, nature lovers will tell you that we are currently in Deep Winter, a period of seven weeks before Early Spring begins. In these weeks, we see nature as barren, perhaps even conquered.
But below the surface, the world is shifting and preparing for spring.
I think about this as I walk in the mornings now, bundled beneath layers. Even though the winter air bites and stings, the winter light still warms me when the clouds break.
I went to church last Sunday and I was reminded that we are in the season of Epiphany, the time of year when Christians remember that God’s light doesn’t just shine on us. It comes down to light our way. Even though the darkness consumes so many hours of these winter days, the light is still there.
Even though darkness, light.
Even though Death, Life.
Even though pain, progress.
Even though two, one.
Even though being, becoming.
Even though ready, not ready.