I have found that while all births are unique, they all share this in common: They aren’t what was expected.
And it’s not only in birth, all forms of passage (i.e., the events that fundamentally shape us as humans) have this in common. Because if we knew exactly the course we were going to take, we would never have been able to accept the wisdom that we gained from the journey.
I would not be writing this post for you if I hadn’t had the birth experience I had. A while back, I wrote a post about what happened, which was completely different from what I had planned to have happened. And in the midst of this experience that challenged every belief I had previously held, I suddenly had a new baby in my arms who demanded I not pay one lick of attention to anything that happened before her.
But my mind constantly replayed my birth experience. I felt like a victim to it, filled with shame that my perfect natural birth had ended in an epidural. I named all the things I should have done, judging my body for failing me. Yet I also saw flashes of insight. My birth experience released me from my grudge against Western medicine. It opened me to accept all that my daughter was asking of me and let go of my agenda.
I was filled with questions. So I went to the place that has always been my answer: pen and paper.
While I was pinned beneath my daughter in her breastfeeding marathons, I wrote constantly. I filled stacks of journals about my experience in pregnancy, childbirth, and the first months. I wrote easily a dozen versions of my daughter’s birth story, each time understanding a little bit more about what I gained and lost. And as my daughter grew, I kept writing. Because the passage of becoming a mama goes deep. Still writing three years later, I have found no end.
Making a Space for Passage
Women’s lives are filled with passages. We have built-in shifts that move us from girl to woman, from woman to mama, mama to wise woman. I’ve known many women who have had powerful experiences in birth and other feminine transformational journeys, but few who have had the time to truly reflect on how the process shaped them, and even fewer who know how to reframe what happened to work for them.
If I hadn’t had this time to digest the enormity of the experience of giving birth, I would never have gained the peace of knowing that my daughter’s birth was perfect, just as it was. I would never have been able to respond with a smile to well-meaning people who expressed their sympathy that my home birth ended in a hospital. I would never have found the source of my patience, acceptance, compassion, and non-judgment that guides me with myself, my daughter, my husband, and every client or student I work with. To say I am immensely grateful for that perspective does not begin to express how deeply I bow to it.
Time to reflect and digest feminine passages is not a luxury; it is a necessity. The children — whether ours or another’s — who will soon shape the world must see us living in full awareness of our power and its source. This is the way they can know theirs.
On Creativity and Emotional Vulnerability
Passages are inherently vulnerable experiences. We are taught to fear vulnerability, to avoid it at all costs. Yet the creative process demands that we let down our armor and stand in front of it all — the dark, the light, and the grey. This is where our greatest power lies, but it takes enormous courage to do.
I’ve ghostwritten professionally for nearly two decades. I’ve learned that most people are self-critical of their writing at best, terrified of it at worst. Even as a writer who won her first story contest at age 10 (about two young girls who had to survive alone on a piece of California that fell off during an earthquake — talk about a passage!), I fall into these traps. But as I wrote with my daughter on my lap or playing in the next room, I remembered what it was like to be as creative as a child. There was a time when we didn’t know that we were supposed to evaluate what we made, so we created out of pure love, curiosity, and joy.
Being open and willing to be vulnerable, both in walking our passages and creatively reflecting upon it, gives us everything we need to overcome shame, guilt, overwhelm, lack of passion, confusion, self-denial…the list goes on. It is what allows us the space to digest and process. Surrender and openness are about the most powerful things that I have found to integrate the big, messy, beautiful experiences that make us who we are. And who we are is huge. Bigger than you could ever have imagined.
I’ve been resting in the levity of the stories I’ve written about my feminine passages, and the lightness has inspired me to share a new online offering to honor feminine passages, to give them the recognition they deserve. WomanStory is an intimate space for us to process three major transformational events in our lives: the birth of a child, the first menstrual bleed, the first sexual experience. Over three five-week online programs (join one or join them all), we’ll unpack the stories we have been telling ourselves about these events, releasing what is stuck to finally step into the power that has always been ours to claim.
MamaStory, a journey into childbirth stories, begins May 22. I’m kicking off this first program with a Mother’s Day-After Celebration Circle on Monday, May 13. The latter is totally and completely free and gears you up for the former.
WomanStory is a safe container for you to pull out all of your gooey insides and share them without shame. It is a place for self-examination, deep inquiry, and celebration. It is not just for “creative types” or writers — it is for everyone who wants to know and reclaim her heroine’s journeys.
I’d love to see you in these circles, and to hear from you in the comments. What was the most profound passage you have had as a woman?