I go to a New Thought spiritual center where people float around in Indian inspired robes, cowry shells, and crystals. We practice affirmative prayer, meditation, positive energy. There is no homophobia or patriarchy preached from the pulpit, no dire warnings to stay celibate until marriage, and as you look around you see multiracial families, queer couples, and everything from bright purple curls to flowing ropes of locks. People give you full-bodied hugs that smell like musk and jasmine. I love this place, but there are things I miss about a more traditional Black Christian church experience: the soulfulness of the music, and, especially, the expression and release of pain. That force you didn't ask for pushing you out of your seat to the front at the end of service pain. That quiet dropping fat tear drops on the clasped hands of the prayer ladies with peppermint-scented breath pain. That big, breaking through, open hearted, open armed splayed fingered, lifting face to heavens, tear-filled and wailing pain. Everyone is always smiling at Agape, and there is so much focus on positive energy, I have wondered sometimes, if pain was allowed.
So I was very happy today, ironically, that Reverend Beckwith talked about pain. The necessity of pain, the trouble caused in society and individuals: addiction, overeating, drug abuse, isolation, by our attempts to flee it. The role of pain in growth. This made me think of research I came across recently, The RISK study, a project that looks at positive psychological changes in low-income single mothers who survived Hurricane Katrina. The study finds something called Post Traumatic Growth, the growth that people can experience through the worst kinds of trauma. The values they develop, the things they let go of, the resilience that they find.
And this made me think of birth. Transition is the last stage of active labor, when the baby actually descends into the pelvis. The contractions intensify and come more closely together, and the mother begins to feel the pressure to push. This when she may shiver and shake and vomit and shit herself, this is when, during a natural birth attempt, women who have made it through several hours most often call for the drugs, not realizing, or not caring anymore, how close they actually are to the end. This reminds me of exactly what Reverend Beckwith said today, that it is the point of the deepest pain that is just before our largest growth. This is the point where we flee, to self medication, or something that dulls the sensation, or back to the familiar, and avert what we might have become.
I was determined to give birth without pain meds. After an emergency induction, the doctors and nurses and in-laws urged me to let go of that goal. But I was stubborn. I knew that my child would have Down Syndrome, that that may compromise his ability to breastfeed, his health in so many ways. Whatever advantage we could get from a natural birth (however natural it could be after three days of intervention to get it going), I wanted to give that to him, and to myself. And the best way to motivate me to do anything is to tell me that I can't. Through three days of chemically and foley balloon catheter-induced labor, I persevered without much doubt, until that last couple of hours. The pain became so intense, so fast, that I couldn't catch my breath between contractions, could actually feel my eyes rolling back into my head, my teeth biting my own tongue. My husband, who had been dutifully applying counterpressure to my lower back, trailing me, feeding me, assisting with my yoga poses,massaging me for hours, could not help anymore. And then a nurse told me I was only five centimeters dilated. I started sobbing and begged for the epidural. But before I could get the shot, things started happening in my body. I listened to it. It had to get naked. It had to get up and walk. It had to squat. It had to get on my knees. It was my show. I moved from room to bathroom, window to bed to back. People followed, chased me. My water broke all over the floor. People started to rush around, to fill the room. I don't know why. I didn't hear anyone. I didn't wait for permission or instructions. I lay on my side. I remember thinking only one thought, "I am going to have this baby or I am going to die." I flipped over on my back and pushed out my baby, ripping part of my vagina in the process. I grew into a mother. Because of what someone external had said, the measurement of my dilation, no one had realized that I was in transition, that I would have my child less than forty minutes after being pronounced only halfway there, almost completely of my own power. I still remember the anesthesiologist, a white man with a brown beard, standing in the middle of the room with his sanitized, gloved hands held up, looking back and forth, no longer needed.
I have never, before or since, felt that kind of physical pain (and I don't know that I'll be so stubborn about natural birth the next time around-drugs can be a good thing sometimes). But I have felt its emotional equivalent, these last two years of my life. I have wailed. I have laid catatonic. I have researched ways to die. I have tried to flee, through food, through purchases that I could not afford, through television. But I could never flee completely, because of this life I had pushed into this world, needing me to be present for him, to take care of him, to be alive, which is something more than survival for him. And in doing that, in sitting in the pain, in welcoming the joy that could coexist it, and the changes it forced in me. I was going to grow or I was going to die. I chose to live, which meant choosing to grow. Which meant asking questions of myself, telling truths to myself, that my life before allowed me to avoid.
I think I am coming out of it, finally, this big transition that wrought such a depth of hurting. But, as in childbirth with afterbirth, tears, and stitches, it doesn't mean the birth, or the pain of birth is over. I still have moments of wondering whether I can do this, of wishing, pointlessly, for a simpler past. But, like I wouldn't give back that kind-of-horrible-but-also-wonderful birth experience, I would not take back the decision to have my child, even with people suggesting that that decision was wrong, trying to measure, externally, in numbers, my capacity and his potential. I know that he was worth it. And I know that I am better, stronger, more powerful than before.
I usually don't enable comments, I do race woman work and I am not trying to hear from no internet trolls in a space where I also write about my son. But I would like to hear some other voices, stories on this one. For anyone, do you think you have ever gone through a transition? Is yours still to come? What do you think is the value of pain in our lives? The role of pain in faith, or spirituality? And if you have given birth (surgically, medicated, unmedicated, flight home with your newly adopted child in your arms, however you've done it) what did it teach you about yourself?