Rites of Passage
On April 30, 2003, at approximately 3:00 AM, I began to pry myself open. I was 14 days shy of my due date for my first child. You would think that would have made the significance of the deep, grinding opening that had begun inside of me make sense, but it did not. Consciously, I was still under the impression that I had control over all the outcomes of my choices.
Also, no one had ever told me that people who carry deep trauma in their bodies from being physically violated can experience birth as a repeat of that trauma. My body was taken over by someone else’s desperate need to enter the world and it didn’t matter what I wanted, or how much they were hurting me, or how close they were marching me to death. The train had left the station and I was not allowed off. It was a slowly accelerating nightmare.
Seen through the lens of the deep disassociation that can come in the face of sexual trauma, the way my labor progressed makes some kind of sense now, but it didn’t while I was in it. I sent my husband to work. I went to work myself for a few hours, contractions rippling through me, assuring everyone that I was fine.
I drove all the way to the next county to submit myself to the observation of an ob-gyn who was required to sign off on my planned homebirth. I could not sit down in his presence; my animal self knowing that I needed to be upright to let the waves move through me. He assured me that indeed I was fine, that I was more than likely having practice contractions and should just go home and get in the tub until they stopped.
I did not go home. I drove all the way past my house to another county to climb into the wood-fired hot tub of farmer friends. The water at the bottom was still cool, even as the surface layer’s temperature was rising, rising, and I sank my roiling belly down deep. For hours on end, alone and floating between the deep water and the sky I pleaded and prayed, please just make it stop.
It did not stop. The pain kept coming and coming, growing and clawing at me. My husband and our friends insisted that maybe, just maybe, I was having a baby, but I could not allow that reality to grip my conscious mind.
It was not until we got home and I was on all fours on our bed, my water broken like a tidal wave over the kitchen floor, that the terrifying thing that was happening pummeled my denial into submission. It took far less than an hour for the midwife to reach our house. I was 9 cm dilated.
When the pushing began I screamed like a wild animal in a rusty trap, so high and long that my midwife had to implore me to bring my tone down, ground it in my chest so that I didn’t blow out my vocal cords. I shoved myself, what little of myself was left to hold onto, deep into my heart and it ripped wide open.
I was pain and instinct, nothing more. I was not heroic. I was not noble. I was not transcendent. I was raw and wounded and wild, in the vicious, unyielding grip of the life that I had chosen, having no idea what that would truly mean, what it would require of me.
If I had known what motherhood would require of me— the constant demand to keep my heart open when every learned instinct tells me to close up shop and run, the fortitude to dig through the mud and muck of my traumas in order to find the solid self underneath that can hold boundaries and wholehearted space, the willingness to be fully present despite pain, mundanity, and powerlessness— I would never have done it. I would not have believed myself capable.
When my first child finally emerged, bloody and squalling, 22 hours after it all began, I still wasn’t capable, not fully. I had survived the rite of passage, crossing over the threshold into a space where the potential in me could grow. I still had to show up over and over again, every day, to feed and tend it. I had to grow a child, but more importantly, I had to grow a life— strong and vital enough to hold and nurture everything that we are and can become. I’m still working on it 18 years later.
I love my son, and his sister, with the same raw wildness that brought them into the world. It has made me fierce and brave and joyful. It has also brought an unwavering clarity. If I want this life—this rich, complicated, gorgeous, wild life? Then I have to bring the same vulnerability, determination, integrity, and wild love to everything and everyone I commit myself to, with no clearer idea of all the outcomes than I have with my children.
This is terrifying, but I have run that gauntlet already and become terrible— formidable in nature, awesome— and I wouldn’t be any other way.
Great news! We had a surge of subscribers this last week. Welcome, new friends! I am so, so glad you’re here. I am incredibly grateful for each and every one of you, new and old. Thank you for supporting my work.
Please continue to help this project, and me, grow by sharing with your networks, liking (click the heart!), commenting, and subscribing in the box below if you haven’t yet. Much love, always. XO, Asha