Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Thread

Years ago, when I was a junior in college I became fascinated with the pregnant female shape. My sketchbook became swollen with images of round pregnant bellies with wings and murky fetus shapes. I obsessively created a series of etchings from these sketches and my professor, as I recall, was concerned. Was I pregnant? No, I think it was just my love affair with all things womb-full beginning.

I had completely forgotten about those prints until last week when they suddenly popped into my mind. I was driving home, thinking about my upcoming surgery, and so, as soon as I parked the van, I rushed into the house, unearthed my college portfolio and dug through the papers until I found them. There were more than I remembered and they were perfect.


Perfect because those images fit with a concept I’d been brewing for the past couple months.

On Monday I am having a hysterectomy. I was diagnosed with a large uterine fibroid and adenomyosis (fibrous growth within the uterine wall). After years of debilitating, heavy menstrual bleeding I am borderline anemic and nothing I’ve done non-invasively has been able to change that. After a lot of soul searching, a lot of interviewing of women who’d gone through the operation, and a lot of research I decided I needed to proceed. But I did so with a very heavy heart. Losing my womb felt very big. Very, very big.

I started to think about my uterus, the wonderful work it’s done (as evidenced by my three strapping young men), and my pregnancies. Those musings uncovered a thread that’s run through my adult life and those long forgotten etchings were like a link completing the circuit. When I found them I could feel the electricity sing.

The summer before my second year of college I was blessed to attend a birth, my very first one. My boyfriend’s sister-in-law was having a baby and the room was filled with friends and family (really, it was filled!). The only other birth I’d ever witnessed was my cat having kittens, which was wonderful in its own right, but this, this was different. I practically swooned (hospitals do that to me) and I had to leave the room. But I righted myself in time to see that little baby emerge from his mama and that experience changed my life.

The miracle of birth…a baby grows inside the mother…the baby emerges from the mother…this had never occurred to me before. Not like that. Not really. And that vision of it, that realization, was mind-blowing to this young woman.

I always knew I wanted to have kids and I looked forward to my first pregnancy. What surprised me was how ferociously I loved being pregnant. My pregnancy with Harry was perhaps the best physical time of my life. I got big and round immediately because I tend towards that pregnant shape naturally, and being able to let it all hang out was like taking a warm bath in my body all the time. I was meant to be this pregnant shape.

I took prenatal aerobics classes two or three times a week. I loved being in that room dancing around with other pregnant women. My limbs thinned out and my belly grew larger. I was HUGE by the end.

Throughout that pregnancy I was loving life so much that I considered the possibility of being a surrogate mother for infertile couples as a possible career! I did not want to live un-pregnant. As my due date approached I mourned the end of my pregnancy.

Having my baby, of course, changed that. Who has time to mourn the end of pregnancy when the outcome is as delicious as my adorable baby? (A baby who, by the way, just turned 18 last week!) I don’t remember thinking much about being a surrogate mother once he arrived. And my subsequent pregnancies with Ben and Toby were if not miserable, certainly never as easy and comfortable and enjoyable as that first time.

I started to help my friends during their labors. I quickly realized that I came into my essential self when I was guiding a friend through the relaxing, visualizing, breathing and pushing that happens at a birth. That feeling culminated when I coached my sister Mara through her labor 11 years ago. She was such a goddess and we got into the most incredible groove, forehead to forehead, nose to nose, breathing together, groaning together, holding each other till my beautiful niece was born. It was another life changing event. I was more present for her than the midwife in some ways. It was just us in that room (at least it felt that way) and I was her guide and protector.

Over the years I have begun to craft an idea that one day, I will do this. I mean, I will do this. Be a doula, be there to carry a mother through her labor and beyond. Last year, when Chanel asked me to be present at her second child’s birth (via C-section), to hold her hand and be her support, I leapt at the chance. It’s a long story, which you can read here, here, here, here and here, but suffice it to say that while helping her, my memory was recharged: I want to do this. I want to guide women in mothering, in birthing, in breastfeeding. This is my calling.

The experience with Chanel confirmed that when I grow up I want to be a doula (birth coach) or lactation consultant. I plan to wait until the boys are old enough to be self-sufficient for a period of time (the days I could potentially be away with long labors and new moms). Being a doula is bigger than just the birth experience, they often work with families before, during and after the birth, with preparing, with laboring, with nursing, and caring for the child and the mama. Just thinking of this makes me excited to move forward with it. But I need a bit more patience. Toby is only 10 and not ready for me to take on this other responsibility.

Hearing from the gynecologist that I needed a hysterectomy was a shock. Talking to many women who had had the surgery was a shock. “You don’t need it any more.” “Uteruses are for growing babies and then cancer.” At my pre-op appointment the surgeon actually used the word “amputate” (I know, surgeons, right?). I feel like my connection to that part of me is so different, so filled with appreciation and gratitude. It is that thread that runs through my adult life and goes to the deepest places of who I am.

I took a walk with my friend Madeleine the other day. We walked along the beach talking about transitions from one period to another in life, about moving through and beyond periods that define you in order to find new definitions. We talked about the sorrows and the joys that come with each new chapter. I drew my earth-woman-fertile-mother figure in the sand and let the waves caress her. I blessed myself, my core woman mother self. I have come to this realization: The earth mother in me is not going away, the core of woman- and motherhood that rests energetically in my womb will remain in me.

Tomorrow morning I will stem the out-flow of my own vitality. Though I will enter the hospital womb-full and leave womb-less, I will not be losing my self. I will be entering my next stage and it is a beautiful stage, that of wise crone woman, guide and caregiver, and the thread will remain. Think of me when you can and send me your healing blessings. Thanks.