For months I had been writing things like this in my journal…
“Right now I just feel so drained. I feel like I give and give and give until there’s nothing left.”
“I am exhausted. I want to sleep for two weeks. I so need a break.”
“I am so run down, so overwhelmed, so out of reserves. But what can I do except just keep swimming?”
“I need a break. Big time. So much.”
Little red flags were waving in front of my face for quite some time. And then Mama Birth posted this:
I think that selflessness and sacrifice are beautiful things- and I think they can purify us and teach us. But I also know now that a woman needs balance. . . . Babies need a mother who takes care of herself and the other people she loves and who herself is nurtured in her relationships.
And it was another little red flag, another messenger saying, “Girl, you need help. You need a break. If you don’t take care of you, you won’t be able to take care of anyone else.” (Thank you, Sarah). But, unfortunately, those little red flags just kept on waving, and I just kept on running myself into the ground. I could feel myself sliding into depression, and it scared me. I have been in that dark place before, and I did not want to visit it again. Looking back, I can say that the damage was already done. A body chronically depleted of sleep and sapped of vital nutrients through chronic stress is going to have a very difficult time functioning, let alone functioning cheerfully.
I suppose my experience is a “cautionary tale” or sorts. When you feel yourself draining, depleting, dragging over the course of several months, and you hear yourself screaming in your head, “I need a break!” Don’t wait. Do whatever is within your power to get that break you need. But, if you can’t remedy your situation for one reason or another, let my experience also give you hope. Even if you crash and burn, you can recover. And, in fact, sometimes that crashing and burning sends you forth stronger.
Now, on to that dream I told you about…
On April 19, I awoke from a bizarre (disturbing) dream. It had been a short dream, or at least there weren’t many details that I could remember. I had been in labor. My husband was there. And then my deceased brother Steven appeared. After I had been laboring in the dark for a while (and this is where the dream got disturbing), my brother stuck his hand inside of me, checked my cervix, and told me I was about 4 cm dilated. And then the dream ended.
When I woke up, I was totally grossed out. Nobody likes having her cervix checked, but I think it’s safe to say that the last person you’d want doing it is your older brother. Ew! In that moment, all I wanted to do was forget about the dream, so I tried my best to do so.
Then I went for a morning run. I had started running about a week before in an effort to improve my emotional health and energy levels. For the first half of the run, I was griping and complaining in my head about my situation… about all the stress and sleep-deprivation and the darkness that I felt creeping into my soul. I was full of anger and frustration and self-pity. And then something inside of me shifted.
Somehow I started thinking about my pains in the context of childbirth. And the words from a powerful birth story from our book came forcefully into my mind: “Just feel this. Just feel what this feels like.” Those words completely changed the brain waves undulating through my skull. I thought about how I handle childbirth. I welcome it, I surrender to it, I relax into it, knowing that it is serving a wise and beautiful purpose. I know, in the context of birth, that fighting the pain, hating the pain, those things will only make it worse. In order to get to the other side stronger, I had to let go and surrender to it, let it wash over me, let it birth the beautiful something inside of me that God had in store.
After these insights came into my mind, I heard this question come into my mind, “If you haven’t seen the under side of darkness, if you haven’t lived it, how will you know how it feels to be there? How will you know how to help other people out of it?” And then some words spoken to me when I was a teenager through a wise man came back to me, “Some of your experiences have brought tears of sadness to your eyes and caused you great sorrow. These will assist you in meeting the challenges of the missions and responsibilities that God has for you.”
And then I started to cry, running along with beautiful music playing on my iPod, tears streaming down my face. I had gone from anger and self-pity to gratitude. I was filled with gratitude for my sufferings. Because I knew that those periods of sorrow were shaping me into an instrument capable of understanding dark and tormented places, the daily struggle with “demons,” because I have been there. That is a gift, really. And (in that moment) I was grateful.
Then more powerful, sacred thoughts and images continued to flow into my mind. And the tears continued to fall.
After I returned home, I sat nursing my baby, and I recalled the bizarre dream that had awakened me that morning. With the revelations and visions of my morning run rolling around in my head, the meaning of that dream suddenly became clear. I realized that my brother had come to communicate to me that I was in “labor,” nearing the “birth” of some beautiful things. I wasn’t quite there yet, but I was not alone. I had a “spiritual midwife” who was helping me along (probably many of them), checking on my progress and being with me as I labored, and there had been progress. I was four centimeters. I also felt that he was telling me that it might get harder for a while (and boy did it get harder), just like in labor. But my “midwife” would be with me. The only way out was through, and the easiest way through was to release, let go, and stop fighting against the pain. Rather, let the pain do its work and look forward to the coming birth and the coming joy.
As the meaning of the dream washed over me, I felt peace. And for a few days I had a break from my “contractions.” Blessed relief.
Perhaps some of you are also laboring even now. Perhaps you feel like your heart and soul are breaking into pieces. Perhaps you think that the darkness is going to drown out all the light and joy in your life. Perhaps you feel that you just can’t take any more. If you are there, inhabiting those dark, tormented places, let me be your virtual doula for a moment and say:
Look how far you’ve come.
Look how much you have already endured.
Look how strong you have already been.
You are making progress.
You are riding these storms beautifully.
No matter how oppressive the darkness may feel, you are NOT the darkness.
You are shining and radiant, and your labors will birth something beautiful and magnificent.
I am here if you need a hand to hold as you ride these powerful waves.