Surrender, part 1

March 7, 2011 at 4:55 am

Trying to get words on paper to describe my fourth baby’s birth has been a challenge.  I’ve told the bare bones condensed version more times than I can remember now, but to find the words to infuse the story with all of its detail and intensity and emotion… every time I thought about making an attempt, I found myself paralyzed.  My feelings about the experience seem to change daily as well.  As I’ve relived it and processed it in my head over and over, the words and feelings associated with the experience have ranged across a broad spectrum—sometimes positive, sometimes negative, sometimes neutral.  Fortunately, as the event recedes further into memory, my feelings about it grow more and more positive and peaceful.

Initially, in the first few days after giving birth this time, I felt a lot of nostalgic longing for my first home birth experience. It had been so magical and spiritual (especially in retrospect, I’m sure), and the weeks after that birth had been even more wonderful.  This birth, however, was so utterly different than I ever expected or visualized.  Before I even had a chance to wrap my mind around the fact that it was happening, it was already over!  And, I must admit, those brief moments of “happening” were intense enough that I felt, for the first time after a birth, a bit traumatized. There also wasn’t time for so many of the things I had hoped to do during this birth experience—lots of private time with my husband, time in the shower, time visualizing and meditating on my baby, etc.  I only got to wear my birthing necklace for what seemed like a few minutes, and I had envisioned spending hours with it draped on my neck as a reminder of the love and strength being lent to me.  So this birth was initially a bit disappointing to me despite the fact that it all went “perfectly” in terms of health and clinical details.  I feel so ungrateful now as I type those words, but I’m just keeping it real.

However, after a few days of processing everything, I realized that this birth had been magical and spiritual too, just in its own way.  And I realized that much of the magic and spiritual richness happened in a sort of cushion of time surrounding the actual birth experience rather than necessarily within the birth itself.  The whole experience from preconception to postpartum seemed to revolve around the theme of surrendering… opening ourselves completely to life, accepting the unexpected, experiencing new things.  So, in order to capture all the magic, spirit, and beauty of my baby’s arrival, I feel like I need to begin this story months before I even became pregnant…

I knew eight months before she was even conceived that at some time in the future another daughter would be coming to us.  She came to me in my dreams.  First, recurringly, as a tiny newborn complete with a name and nickname.  Later, she came to me again in a dream, as a feisty three-year-old with light blond hair like mine had been at that age.  I was still caring for my infant son, in no position to become pregnant again, but I already knew that another special new spirit would be joining our family down the road.

Several months later, I felt guided to talk with my husband about leaving the timing of our next conception in God’s hands.  In all our previous years of marriage, we had been too fearful to ever surrender that decision to God.  While I was certainly still hesitant, my husband was terrified.  But, the more we talked about it, soul-searched, and prayed about it, the more right it felt.  So, in February 2010, we took a flying leap off of what seemed a very tall cliff and surrendered our bodies and fertility to God.

Four months later (on Father’s Day), I took a pregnancy test on a whim.  My period was eight days “late,” but it had been somewhat irregular over the previous months, so it didn’t phase me much.  I really thought it would be a while before our next child would be conceived.  But as I looked with a bit of shock at the lines on the pregnancy test, I said to my husband (who was in our closet), “Ha! Umm… Happy Father’s Day…”

Later that evening, after our kids were in bed, I was feeling a little overwhelmed with the pregnancy news.  My husband and I talked about things for a while and then I asked him for a blessing, hoping for some spiritual reassurance.  Then something totally unexpected and sacred happened to me.  As soon as my husband put his hands on my head and began speaking the words of the blessing, images started flashing into my mind.  Nothing like that had ever happened to me before during a blessing, so it took me completely by surprise.  At first I kept trying to will the images away because they were distracting, and I was trying to focus on what my husband was saying in the blessing.  But every time I tried to ignore them, they came back into focus more intensely. So finally I surrendered and gave them my attention.

I guess you could say I had a “vision.”  I was moving quickly through a very white forest of trees—everything was white, sort of like everything was covered with snow.  I was rushing forward, trees passing by me very quickly.  Eventually I came to a stop in front of a young girl—maybe 6 years old.  She was standing in front of a tree, wearing a long, long-sleeved white dress.  She had light blonde hair past her shoulders.  She looked right into my eyes and then sort of smiled and turned to leave, and immediately the vision vanished.

As soon as my husband finished the blessing, I told him what I had seen.  In that moment I felt almost certain that the tiny person growing inside of me was the daughter whom I had now seen at three different ages in dreams and visions (though I later wondered whether she might come in a later pregnancy).

Three months later, I slipped into a dark period of what I can now identify as antenatal depression.  I’ve always claimed to be happier and more emotionally stable while pregnant than while not pregnant, and in my previous three pregnancies that had been true.  But not this time.  In September, I got on an emotional roller coaster like nothing I had ever seen.  And I wondered multiple times a day whether taking that flying leap off the cliff of surrender had been the stupidest thing we’d ever done.  If it had been right to welcome this baby on God’s timetable, then why on earth was I so ridiculously miserable?  I was bombarded with seemingly incessant waves of darkness and misery.  Some afternoons, when my husband arrived home from work, I fled immediately to my bedroom or closet, locked the door, and let myself weep and writhe and wail without restraint.  To make matters worse, I felt guilty and horrible that the beautiful, special baby growing inside of me could probably feel my dark thoughts and feelings, and I felt even more guilty and horrible that many moments my thoughts were resentful and rejecting toward that special child.  I know that it was only the prayers of close friends and family that got me through that dark time. Sometimes I didn’t find out until afterward that a friend had prayed or fasted in my behalf.  But those loving acts, many happening from very far away, lifted me out of my darkest moments when I felt incapable of climbing out on my own.  Over and over, I would find the oppressive misery fading away, leaving me feeling “myself” again, with no explanation other than the knowledge that many were praying for me.   Through late October and early November, the darkness slowly subsided until it was gone completely.  And oh how blessed was the relief!

Looking back, as awful as that dark period was, I am grateful to have experienced it.  The lessons I learned about myself, life, God, friendship, prayer, and happiness were invaluable.  One day in the midst of my depression, a little voice in the back of my head kept whispering, “Remember Viktor Frankl?  Remember his book?  Go get it off your shelf.”  So I finally obliged that whispering voice.  And that little voice knew what it was talking about, as usual.  These powerful words brought me temporary peace:

If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering.  Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death.  Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity—even under the most difficult circumstances—to add a deeper meaning to his life. . . . Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him.  And this decides whether he worthy of his sufferings or not. (Man’s Search for Meaning)

And so I entered my final trimester feeling as though I had been through a fiery refiner’s fire, trying daily to trust that this pregnancy was, indeed, right and good, and that blessings and joy would come to us for it.

Read “Surrender, part 2″ HERE.