“When I dare to be powerful–to use my strength in the service of my vision–then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”
“The purpose of life is not to maintain personal comfort; it’s to grow the soul.”
When teaching childbirth classes, I would speak to my clients about shifting the common fear-based “what if” cultural dialog of birth to “positive” anticipation rather than fears, encouraging them to ask themselves questions like: “what if I give birth and it is one of the most powerful, thrilling moments of my life?” While I stand by this practice, I also think about the what ifs that crawl out of our dark places and lodge in our hearts. The what ifs that snake around the edges of our consciousness in the early hours of the morning. The what ifs we try to push down, down, down and away. The what ifs that stalk us. The what ifs so very awful that we fear in giving voice to them, we might give life to them as well.
We may feel guilty, ashamed, negative, and apologetic about our deepest “what ifs.” We worry that if we speak of them, they might come true. We worry that in voicing them, we might make ourselves, our families, our communities, our work, or philosophies, our faiths, or whatever look bad. We want to be positive. We want to be blissfully empowered, confident, and courageous. And, guess what? We are. Sometimes that courage comes from looking the “what ifs” right in the eye. Sometimes it comes from living through them. My most powerful gift from my pregnancy with my daughter, my pregnancy-after-loss baby, was to watch myself feel the fear and do it anyway. I was brave. And, it changed me to learn that.
What if we can learn more from our shadows than we ever thought possible? There is power in thinking what if I can’t do this and then discovering that you CAN.
“It is so easy to close down to risk, to protect ourselves against change and growth. But no baby bird emerges without first destroying the perfect egg sheltering it. We must risk being raw and fresh and awkward. For without such openness, life will not penetrate us anew. Unless we are open, we will not be filled.”
At a gathering of midwifery supporters and birth educators, I listened to an interesting and insightful presentation about language and the impact on birth. The woman speaking urged us to always talk in “positive” ways about birth, to use “positive” words and to avoid “negative” stories. As I listened to her, I thought of my own pregnancy loss story and knew that my experience in giving birth to my little dead baby would likely have ranked way up there as a “negative” story. And, that bothered me. Giving birth via miscarriage to my third son was one of the most transformative, formative, and powerful experience of my life. He gave me many gifts, he taught me many lessons, and I am a better person than I was without that experience. So, what does it mean for women when we hide away the “negative” stories of our lives? What might we be missing by making sure we never hear about a bad outcome? I wondered what if by avoiding “negative stories,” we also miss out on powerful stories of courage, growth, and transformation…
What if she suffered and survived?
What if she danced with death and she’s still here?
What if she faced fear and held on?
What if she was scarred and broken, but she healed?
What if she hasn’t healed, but she’s working on it?
What if she grieved deeply and came out the other side?
What if she felt fear and did it anyway?
What if she was so scared and felt so weak and so helpless and yet she persevered?
What if she sacrificed parts of her body for her children?
What if she couldn’t keep going…and then she did?
What if she is stronger in her broken places?
In another woman’s strength, may we see our own. In another woman’s fear, our own becomes acceptable.
When I was in the middle of my first miscarriage and I was thinking, “how will I do this?!” the faces of other women I knew who had experienced babyloss came floating through my mind. I saw them all and I knew that if they could do it, so could I. After my own baby’s miscarriage-birth, I then made a list of these women. There were twenty-seven names on the list. As I shared my experience and came to know other women’s stories and as multiple friends then experienced losses during that same year, the list grew to at least forty names (personal connections, not “online only” friends).
What if they’d all been careful to keep this “negativity” away from me?
“When one woman puts her experiences into words, another woman who has kept silent, afraid of what others will think, can find validation. And when the second woman says aloud, ‘yes, that was my experience too,’ the first woman loses some of her fear.”
Once, listening to a presentation by Pam England at an ICAN conference, she told us that the place “where you were the most wounded—the place where the meat was chewed off your bones, becomes the seat of your most powerful medicine and the place where you can reach someone where no one else can.”
What if we withhold our most powerful medicine?
I’ve come to realize that despite the many amazing and wonderful, profound and magical things about pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and motherhood, these experiences are also very likely to take some kind of toll from us, sometimes severe—whether on body, mind, or emotions. There is usually some type of “price” to be paid for each and every birth and sometimes the price is very high. This is, I guess, part of what qualifies, birth as such an intense, initiatory rite for women. It is most definitely a transformative event and transformation does not usually come without some degree of challenge. Something to be triumphed over or overcome, but something that also leaves permanent marks. Sometimes those marks are literal and sometimes they are emotional and sometimes they are truly beautiful, but we all earn some of them, somewhere along the line. And, I also think that by glossing over the marks, the figurative or literal scars our experiences can leave on us, and talking about only the positive side we can deny or hide the full impact of our journeys. What if it was okay to share our scars with each other? Not in a fear-mongering or “horror story” manner, but in honesty, depth, and truth.
What if we let other women see the full range of our courage?
Molly has been “gathering the women” to circle, sing, celebrate, and share since 2008. She plans and facilitates women’s circles, seasonal retreats and rituals, mother-daughter circles, family ceremonies, and red tent circles in rural Missouri and teaches online courses in Red Tent facilitation and Practical Priestessing. She is a priestess who holds MSW, M.Div, and D.Min degrees and finished her dissertation about contemporary priestessing in the U.S. Molly and her husband Mark co-create Story Goddesses, original goddess sculptures, ceremony kits, and jewelry at Brigid’s Grove. Molly is the author of Womanrunes, Earthprayer, and The Red Tent Resource Kit and she writes about thealogy, nature, practical priestessing, and the goddess at Brigid’s Grove.