In the last trimester of this second pregnancy, I closed up. The physical and emotional demands were more difficult than I expected: running around after a toddler and meeting his emotional needs while feeling constantly uncomfortable in my body, managing blood sugar levels, and surfing huge hormonal surges that left me exhausted by myself. Going out in public most likely meant I would attract attention and comments from strangers about my large size, emphasizing my own insecurity and discomfort. I really did not want to be around people, even my dearest friends and family, because I could barely take care of myself, let alone give to my relationships.
By withdrawing my energy, I felt I was conserving what little I had to give to my family and myself. To be well, I believed I wanted to be closed off, locked away. I put my life on hold. I didn't reach out to friends, make outings, or attend events. Each day was punctuated by a fixation on baby's arrival because, once he came, it would all be over...wouldn't it? I ignored the persistent, internal question, “What will that truly change?”
I felt something happening at a deep level as I withdrew: other channels seemed to close off. I lost my perspective and patience easily. I felt less creative. I was less likely to be friendly to a neighbor or curious toward my son and husband. I was mentally and emotionally stopped up and stagnant. Instead of giving to myself, I realized in the last week of pregnancy that, by turning so fully inward, I was actually taking from myself by not allowing my life to flow. Instead of better loving myself and others, I was becoming bitter, despite my best efforts to stay aligned in seclusion.
I then came across profound words by Ina May Gaskin, the preeminent American midwife. She writes that in the thousands of births she has witnessed, she has noted a direct correlation between the relaxation and release of women's other bodily sphincters and the opening of their vaginas in birth. Simply keeping her jaw unclenched and her mouth open can help a woman dilate more easily and quickly, for instance - so can sitting on the toilet, a place where she is used to relaxing her bottom. But this isn't all: furthermore, receiving or offering words of affirmation and love also allow women to open. Hearing her partner tell her she is loved, expressing her own gratitude to those helping with the birth, and feeling the safety and security of a caring space allows a mother to give birth with less pain and more joy.
The body has its portals between the inside and outside. So, it would seem, does the spirit; these portals of connection and integration enable our relationships and creative processes to unfold and flourish. Fear and threat close them down, which makes giving birth - or living a meaningful, generative life - a struggle. But other energies open them wide - most powerfully, love. Love eases, inspires, instills courage. Love allows us to be permeable and soft to life. Love requires us to be engaged and integrated with others. Love cannot flow if we close ourselves. Love is a verb, we often hear, and its direction is outward. Love opens.
The revelation came like a full-bodied flash from my mind and womb: Love Opens. My whole pregnancy, I found my life aligning more and more to connecting with people, putting ideas into action, and letting myself be led; it was impossible not to feel that my child was responsible for the palpable energetic shift. He infused his nine months in utero with dynamic, expansive possibility. But my own struggles and fears kept me from leaning into the current of what emerges when I surrender to life's flow and what is being created through but beyond me. Around and within, my withdrawal had caused pain. Now, I understood I had to let go. This was the lesson I needed to learn to give birth to my second baby: to open up wholeheartedly without fear of not having or being enough. Love is motion that simultaneously draws together and expands beyond conceivable limits.
When the day came at last when Ronin began to make his arrival, I was ready - ready to be led. I held back from nothing. I tried to receive each rush joyfully in the beginning. I played and danced and made love with my husband. I turned my attention away from the discomfort and tuned into my delight. My husband held my hand to keep me grounded as the intensity built. I made long, low “Om” tones to bring down my awareness into the pain, which I could endure without suffering if I didn't resist it. I let many hands - husband's, mother's, mother-in-law’s, nurse’s, midwife's - hold me, steady me, cool me, clean me, reassure me. I listened as my husband, my rock, told me again and again softly, lovingly, “You can do this. You are doing this.”
There were moments I felt the resistance within me rise and threaten to close me up: when the pain became all-encompassing, my self-doubt reared, or I succumbed to distractions from the present. I felt the temptation to create distance from the people and circumstances near me by believing my supporters could not understand my pain. That bitterness turned in my mouth a couple times. Nevertheless, I returned to the mantras that illumined the truth that I was held and deeply connected. “I love my baby, my husband, these women.” The words allowed a path to unfold in me, through me: “Relax.” “Open up.” “I'm going to get HUGE.” “Love opens.”
And, of course, soon and smoothly enough, I did open. As I began to push, I recalled the refrain that came to me as I painted Ronin's mandala: “Down and through, up and out.” I had made it down and through my body's process of opening, so now I ascended with vigor to push my baby out. I knew just what to do with my body because it told me. An intense push sent my womb waters spraying in a sudden burst that elicited surprised laughter from my caretakers. I heard all around me, “Good job! Oh, wow! You're doing it, you've got it, Mandy!” I felt my baby move quickly down and through and then, with a gush of blood and a flurry of limbs, Ronin came up and out onto my chest, over my heart. I met my husband's gaze in elation. I smiled as he took a picture of us. I cried, “We did it!”
And, through the portals of joy and collaboration and compassion and intention and perseverance and hope and mystery and great, great wonder, Love Opened, within and all around.