Thirty-Four Weeks, Six Days ~ October 22, 2004
~ Transitions Coming
I'm sure every pregnant woman eventually hears about transition - the point when the cervix is fully dilated, and the baby's head begins to descend through it. That's when doubt sets in for so many women, or determination - but not determination that they can go on, determination that they cannot. The change is too profound, too powerful, to take in all at once. We end up wanting help, or wanting to go home and do this some other day. The funny thing with transitions is that we manage them anyway, even without help. And the other funny thing about them is that once they start, there is no going back. There's no way out but through at that point. You're as stuck in the process as the baby is - in movement, but balanced between the inner and the outer, one stage of life and the next.
One of the things I've learned in the last few years is that transitions are everywhere - and we react to them the same ways we react to the one at birth.
I'm hitting two at once right now.
One of them is just the plain old 'just about done with this pregnancy' transition. A lot of women end up 'nesting' right around now. About two weeks to a month before the due date, they go into overdrive, HAVE to clean, HAVE to tidy, HAVE to organize, HAVE to prepare. It is a drive that is nearly an obsession for some, and ... well, usually barely a blip for me. The whole house-cleaning thing is more like a vague urge to do some laundry. Maybe once, on one day. For about 20 seconds. Sit too long and the urge goes away.
But I do have behavior changes when I am getting close to birthing. It finally dawned on me earlier this week that I don't nest, but my behavior does have an animal model. Not a bird. A wild cat. Like a cougar. I den.
I get grumpy, I withdraw from social contact, I need to have the bedroom set up (my bedroom, not just the nursery-stuff), I start buying food in more variety and quantity (lessee, just went to both Trader Joe's AND the local natural foods coop AND wanted to do the grocery shopping...), and I growl at people a lot. Or snarl, more accurately - not that low grumbling warning sound to caution others to not get too near, but the more sudden and serious 'get back or get bit' warning. Snappish, I guess, not just grumpy. I checked with a few friends, and found that about a third of them also den, rather than nest. They cook and set up a place in which to retreat, but they don't go all nuts on the 'traditional' nesting things, like cleaning and washing and organizing and putting away.
All my childhood, my 'totem' animal was a cougar. It was not the animal I drew the most, but one that I hungered for, one that I understood, one that sung to my soul. I still love to perch on rocks and high places (Will bought me a boulder for my garden for Christmas last year), I still need a full larder (pantry, freezer) to feel comfortable... very cougar-ish. And I have a serious need to be LEFT ALONE a lot near term. This from a very social person. Attempts to help me too much do not get an 'oh, how sweet' reaction from me, though I appreciate them at many levels. The gut-level reaction is to snarl. I suppress it as much as I can. And then I stock the larder some more, and retreat to my den when I can, and curl up, and rest, and wait. Cougar. That's my transition sign.
But there's also that labor transition, the one we all hear about. The first time I hit transition in labor, with Gabe, I went straight into cougar mode - though I didn't mind having anyone (and everyone) there, I simply retreated inside. I retreated so far inward that I literally could not form words. I had to use sign language to communicate with Will, because words would have to be carried so far from where I was to my physical mouth that it was not worth even bothering. So I signed.
The second time I had transition in labor, I did get the doubt reaction. OH, BOY, did I get the doubt reaction. It was pretty funny, in retrospect. Here I was, calm, pain-free, relaxed (using hypnobirthing) and out of nowhere, I'm insisting that I must have an epidural. I've thought it out, I'm NOT going to take No for an answer, get me an epidural. Why? Because without its help, I will not be able to relax my back. If I cannot relax my back, I will not dilate. No dilation, no baby. This completely ignores the fact that relaxing my back is not required in order to dilate. Or that epidurals are not intended to be used as a back-relaxer. They're for pain. Which I didn't have. All I had was doubt. Doubt that I could do it on my own, without 'help'. Fortunately, once I was told that I was nearly completely dilated, I could step past that reaction and say 'forget it!' to the epidural. I know my body, and I know that once I'm nearly fully dilated, it is not getting any worse. It only gets better from there.
I know a lot of women consider the transition contractions fiercely uncomfortable. With the hypnobirthing, though, I think I have an insight into the process that not everyone gets. I was able to separate the intense pressure sensation of my son's head going under my pubic bone from the sensation of the contractions. The contractions were genuinely no worse than before - not stronger, not harder, just as powerful as they needed to be to open my cervix, the same strength they needed to be to continue the process past that point. But in combination with the pressure of the head going through, the stretching of the pelvic connective tissues, the flexing of the pelvic bones under the pressure, and the associated compression of my tissues between the baby's head and her own bones... in combination, that's quite a lot of sensation to handle at once, as an undifferentiated load. No wonder most women see that as 'different' and plenty see it as 'harder'. With the hypnotherapy, I was able to differentiate the sensations, and deal with each as a separate issue. That made things more interesting than intense, though they were still intense. A lot of work, but not any more pain than before.
Anyway, transition, that time, had the typical doubt thing attached. The 'I can't do it' and the 'I need help'. Still, I've warned people that I get that reaction, and that I get past it just fine, too. I just need to roll with it and let it take me along, until it is past, and both my baby, and myself, are through that knot-hole.
But there's even one more transition I'm facing right now, stuck in the middle of it, like Winnie the Pooh stuck in Rabbit's hole.
That is the end of my childbearing time. A life transition, not a physical one. More mental, emotional, and spiritual than physical, though the physical certainly is a potent aspect of it. I have been a child-bearing woman for 8 years, now. We had only planned on three kids, but I had kind of dodged the transition to being just a Mother, not a Bearer, by allowing that IF we got pregnant again, by accident, four kids would be okay, too. Only now, I have four. And now, I have to recognize that I will be stopping at this point. Four, we can cope, and do so joyfully. Five... five will be more than we truly want, though we'd of course adjust if need be. So, with that knowledge, I know this is definitely and purposefully my last pregnancy. As pregnancy is not my favorite experience in the world (despite its joys), that's okay with me.
But birth? Labor and childbirth are so powerful, so potent, so transformative, so amazing, so miraculous, so whole, so real, so true an expression of my deepest self in action... how can I give that up? How can I welcome this birthing, whole-heartedly, as my last ... ever?
I'm not ready to be done birthing, even as much as I am ready to be done being pregnant. I fight against the knowledge that this is something I will never have again in this life, if all goes as planned. Never. That's a very, very long time. I know in my mind that I will grieve, and deal, and go on, and be glad for having had the births I had, their ups and downs included. But my heart rebels, tries to turn away from that truth. When I look too hard at it, knowing that this is the last one brings not just tears, but sobs. Real grief at the loss. Not just hormones gone haywire again, but the awareness of a transition coming, and one that leaves behind some great joys.
I remember my mother grieving the same loss, when she had a hysterectomy. Others I know have grieved it when they had to decide for health reasons to never have another child. And yet others grieve it slowly, gradually, as they transition more gradually into menopause. I'm facing it solidly, head-on, because we intend to take more permanent birth control measures (even though they are not guaranteed 100%, I'm betting on the successful side). Even though you never stop being a mother, stopping being that fertile creature, the one who brings another whole human into the world, the one whose transition in the physical sense aligns with the human transtion from a new life bounded to a new life unbounded... that's a huge thing to give up. To give it up knowingly, willingly... that's hard.
So here I am, denning as I transition into the birthing time for these babies, and grieving as I transition out of the birthing time for me. My last birthing - at least physically. I still have a book to bring to birth, and a new career, and other creative endeavors. But none of them have quite that visceral, physical impact, that ringing stillness when the entire universe holds its breath just before the new life takes its first breath. None have the amazing unity of thought and emotion and soul and body, not like that moment of birth. They'll be second best to this.
I just hope this birth can be a good one, worth having, and worth the heartache of losing it into the passage of time.