You: Hey! How have you been?
Me: Actually I’ve been dying a lot lately.
Weird but true. I’ve had so many experiences of dying lately and they’ve been building this message inside me. And with the holidays just around the corner, connecting with friends and family this year might not feel like it used to, so I think the reminder might be timely.
Ok sorry, let’s start this convo with two feet on the ground.
The first time I consciously died was when I was giving birth.
Birth is impossibly tough. No amount of prep will ever prepare you for a natural birth. You can do all the right exercises and eat all the right things, but as someone who has stepped into the ring four times, I can tell you – you will never be ready.
The contractions are hard, and every single one is worse than the one before. You can breathe through the first 100, maybe 150.
Then shit gets real.
By the time you’re about an hour from meeting your baby, you’re writhing, drooling, grinding your teeth, gripping anything you can to keep from slipping into the abyss. It’s excruciating, and the worst of it is, you have no idea how much more you will have to endure.
Then all hell breaks loose.
The medical term for this stage is “transition”.
As your body prepares to release its hold on your baby, these will be the hardest 20 minutes of your life. I don’t care how many times you do it, every time is the worst time. Midwives know. When you slip into this stage it begins with begging for an epidural and quickly escalates to a demand for a c-section.
The assurance that they do not know you are on the brink of death and something must be terribly wrong starts to set in. And you don’t have the energy, words or breath to tell them. And that’s when the midwives finally put a time limit on this endeavour and state with confidence “You are about to meet your baby! You are almost there.”
It’s inevitably met with an internal (and often external) f@ck you, but they never fail to say it.
Your only job becomes not dying.
In this final stage, you are fighting tooth and nail to stay alive. It feels like even your closest ally who’s always taken care of you no matter how badly you treated it – your body – has turned on you. And it will go on until you do your part and it is only one, simple step:
I kid you not – I have done this four times and without fail, it only ends when you stop fighting. But don’t kid yourself, good reader, you are not simply agreeing to take a deep breath and “surrender” like this is a yoga class – you are shaking hands with death and saying, “you can take me now.” The minute I resigned myself to dying there in a room full of people cheering me on, wiping my forehead, and literally holding me up …
Suddenly and without warning you are gripped with the ability to lift a frigging car. And you swiftly pry the cold grip of death from your throat because girl, you’ve got pushing you do.
And when that baby appears you’re thrust into the joy of motherhood – and whether it’s because your baby is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, or that you survived, or that you managed to claw your way out of the shell of the limited woman you were only one labour ago, is a secret that only lives in the heart of each individual mother.
The mother cannot emerge until the old version of her accepts death.
When women say, “I don’t know if I’m ready to have a baby” my nodding head is actually having a hidden, internal, sympathetic sigh. Because sister, you aren’t. Mothers aren’t just crazy women who give up sleep, time, food, privacy and dignity by choice.
Mothers are forged. And part of that fire, is the death of the woman you were. Labour is not the only way to get there – but it sure is a frigging crash course.
The dance of death is worth practicing.
That’s not the only time I’ve died, but it was the first time I could see it, and it taught me how to do it. And that is an immense GIFT because I truly believe it is the most important lesson a parent (and human) can learn.
I know you’ve died many times too. It’s not always labour, and it’s rarely followed by a wake and a funeral. In fact most of the time, we have to keep walking and talking as if nothing has happened. Even when inside we are writhing our way out of an old shell like a snake shedding its skin.
When we lose someone, there is a death of the you who could see, touch and hear them, and it is only when we surrender to the unbearable grief, that the new version of us, scarred but stronger, begins to emerge.
When we change our mind, there is a death of the old as our recalibrated self is allowed to step forward.
When we do what is right, even when everyone around you is encouraging us to do wrong, it requires the death of the weak and the birth of the courageous 2.0.
We live in a society that is terrified of death.
Look at the world. Look at how far we’ve twisted and turned and bargained and cowered to avoid a brush with death that will leave almost all of us unharmed.
Look around at the people, arms folded, feet planted, angry, defiant, waiting to pounce, rather than risk the death of their identity so thoroughly wrapped up in the frivolity of being right.
It’s a sign of our fear of death – in all the ways.
Resistance to death is normal and inevitable. But death is the only way through. Think of Jesus on the cross. Even he met his edge when he asked, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” He couldn’t die until he surrendered, and without that death there would be no resurrection. (Side bar: I could talk about this for HOURS).
This holiday might include the death of your carefree, say-whatever-you-want former self, to make way for the tenderhearted, supportive friend or family member who realizes that everyone has been faced with indescribable difficulty, heartache, fear, frustration and pain these past two years. I’m not implying that you should surrender your truth AT ALL, but if it is the truth, it will stand with or without you. And maybe your job is to create a loving container for other people to step into and allow that truth to land.
So if you’re having trouble mustering strength to let the old way die to make way for the new to emerge, just remember:
Someone was willing to die to bring you here. And thank goodness she did. You were worth every one of those twenty, excruciating minutes. Now go pay it forward.
And looking ahead to 2022 right around the corner, let’s do ourselves a favour and commit to rebirth. When the way forward, in life or business or anything else, feels like a lump in your throat – it’s time. Release the old with love. It won’t be easy but it will be worth it.
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