How the birth of my four children "opened me up" in more ways than one.
Preparing for the birth of my first child entailed reading books, watching a few documentaries, and doing what I could mentally to prepare. But physically I was rigid and tight, and internally, I was an emotional mess. I had spent an entire lifetime suppressing painful emotions and traumas from my childhood, never exactly sure what to do with them and felt avoidance was the only solution for my sanity. I had subconsciously developed a coping technique of holding on very tightly to those bottled emotions. And that emotional tightness radiated out into my physical body, manifesting in tight muscles and overall rigidity. I was what you might call high-strung and tightly wound. My modus operandi was “close up and hold on,” and when I found myself in the context of giving birth, laboring for 19+ hours with my first baby, I simultaneously found myself in a state of panic and terror. My body was telling me, forcing me, to “open up and let go,” to do the exact opposite of what I had trained myself to do!
How does one hold on and let go at the same time?
It took a long, drawn-out labor, a tug-of-war between my body and my emotions, almost hemorrhaging, a perineal tear almost to my rectum, over six weeks of heavy bleeding, and a year of postpartum depression to discover the answer to that question. The answer is: why try? Why create that kind of struggle, resistance and trauma for yourself? The baby will of course be born, one way or another. Women do not, will not and cannot stay pregnant forever, despite what your worst nightmares and deepest fears may tell you. But not only is giving birth the process of birthing a child, it is also the process of re-birth for yourself—if you will let it be. Don’t, like I did, fear the necessary and natural aspect of “opening” that is so fundamental to emotional maturity AND to the nature of giving birth.
Some women describe this “re-birth” as total and complete exposure, vulnerability and transparency of their inner-self. Others describe it as discovering their strength and personal power. Still others describe it as a death of the “old self”—the maiden—and the emergence of the “new self”—the mother. In my own birthing experiences, it felt like all of these, but with my first it was most keenly like death. I was so unfamiliar with letting emotions show and be healthily processed that somewhere along the way I mentally dreaded it like I would dying. It was a debilitating fear of reliving emotional pain.
The potential of physical pain carries with it its own debilitating fear for many women, so it can prove to be a dynamic combination if left unresolved, this fear of reliving emotional pain (most likely from our past) combined with fear of enduring physical pain (from giving birth). All of this fear is most likely held very deeply and secretly by your subconscious mind. I was not able to analyze and understand my birth experience so clearly until I had the gift of hindsight, years afterward. When laboring with my first child, because of the double-layered fear, I falsely believed that letting go WOULD kill me, and I so resisted it at every turn, almost like fighting for my life. And maybe it did kill me, after all. Perhaps that’s what I spent almost a full-year grieving in my postpartum depression…the loss of my identity, my old self, my maidenhood. Who was I now? Once I had cried an ocean’s worth of tears for ten months straight, after I had finally shed my heavy load, who was I if I wasn’t my baggage?
That first birth experience was soul-purging. In order to open up physically, to stop clenching, tightening and rigidly resisting each contraction, the dam of my emotions burst open. For months I was flooded with them, swimming in them, drowning in them. At the time, not one person mentioned the words “postpartum depression”, and I knew even less about “kundalini awakening”, so for all I knew this was the new me and the new norm. What I learned later, much later, was how refining that year proved to be. For me, my postpartum depression was a remarkable gift. Everything I had held onto for so long, so tightly, finally came up and out. My daughter paved the way, blazing a trail, bringing light into the dark corners of my soul. At first, it was truly blinding, as it always is when one steps out of a dark room into full daylight. But once my eyes (my heart) adjusted, I knew I would never be the same. I never wanted to go back to my old way of doing things. And I never have.
The cloud of depression noticeably lifted when my sweet little daughter was about ten months old, but even today, almost a decade later, I still have lingering affects from her birth. I am still in that re-birth space, embracing more each day my motherhood and my femininity. Perhaps our maidenhood is never really dead. Instead, motherhood is a new mantle upon our head, or a cloak upon our shoulders, but our maiden heart still beats. I simply cannot look back at my daughter’s birth with an ounce of regret or lament. Could I have been more prepared? Absolutely. Could I have had a smoother birth? Most likely. Could I have prevented a year of uncontrollable sobbing? No doubt. But my life was my life. I was who I was. That first traumatic birth experience is an integral part of my story now. It set me on a journey of healing, self-discovery, and ultimately onto a path of birth work, helping other women navigate their pregnancy, birth and postpartum with more tools than I ever had in my tool belt in those days. How can I regret what has taught me so much?
Each succeeding birth has added new dimension and depth to that journey. For the sake of optimism, the story of my daughter’s birth would be bleak and incomplete without briefly sharing how each of my children’s births were progressively gentler and smoother. All four of my children were born at home in the water attended by a midwife. My second child, a son, was delivered in less than twelve hours, ten pounds even, and no tearing. Bouts of depression in my recovery, though nothing so deep or intense as with my daughter, though I held onto my pregnancy weight for over a year and struggled to feel healthy and vibrant.
My third child, a son, came after almost three weeks of prodromal labor. My contractions would hit every night around dinner time and last until about midnight. Finally, despite my skepticism that REAL labor would ever come, he was born en caul, arriving fast and furious in under two and a half hours. That’s as much due to the yoga immersion certification program I was then undertaking as it was all those weeks of contractions. I had been the most physically active during this pregnancy and certainly the most tuned in spiritually, practicing kundalini yoga, meditation, and pranayama in depth. Only one small stitch was required after his delivery, which isn’t shabby considering he was my biggest baby at eleven pounds even. Recovery was, frankly, wonderful, though I had some road rash from his dramatic entrance (and my, oh, my how this birth strongly matches my son’s personality in his fierceness for life, his warrior spirit and his “can do” ways!) Not to say there wasn’t massive adjusting going on, and plenty of tears shed. But gone were the feelings of despair, desperation, terror and rage—all that remained was just the natural overwhelm of postpartum life.
And finally, the delivery of my fourth child, yet another son, who came gently, peacefully and smoothly after about six hours of active labor, weighing in at nine pounds, three ounces, the smallest of my four. No tearing, and a smooth, quick recovery. It was during his delivery that I experienced absolute surrender for the first time in my life. After three deliveries under my belt, years of searching and gathering, and lots of emotional processing, I felt ready for his delivery in a way I had never experienced before. It was also with his birth that I experienced profound meditative “visions” during transition. It was as if the stronger the contraction the more pronounced my mental imagery became—vibrant colors, twinkling lights, turbulent oceans—it felt truly psychedelic. I felt myself ebbing and flowing, in and out of this dreamlike trance one moment and then suddenly back into the birthing tub, aware of everything going on within and without. It was also significant to me that it wasn’t until the tail end of my transition phase that I felt or ever thought of the word “pain”. Everything leading up to that point had been received as powerful sensation, my mental state effectively managing my interpretation of the receptors.
At the peak of my labor, the contractions were strong and mighty, and I was dancing back and forth more dramatically, losing my focus at times, going from a momentary state of pain and panic then right back into a state of peace and power. I’d never experienced anything like it before. I was dancing on a ledge that separated two worlds, sampling what each had to offer, preferring one, but wisened by the other. But it was a short-lived dance, because all at once I was bearing down and after two pushes—my son was born. It was bliss. It was transcendent. It was everything I believed birth could be.
Did my births get easier, or was I just stronger, better prepared? Likely it was both. There are infinite and immeasurable factors: my health, muscle memory, emotional state, the baby’s nature, flexibility, on and on we could list them. Regardless, women remember their births forever, and we can continue to learn from them all of our lives if we so choose. Birth, in all of its variety, with all of its outcomes, can be a true heroine’s journey, an evolution of souls. It is very unlikely that your births will unfold in the same manner that mine did. Most women are likely much healthier emotionally than I had been. But hopefully, having used my experiences as a template, we can find common themes and principles that connect all of us as women.
Two Kinds of Pain: Productive & Harfmul
The birth of my first child, though I did not realize it at the time, felt very harmful to me and was disrupting my modus operandi. Subconsciously I believed that the entire process was very much against nature. I had trained it very well to keep everything tightly contained—that’s what felt natural, and that’s why I resisted every contraction, which felt unnatural, foreign, dangerous and harmful.
It all goes back to fear. Deep down, underlying everything, was a fear of letting go and trusting the process, which created immense tension, emotionally and physically, which led to pain, and not productive pain, but harmful pain. It left me in a state of shock and trauma. I felt ripped open. I emotionally bled out.
Contrast that with the birth of my fourth child? An entirely different experience. In the final stages, I did experience brief waves of pain—but this time, it was productive pain. The pain I felt during my fourth birth was powerful and intense but I didn’t fear it and it didn’t scar me. I trusted it. It was telling me, in no uncertain terms, that I was crossing a threshold, exploring new and foreign terrain. But all I could do was move through it. Like that old “Bear Hunt” song we used to sing as children “I’m going on a bear hunt, I’m not afraid! Coming to a field. Can’t go over it. Can’t go under it. Have to go throoouuuugh it.”
And Then There Was BODHI
I knew very little about kundalini energy and never imagined it had any connection to the year of postpartum turmoil I had endured after the birth of my first child. It wasn’t until years after my daughter’s birth when I happened to be reading a book about kundalini and read account after account of different people’s awakenings—describing tremors, wells of grief, bouts of rage, anti-social behaviors, and more—my jaw was hitting the floor. They were describing my postpartum experience! How could this be?
Then, another year later, still holding that question in my heart, I shared my connection with my yoga mentor, who validated my experience and shared some more resources with me that expanded my understanding of how kundalini works. It was revelatory. Instead of feeling victimized by my postpartum depression, I was able to view it through an entirely different lens. My femininity was waking up. For me, as an abuse survivor with a deeply wounded feminine psyche, it proved to be very jarring. Kundalini Shakti paid me a powerful visit. She came like an uncontrollable wild fire, burning and purging acres of suppressed “stuff” from my soul. The flames burned violently and I could hold nothing back: childhood traumas, suppressed grief and rage, profound insecurities, intense feelings of loneliness and isolation…for a year straight. But eventually, the tears slowed, the fires that had burned so fiercely died down, and a sense of supreme lightness replaced it.
Wildfires are ferocious, but they clear away the dead, rotting debris and make way for a whole new forest of growth. Once the fires went down, I was awake and alert in a way I had never experienced before. I relished life and the simple pleasures with newfound eagerness. I’ve never been the same since then. It was hard, it was overwhelming, I wouldn’t wish for it to happen that way for anyone else, but at least now I can celebrate it as an ‘awakening’—a chance to reclaim my life.
I was unprepared in every way for my awakening. Why? Because I spent an entire lifetime suppressing. I bottled up my pain and held onto it as tightly as I could, barely letting myself cry for fear I would never be able to stop. But when Kundalini moved in, in order to find her way to my crown, she had a LOT of junk to clear out. She burned it out of me in order to make room for something better. The nature of my childhood abuse was directly connected to my femininity and sexuality, and the wounds were very deep. So to have my feminine energy wake up all at once, with the delivery of my daughter, was to have all of those wounds exposed—raw and aching. If you’ve ever seen a wildfire burning, hot and out of control, what always fills the sky overhead? Black smoke. And it often takes a great deal of time for the skies to clear even after the fires have died away. Those black plumes of smoke are like Eeyore’s cloud of depression hanging over so many postpartum women, as their forest fire burns and purges their “old” self in order to make way for the “new”.
Learn from my experiences. Don't miss the remarkable opportunity that is yours, to embrace and celebrate your awakening. You can choose to simply “get through” your labor, like so many do, or you can let it change you, amaze you, and transform you. You don’t need to fear birth. You don’t need to fear depression. If it comes, you now know that the black smoke choking out the sun is a byproduct of Kundalini Shakti’s forest fire. She is doing the deepest soul-cleansing work imaginable. Trust her process. Let this understanding of Kundalini Shakti give you a deeper and richer context of whatever unexpected trials—or euphoria—your pregnancy, delivery and postpartum experience may bring.
Blessings on your journey and personal path to awakening.