I know the exact moment I began to fear death. (Wow ain't that an opening sentence?) It was the exact second I felt Isla move in my belly for the first time. At that moment my understanding of what it would mean to leave this life changed fundamentally. Its was the beginning of motherhood that really taught me how massively important (a brutal understatement if there ever was one) life is.
At a relatively young age I had to confront mortality in a visceral, personal and devastating way when a close and beloved family member left us before what everyone thought was his time. Everyone in my family learned that our lives are not lived or lost in a bubble. When we are taken away our loss is devastating, the grief long lasting and the absence ever present. But even that understanding did not fully prepare me for the feeling that no matter what I had to hold onto this earth for as long as possible.
Before I had my own I heard the saying “Children give reason and purpose to life” and I would roll my eyes. I always thought that that was a heck of a lot of pressure to put on a kid. I would like to think that parents purpose in life isn't to make themselves so co-dependent with their children that if the kids some how mess up then all is not lost. But I think I was fundamentally missing the point of that statement. What it means is that there is nothing more important to live for.
I remember my mom telling me stories about the first weeks when she brought me home from the hospital. How, in the midst of folding laundry she would play the what if 'game'. What would she do if masked bandits forced their way into the house? How would she save me? What would she do if there was a fire? How would she get me out? The first time she told me about this I chalked it up to mild postpartum depression. And yet, no sooner was Isla in my arms was I thinking and preparing how to protect, guard and put myself between her and what ever potential threat I could think of. Now I do attribute some of that hyper awareness to hormones after birth. After all, it would make sense that thousands of years ago our monkey ancestors would need that boost of protectiveness to keep their off spring from the neighbourhood saber tooth tigers lunch table.
Beyond a rush of hormones I think simply going through the birth experience opens a person up to the fact that some times crap happens you wish wouldn't. Almost every woman I have spoken to about their birth experience has said that at one point they thought the pain was going to kill them. It might have been a split second before the reading, preparing, coaching, meditation, breathing techniques (or heavy narcotics) kicked in, But each one of us hit a point when we really thought we could not go on. I think facing that opens you more to 'the other side' if you let it.
Some moms I have spoken to about this have had those labour experiences you never want to hear. The stories you skim over in your “How to deliver a Baby” guide book, if the authors are brave enough to put them in. For those moms the trauma of facing a lethal tiger in the birth room leaves an indelible mark. It is not something that can be forgotten or that can be 'gotten over'. Facing their own, and some times their baby's mortality just as a new life is supposed to be beginning is not something anyone ever expects. That's a look into the other side that has profound effects on the way a person looks at raising a child or even more grandly, the way you look at life as a whole. Thankfully, thus far, I haven't personally had that experience. But I do feel that the moms who have do look at things in a different way. Not necessarily more profound but such a thing isn't gone through without it bringing change to a person.
But even your average labouring mom has a peek into the other side. To me it seems that in those last few hours of carrying that baby in our bodies mothers are walking the fine edge between 'here' and 'there', where ever 'there' is.
As a part of my own preparation to give birth to Colin I began reading “Birthing From Within”. I must tell you it was not exactly my cup of tea. It was a little too granola-y for me, a little too spiritual, a little too creative, just a little too much. Yet I read the whole thing because as a person who is employed to talk to Moms about to give birth, have just given birth or have long since given birth and are now focused on raising kids I like to read the parenting/birthing books that people are talking about. (My next read is Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother FYI)
Anyway at one point in Birthing From Within the author calls the state you enter into at the height of labour, when things are their hardest and when you are under the complete control of your body (the end of active labour into transition and the pushing stage to some extent) Labour Land. They explain it as a sort of head space you go into to block out the external world and you fully become all about whats happening internally. They liken it to meditation in fact.
I can say without a doubt I have visited labour land and its one whacked out place. The only way I can explain what that was like was I felt as though I was diving into the pain. It wasn't a wave washing over me as contractions are often compared to, I was deep in that wave just focusing on swimming with the current. Quite honestly Santa Clause, Colin Firth and Jane Austen could have showed up in my room and I wouldn't have given two shits. In those moments I felt like I was touching the other side. If I go really wavy-gravy it was like I had to go to the other side to bring my baby back from 'there'. Because the minute I pushed that new person out, looked in their eyes, there was no doubt that they just came from the place we all end up.
When my new babes looked in my eyes for the first time, I swear to you they both said the same thing to me;
“The big guy says “hi” and wants you to know that THIS is what love feels like, and he knows you will keep screwing up but forgives you for it, and don't worry, The Grandparents and Alex are doing fine. Now. Wheres the food?”