Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Darkness of the Womb

It has been three months since Gloria's birth. Three months since she emerged from the darkness of the womb. I wonder what she was thinking during that long night. Her last night in the only world she knew. As the walls of her home closed in on her, literally forcing her out, was she conscious of hope? Or at least wonder? Or was it only fear?
In the early stages of labor it was me who was consumed with fear, blood pressure through the roof, heartbeat racing. But her heart, perfect and steady, calmed me. My husband calmed me. Later, fear having left me, could she feel the fierceness of my love, my unshakeable trust in her and me and Him? I hope so. When she emerged, head swiveling in all directions, certainly then she felt wonder. Followed by the fear of finding yourself in a foreign country and recognizing absolutely nothing. Her cries felt panicked and incessant. But her cries also felt victorious. It meant that what we had just done was scary as hell, but we had done it anyway. We learned that we can do scary things. We can do hard things. Together. 

And isn't that what life should be about? This exchange of hope. The constant dance of reassuring whichever one is in need or reassurance in order to keep going. We seem to find ourselves at a major crossroads at this particular point in history. The place where all 7.5 billion of the world's people suddenly find themselves merging onto the same road, faced with the impossible task of crossing one bridge. Together. It feels dangerous. It feels highly unlikely. It feels terribly uncomfortable to be shoved up against so many who are so different from ourselves. But the momentum of an entire planet's worth of people makes us powerless to stop this process.

The Sikh Activist and lawyer, Valarie Kaur said in her recent speech

“And so the mother in me asks, what if? What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb? What if our America is not dead, but a country that is waiting to be born? What if the story of America is one long labor? What if all of our grandfathers and grandmothers are standing behind us now—those who survived occupation and genocide, slavery and Jim Crow, detentions and political assault—what if they are whispering in our ear today, tonight “you are brave”? What if this is our nation’s great transition?
“What does the midwife tell us to do? Breathe. And then? push. Because if we don’t push we will die. If we don’t push, our nation will die. Tonight we will breathe. Tomorrow we will labor in love. Through love. And your revolutionary love is the magic we will show our children.”
So let's push across this bridge together, holding the hands of whoever happens to be nearest. Let us hope that bridge will hold us, since there is no other way across. Let us reassure each other along the way. Comfort one another. Love each other across. Because on the other side, we will see that there are no more lines in the sand. We will have arrived in the land of oneness. It still won't be easy. Neither is getting along with your family. But they are family. We are family. And in a family, there is no more 'us' and 'them.' There is only 'we.'

Baha'u'llah said:

The essence of all that We have revealed for thee is Justice, is for man to free himself from idle fancy and imitation, discern with the eye of oneness His glorious handiwork, and look into all things with a searching eye. 

I think, if we look with the 'eye of oneness,' we will see that we are all 'His glorious handiwork.' We are all family. In the truest possible sense.

Justice will follow.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Welcoming Gloria

Gloria Leigh Sabera entered the world on January 9th, 2017 at 9:09 AM. It was 9 degrees outside. So our midwife, Robin, said when she arrived an hour earlier. I was aware only of bright sun on white snow. Of candles flickering in a row, given to us hours earlier at our blessing. Of kind hands and gentle, encouraging voices. Of quiet laughter and loud wails. The occasional thunk of wood falling in the wood stove. The sweet relief of hot water being poured by the potful into the birth tub. Of bones descending and a head full of hair making its way into the world.

On Sunday, 12 days before her due date, after returning from children's class, my water started leaking a bit. I've never been this early before, nor had this happen, so I was wholly unconvinced that this was the beginning of labor. I fixed lunch, tidied the house (just in case), laid down for 20 minutes to put Isaiah to sleep, and went downstairs for the blessing my mom was hosting. In lieu of a gift, I had requested a reading to add to our blessing book, a candle to light at the birth, and a bead to contribute to the baby's first prayer beads. It was a sweet and beautiful afternoon- a reminder that we do not raise (or even birth) our children by ourselves, nor do they belong to us alone.

A reminder I desperately needed--I have had a lot of anxiety during this pregnancy fueled by a hyperthyroid diagnosis at week 30 with potentially dire but unlikely consequences. Still, once fear is introduced, it is hard to eradicate. And because such a condition technically disqualified me from a home birth (though not literally since my midwives placed their whole trust in me), it did require a heightened level of monitoring and vigilance. And so, leading up to this birth, I have been humbled again and again, constantly reminded of the delicate balance between placing my whole trust in God and trusting wholly in my own ability to grow and deliver human life into the world. It is a strange place to live- between powerlessness and absolute power. But isn't that life? Realizing over and over that we are standing, yes, but standing because of and in the shadow of something greater than ourselves.

I was in a good place. I could do this. The baby could do this. And the roomful of women--mothers and mothered--were a reminder that alone is just an illusion.

But then I came upstairs. I was having more signs. Labor was looking more and more like a possibility. I grasped desperately for that confidence from earlier, but found fear instead, flapping its wings in the shadows. So I did the only logical thing: swept and mopped the floors. Lined up the candles on the window sill. Made space for the birth tub. Channeled the adrenaline. It took Sisay a while to take me seriously, but before going to bed he pulled the birth tub in from the porch and cleaned it out. (We had just picked it up two days prior, and almost hadn't at all.) I gave our midwife, Lindsay, a heads up, told her I wasn't sure yet where this was headed, and tried to get some rest. Unsuccessfully. My anxiety was mounting. My heart was racing. There wasn't enough oxygen in the air. There were lots of feelings and none of them were, 'You got this.' I asked Lindsay to come. Even if this wasn't it, I needed her. She arrived around 3 AM. We chatted, she took my blood pressure. It was so high she wouldn't even tell me what it was. I drank some chamomile tea, tried to lay down again. Finally I crawled into Sisay's arms and asked him to hold my heart 'so it wouldn't come out of my chest.' He did. For two hours. 'Safe' started to seep in at the edges. I dozed in and out of sleep.

And then it was 6 AM. Like clockwork, all three children woke up. Sisay got up to deliver them to the grandparents downstairs. And suddenly a weight lifted off of me. I hadn't realized that having them in my birth space had impacted me so strongly. Immediately, a strong contraction pulsed through my body. I smiled. I almost laughed. Finally, labor was a reality. With each contraction, a wave of confidence rushed in, taking with it wave after wave of anxiety. As soon as Sisay came back in, I asked him to fill the birth tub.

'So this is it?' he asked. 'Yes,' I smiled. 'This is definitely it."

There wasn't space anymore for worry. My body took over and I gladly surrendered. I spent time on hands and knees on the bed, hung out in the living room while Lindsay put her magic hands on exactly the right spots.

At 8 AM the tub was ready and I eagerly slid in. Our second midwife, Robin, arrived. We had just met her at our last appointment two days earlier, as she was just coming back from maternity leave. But midwives--good midwives--possess a certain ability to be both unobtrusive and fully present. She quietly and gracefully stepped in as my subtle cheerleader.

By now, bright sunlight flooded the room. I was both acutely aware yet oddly removed from my surroundings. With each contraction, I felt for my baby's head, marveling at its journey through me. When my water broke, I felt my bones reconfigure as she descended through my pelvis.

"I'm going to push her head out now," I announced. And with both tremendous effort--and restraint--I did. As soon as her head was birthed, she opened her eyes wide under water and swiveled her head all around to get a good look. I could still feel her kicking inside. And then out came a hand, waving at us. I held it until the next contraction. Lindsay wiggled her arm out and the rest of her followed. We pulled her up onto my chest together and suddenly I was staring into the face of our fourth child. Our perfect, tiny daughter. Sisay had been recording the birth in front of me and I quickly called him to the other side. "She's sticking her tongue out!" I laughed. I cried. I sighed. I did it. She did it. And we had not done it alone.