a (belated) labor day reflection

(I figured that since T showed up a bit late, I had a grace period to post this as well. Hey, at least I mustered up enough collective brain cells to write something from the first two weeks of newbornhood…) 

I have never been a great athlete. A brief montage of highlights of my illustrious sporting career would include:

  1. knocking myself unconscious before a junior high softball game while goofing around on a swingset;
  2. breaking my ankle after tripping over my own feet during a high school tennis practice;
  3. giving myself a concussion from a head-over-heels faceplant when F tried to teach me how to ski.

No surprise, then, that I have never felt compelled to push my body to its limits. I have no desire to run a marathon. I doubt I’ll ever scale a mountain. I will never bike across the country.

And yet, ever since T’s birth, I have become completely in awe of my own body: its strength, its power, its resiliency.

Before the wild and quick labor that sped him into the world, I’m not sure I ever believed I was capable of birthing a child naturally. (My brothers can attest to both my innate wimpiness and my ability to whine about any pain inflicted on me.) I thought the idea of a drug-free delivery sounded incredible, but I suspected it was for stronger women than I. Even when I read the books and practiced the breathing and told friends I wanted to try for it, I was never convinced I actually had the strength in me to handle such intense pain. Without narcotics.

But then, suddenly, I was in the thick of it. After an hour spent laughing that we were once again googling “how to tell if your water broke” and another hour spent making hypothetical plans about “if I were really in labor,” everything changed. The every-fifteen-minutes contractions became every-five, and then every-two. The discomfort I could walk and talk through morphed into the pain I could only bear clinging to the wall. And I suddenly realized that if I were going to do this – if I were really going to push myself to the physical and mental limits of what I could endure – then I would have to turn completely inward and do this all myself.

So nothing that F did could help me. Poor man, everything he suggested was met with a hissing “GET OUT OF MY FACE.” Likewise I ignored all the nurses’ attempts to offer wise counsel once we finally (barely) made it to the hospital. The incredibly quick labor meant that our doula didn’t even arrive in time, so I never had to bother with shoeing her away.

Instead, I clung to that crazy blue birthing ball like my very life depending on it (as it did – and T’s as well). And my one lucid thought – which brings us, in a very roundabout way, back to the topic of Labor Day – went like this:

All I can see is this blue ball. And this blue ball is like the world. And all over the world, there are thousands of women who are laboring just like me right now. And God’s own Spirit is the one thing lifting all of us up. So all I have to do is breath in and breath out, and find that same Spirit, and that is the rhythm that will carry me through.

I fully embrace that it sounds crazy in retrospect. Maybe most thoughts that get women through labor are just that. But the clarity and power of that one line of thinking got me through the entire journey of birthing T. Solidarity with all the mothers around the world who were laboring along with me.

Last night, as Labor Day waned, I soaked in a hot bath – the rare luxury of the new mother – and thought about the labors we are called to in our vocations. Most of the time our work is run-of-the-mill: feed the kids, call the clients, take out the trash.

Yet once in a blue moon, our labor is extraordinary. Our strength, our resilience, our dedication surprises even ourselves. Our understanding of ourselves and our callings is deepened and sometimes transformed by such remarkable moments.

But what that crazy blue birthing ball reminded me of is the truth that we are joined, even in the exceptional moments, by thousands of others who are laboring on the same journey. Equal parts comforting and humbling to think that the One God who created each of us made us never to be alone. No matter what our labors look or feel like, they are always shared.

And I don’t know about you, but I’m frankly in awe of what we’re capable of.

(Even if you’d still never want to pick me first for your team in gym class.)

7 thoughts on “a (belated) labor day reflection

  1. Ginny Kubitz Moyer says:

    Yes! And yes again! Motherhood definitely binds us all together, in ways that I couldn’t comprehend before becoming a parent. Whether it’s labor or the challenges of raising toddlers or that fierce visceral love that we have for our kids, we moms share a lot … more than we realize, a lot of the time.

    Thanks for sharing. And I’m glad you managed a hot bath. I hope a good night’s sleep isn’t far behind.

  2. Carrie says:

    I completely agree! I couldn’t believe the thoughts that were running through my head during my labor. My ‘mantra’ was: “This is just pain. It’s not who I am or what I am all the time. It’s just right now.” And somehow, that worked.

    I’m also in awe of how mothers’ bodies are both soft and steely. Soft enough for little babies to nurse and little ones to cuddle and older people can maturely love, yet strong enough to birth babies, to carry child/grocery bag/diaper bag/purse at the same times, to hold squirmy ones in time-outs or protect what needs to be protected.

    Thanks for reminding me that my struggles with this journey are shared by other women around the world. We are amazing… and elastic!

    • mothering spirit says:

      I love your mantra, Carrie! It could carry over into many parenting situations, if you think about it: “This is what I’m feeling right now, but it’s not who or what I am all the time.” It’s freeing to not be defined by what we’re experiencing in the moment, be it pain, frustration, anger, etc. As you say, we’re both stronger and softer than that!

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