The “I Have Something to Say” series continues this week with a post from none other than my birth doula, Amara.
Life is full of transitions. I have watched transitions for years in my work as a doula, serving women as they move from one stage of labor to the next, transitioning from woman to mother. But the notion of transition has been all the more clear to me in recent days as a mother myself, who also happens to be tripping her way through a nest that is emptying. As I join couples on the cusp of parenthood, I am given immense perspective about the importance of staying in the moment. I have easily said this hundreds of times to laboring women in my years as a doula. Funny thing is, I speak the very words to others that I should be speaking to myself. And that is where I find myself today, mulling over the very poignant truth of transitions and struggling to savor the here and now.
This scene has played out numerous times in my doula work: I am sitting in the dark with a laboring woman as she sweats and moans through overwhelming contractions, her partner loves her fiercely and stands strong by her side helping as he can, though the image of her working so hard makes him want to crumble. I wipe her brow, lock her eyes in my gaze, and softly speak encouragement to her: “I know it’s hard. Big changes are happening. Just trust that in the perfect time you will move into a better place. Stay in this moment and conquer this contraction. Just this one. That’s all you need to do.” She is in transition, the stage of labor with the worst reputation. She works so very hard to get through this incredibly intense phase of labor. It is the stage that is most critical, for it moves her to the next stage where she will push her baby out into her arms. And after the work is done, for labor always ends, although in the midst of it one feels as though it will last forever, she has arrived as a mother, clutching her prize against her breast with a tired and exhilarated look upon her face.
Another great interest of mine is butterfly gardening. You’d be surprised how long I am content to stare at a caterpillar munching away on its chosen plant, with one single purpose—to transform. The eating and growing moves the caterpillar into the next phase of existence, chrysalis. But this is just a means to an end, for the ultimate goal is to become a butterfly. The caterpillar doesn’t have an awareness of this, however. At least not intellectually as humans do. Caterpillars munch, munch, munch, and grow, grow, grow, until they need to take a break to shed some skin, and then they continue on. Eventually, they stop and rest, and then pupate, unaware of the beauty that awaits. They simply exist in the moment. And yet, their transition is one of the more miraculous in nature! Take the life-cycle of the beloved monarch caterpillar. Over the span of just under a month, a butterfly lays an egg, a minuscule caterpillar hatches from it, eats and grows to several inches in length, forms a chrysalis, and ultimately emerges as a completely different sort of creature, a butterfly, heralded as one of the more magnificent and beautiful (and loved!) insects on the planet. And yet, the lowly caterpillar has no inkling of what is to come. It munches, and munches, and grows and grows.
And here I am, a mother who has weathered numerous transitions with my husband and each of my four children. There were the hazy newborn days, where finding time to brush my teeth and shower felt like a victory. And the toys. Oh the toys! And the clothes, and the socks, and baby paraphernalia just littered the place. It was hard not to step on something and guests were always greeted with my apologies for such a mess. I was sticky with breast milk and smelled of spit up, and often had stains of various baby fluids spattered across me like an avant-garde painting. Now my children are nearly as tall as me, and two are taller, one drives my car, and another is off to college, and the evenings are busier than ever with extra-curricular activities. The days speed along full of tasks and plans, taxiing kids here and there, signing this form so it can be turned in on time, reviewing grades, and overseeing chores. The evenings and weekends are so very busy and loud. But in the midst of taking care of details for this and that, and especially during school days while the kids are going through their paces with schoolmates and teachers, I find my house is growing larger, and quieter…and emptier. My children are transitioning as well, spreading their wings to fly into the next phase of their lives. As my nest empties its silence reminds me of the significance in the moments. Right here. Right now. This is what matters most. It’s not the next place that should overwhelm our minds, not should it be the plans we have made for goals to accomplish in the future. We might miss this moment if we pay too much attention to what is yet to come. And suddenly we find ourselves (I find myself) in an empty, quiet house wondering where all the moments went.
If I might try to draw a correlation between the doula, the caterpillar, and the mother it is this: Stay in the moment. Do not get lost in the plans for tomorrow. Keep your mind and heart grounded in today with your feet. Take heed of the words spoken to a laboring woman who wonders if she can make it to her goal: ”Just this one. Just right now. That is all you need to dwell on. For if you dare to anticipate or predict your doubt may overwhelm you and exhaust you. Just one contraction. Breathe deeply and connect with your baby.” And consider the caterpillar who has no knowledge of the magnificence that awaits. Just munch, munch, munch. The present is all that matters. Just this leaf, on this day, in this moment. Just this bite.
I heard a new mom say these wise words recently, “You have to get through the ugly to get to the pretty.” And this resonated with me. For it is tremendously true. She, having given birth to her second baby as recent as a month, was commenting on the bleary-eyed newborn days and the challenging adjustment they bring. But at the heart of it all she was referencing change. Transition. Change is HARD and oftentimes it’s downright ugly. But something beautiful awaits. A more evolved version of ourselves, if you will. A new place of existence for us. Transition—the hardest, sweatiest, most raw part of labor that propels women into motherhood. They are unraveled and broken down only to rise up into who they were meant to be. The woman in labor is transitioning. The caterpillar, just a larva, that munches its way to something phenomenal as a butterfly. It is evolving. And even myself. As my children grow and find their way in this world, leaving me behind in my quiet, empty house, I too, am moving into a different season. I am evolving into a new version of myself with time to explore my interests and what makes me….well, me. So embrace where you are in all of its raw, exhausting, even tedious infinitum. Even drudgery, at times. (Munch, munch, munch) The change will come. And staying in the moment may just be the key to getting you there.
Amara resides in Virginia Beach, Virginia with her family. She is married to her husband, Stu, of 23 years, and together they have 4 children, ages 20, 17, 11, and 8. She works as a doula and childbirth educator, spending much of her time serving couples through transitions or teaching about them. At home in her free time she enjoys butterfly gardening which allows her to marvel at the beauty found in nature and the metamorphoses that occur while the world hurries by. As her house grows quieter, she hopes to continue exploring her interests like going to the beach, playing piano, and reading, as well as continued self-reflection, and perhaps building a new garden or two. And maybe even a pond. And most of all, she loves her God. Today and every day.