We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty — Maya Angelou
The time I spent in labor with my first child was not a pretty sight. I had been induced upon arriving at the hospital since my water broke even though labor hadn’t yet begun, which meant they needed to get the baby out fast, and by fast I mean nine straight hours of peaks without valleys, of pain without relief. Within a short period of time, I had morphed into a happy girl with freshly washed hair and clean skin into a tormented tangled mess who was drenched in sweat with her eyes rolled back in pain. Martha Stewart, meet Linda Blair.
The actual birth of my son was no less beastly. Since no one dared refuse my Exorcist-voice order for an epidural as I headed into my ninth hour, when it came time for me to push I couldn’t feel anything below my waist, thus the doctor was forced to use what looked like salad tongs to get my baby out. The forceps wrapped around the soft-shelled head of my son and pulled, pulled some more, then lost suction and my baby’s head slipped back from whence it’d come. On the third try, my son was born and presented to me and his father. His head was the shape of an egg, he was covered in slime and gook (medical terms to describe new baby wrapping), and the doctor’s gloves and scrubs were smeared in something that to this day I’d rather not know about.
This is the beauty of birth. The beauty, of course, is not in the process itself. It is in the outcome, the product, the fruit of what such a process creates. And in this instance, I had created a beautiful baby boy who is now 26 and with whom I fall in love all over again as each day passes.
This is also the beauty of rebirth after escaping abuse. Just as when a baby is born, this rebirth is not so pretty to look at or experience, yet the end result is no less awesome than a baby’s first smile, a colt standing on its wobbly legs, or a kitten opening its eyes for the first time.
The only thing different when comparing my experience giving birth to recovering from an abusive marriage was that there were far more peaks and valleys with the latter. That was the upside. While the process itself took years instead of hours, there were moments when my deep pain would be interrupted with feelings of fantastic highs (what is the euphoria of new-found freedom) that saw me through until the next pain hit. The downside was that I couldn’t get an epidural to help me through. I couldn’t numb myself no matter what I tried, which is what ultimately pushed me to bite the bullet and make my way through what I believed at the time was the valley of death.
During both childbirth and rebirth, there were moments of doubt that had me temporarily giving up. At one point during labor with my son, I said to the nurse, “WAIT! I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to do this.” When I had this same moment during my rebirth, I went back to my abuser (because I had that option). And I’m fairly certain that if given the opportunity, I would have backed out of the whole birthing a baby thing if given a choice.
This is because sometimes the pain is so great, hope is so lost, and reality so ugly, that it’s all we can do to stay the course and push through. I did end up leaving my marriage for a second and final time, which forced me to start the healing process all over again. The only record of the pain I went through, and how unbelievably gruesome it was, is in my head, in my memories, of which I’m eternally grateful for since — unlike a baby’s birth — no one needs to witness that.
There were mornings when I’d be in sitting meditation, right hand resting in my left, eyes closed, when the pain would hit and I’d catch my tears in my open palms. There were afternoons when I couldn’t leave the house because my eyes were swollen shut from my grief. There were nights when I dreaded the oncoming darkness, knowing I wouldn’t sleep through, the heartache waking me up at two a.m. in a sweaty panic. And there were entire days when I couldn’t get up off the floor after finding out another detail of what the man I had devoted my life to was doing or how determined he was to ruin me in every way possible during our divorce.
Just like when I was in labor, I couldn’t hide my pain from the outside world. My kids were witness to it, my mother stood helpless next to it, while the world outside kept on spinning and I wanted to jump off at the next opportunity.
I lost weight. I got physically sick. I ended up in the hospital on two occasions. My hair started falling out. I had regular panic attacks and stomachaches that plagued me for days on end. My emotional pain had manifested physically and so my body did the only thing it knew how to do: it broke. I went from doctor to chiropractor to holistic health practitioner to Buddhist temple to Pima medicine woman in search of help, comfort, advice. I still tried to take care of myself, but my eyes had lost their light, my skin its glow, and my posture its confidence. Looking at myself in the mirror became a challenge — all beauty had left my part of the world.
What I didn’t know at the time was that within the bedrock of my pain, there was life moving and breathing and growing inside of me. This “labor” I experienced resembled a cocoon that I’d entombed myself within, unknowing there would be a birth of something so beautiful meeting me at the end.
While I felt like I was dying (cause of death, I was sure, would be heartbreak), with the emotional pain resembling the physical pain of childbirth, what I was actually doing was rebuilding, manifesting, and preparing for my eventual release. Of course, I didn’t know this at the time, and it is only hindsight that affords me this wisdom. This is the power of pain, and yet also the proof of how powerful our pain of anything worth birthing is.
Transformation requires the exposure of our wounds to the light, and our willingness to feel the sting, the discomfort, and often the torment that comes with the process. It’s not pretty, it damn sure isn’t easy, and just like the nine hours of peak labor I endured, it’s also not something worth giving in or giving up on considering the reward of what’s to come.
In the case of healing after abuse, our suffering serves as an impetus to change. At the onset of this change, it’s important to self-hibernate within a cocoon of our own making. This will protect us during this phenomenal growth just as a mother’s womb protects her young. Then once we have traveled through the trauma of our own metamorphosis, resisting the urge to desert no matter how ugly it gets, that time will finally come when we can pull ourselves with all our might out of the darkness, out of our suffering.
That moment when the baby takes its first breath of air, when the caterpillar becomes the butterfly, and when our wounds become scars, releasing us into the wide-open sky where we can finally, in the direction of the light, spread our wings and fly.
And then in love, we will rise.