The Potency of Labor

Each life transition carries one or two core issues. The wedding transition triggers issues around intimacy and commitment. Moving activates our childhood experience of comfort and home. Losing a job or enduring a career transition often triggers issues around identity and security. And labor and new motherhood activate our issues around mothering: our relationship with our own mother, the ways in which we mother ourselves, and our fears about becoming a mother to a little one.

A few nights ago I was privileged to speak with a dear friend who was in labor realm: minutes, hours, or days away from starting labor. Knowing that their “due date” had passed, I called to check in with them to see how they were feeling, and they said they were on the way to see a reflexologist who has a 99% success rate in helping initiate labor. Upon realizing that she would likely be starting labor soon, my friend suddenly felt overwhelmed by fear, excitement, and grief. I had been speaking with the daddy-to-be (who’s been one of my closest friends since high school) and, seeing his wife falling apart next to him, he asked if I could speak to her.

She immediately burst into tears. I smiled and said, “Good. These tears are good. Keep them flowing.” She cried for several minutes then said, “I’m so terrified. And excited. And overwhelmed. And sad. What if I don’t know how to be a mother? What if I can’t sustain the commitment? What if…?”

Given her painful relationship with her own mother, she had addressed many of these concerns and fears throughout her pregnancy. But with the vulnerability of labor just breaths away, the fears and grief descended upon her at a new level. And that’s how it’s supposed to be. Transitions strip us of our normal defenses and offer an opportunity to accelerate our healing and growth. Sometimes we’ll only be able to access these deeper layers of loss, grief, and fear in the midst of a transition (which is why I always encourage my bridal clients not to stop the tears on their wedding day despite the culture’s insistence that she shouldn’t ruin her makeup).

My friend cried and talked and cried some more. Mostly I just listened and held a compassionate space for her to release. Once in a while I would say something like, “You’re going to be a wonderful mother,” which would trigger another layer of fear and grief. “But what if I’m not? What if I don’t like being a mother? What if it’s too hard.” I told her that there would inevitably be times that she wouldn’t like being a mother and that it would feel too hard, but that she had already proven through her marriage commitment that she had worked out acting on the part of her that wants to run things get hard. As someone who is devoted to her process of healing, I have no doubt that when the spiritual tests of motherhood arrive – as they always do – she’ll address them with consciousness.

When we allow it, this is what arrives in the tender and raw realm of the liminal zone of transition: moving day, wedding day, labor day, the day the firstborn leaves for college and the day the youngest leaves home, summer and winter solstice, birthdays and transitional holidays, dusk and dawn, death. We must resist the habitual tendency to avoid the painful feelings ingrained by a culture that shuns the idea that grief and joy live in the same chamber of our heart. We must learn to embrace the spectrum of feelings initiated by life’s transitions so that we learn, slowly and patiently, that the more deeply we delve into the fears and grief that arise, the more easily we’ll be able to embrace the new life, the new identity, the new season, the new day. Life offers endless opportunities to practice the art of letting go, and when we approach each transition with consciousness, we become more fluid in this most challenging and ultimately rewarding aspect of life.