Both birthing and your monthly bleed can be an experience of heaven or of hell. But it's all about your genetics and how much luck you have, right? Nope, not entirely. Actually, it's got a lot to do with our willingness to retreat - however briefly - from daily life so we can access the magic...
Today I was chatting with a friend about her experience of childbirth. "It was amazing. I could do it every month!" she said. Realizing I might find this strange, she added: "There was about two seconds of pain in thirteen hours of labour. The rest was just intense sensation."
As a former birth doula I've seen these kinds of births before and they always fascinate me, so I had to enquire what she thought made the difference. She mentioned several things (see comments below if you're interested) but the one that really struck me was this: at a certain point the midwives thought she was ready to push and she thought she wasn't, so she locked herself in a dark bathroom and stayed there until she was ready to come out.
What exactly does this have to do with the monthly menstrual cycle, you may ask. And the answer is: everything. Birth is, in fact, a beautiful example of what is possible each time we get our period. (So friend, you *do* get to do this every month! Kind of...)
Firstly: how do you approach your period? Do you wince at the thought, roll your eyes and consider it your punishment for being born a woman? Or are you grateful and excited for what you see as a natural and beautiful part of life? As bleeding comes, do you shove some tampons in your bag and slam the Midol when the cramps get bad? Or do you slow down, cancel your appointments, bathe in Epsom salts, take a walk and sip herbal teas?
I'm not asking if you do ALL of this self care, I'm asking if you do ANY of it. Because for most of my life I did not. My period was an unpleasant inconvenience that I wished would just GO AWAY, so I alternated between ignoring it and complaining about it. Then I came across the women at The Red School discussing their "ecstatic states" during bleeding. I'd never heard such talk before but having witnessed ecstatic births I figured it might just be a real thing...
Which brings us back to our birthing lady locking herself in the bathroom. Because this is all related to SEPARATION. When a woman gives birth she has the potential to retreat into what is essentially another state of consciousness, a state in which the mind is quieter, the body is more present and magic (if that's how you see pain-free birth) is possible. This state often doesn't occur because:
- Women don't even know it's a thing
- Neither do most hospitals
- Both women and hospitals treat birth as a medical event, generating a lot of fear and anxiety
Because of these factors, when a woman goes into labour the ensuing panic, frantic rushing, bright lights, loud noises and continuous interruptions all restrict her ability to separate. And if she can't separate, even briefly, her ability to surrender becomes compromised. Surrender (which I will explore in my next post) might seem like an obtuse concept but it's - at least in my experience - totally necessary for either an ecstatic bleed or an ecstatic birth. (Although, in the case of birth, some women still manage an empowering experience, even under all of these conditions. Go women!)
This morning - Day 29 - I felt my need to separate so I took a forty minute hike with puppy. Then I had an incredibly magical experience with a pine tree. Although I did run some errands and spent several hours with other people, all day I felt in a state of dreamy bliss, my body an exquisite combination of warmth and tingles. What's more, I felt love for whoever I was with and experienced Union, in its truest sense - merging with people, trees, the wind and my sweet Mother Earth. I felt at home in my body and the world.
It's not always this blissful. The "chamber of separation", as the Red School women call it, is sometimes heaven, sometimes hell. As we step out of the regular world and into this void, we have to let go of our normal states of being and enter a period of not knowing. For women who have experienced childhood trauma this can be a profoundly disorienting and terrifying step. Indeed, because this stage rips away our usual defenses, many women can feel despair or even experience suicidal thoughts. At these times it's important to seek out people who can witness our suffering without trying to "fix" us as well as doubling-up on the self care.
Even for those of us who are not dealing with obvious trauma it can be hard. Just look at my last bleed!* I was traveling a lot, stuck in traffic, battling a "to do" list and unable to give myself any of the self care I needed. And it did, at least some of the time, feel like hell.
So what to do? Well, this past month was proof that knowing the theory isn't enough, I need to practice it. The Red School women remind us that means saying "no" to the world and "yes" to ourselves. It means holding uncertainty as sacred and finding ways, however small, to separate.
And yes, sometimes that means locking yourself in a dark bathroom and staying there until you're damn well ready to come out.
Laura Paskell-Brown is a "Doula For Your Soul" - giving women the chance to access their inner wisdom through reconnecting to nature, their bodies and the Unknown. She creates personalized one-on-one retreats and offers 2-hour sessions, either at 'The Moon Lodge" in Massachusetts or on Skype. For more information or to book a session, go to: www.doulaforyoursoul.com
* To see the last 29 days of my cycle on Instagram, check out @doulaforyoursoul and scroll to July/August 2017.