My first son’s transfer to hospital was (as every birth is) the perfect wake-up call for me, I was 37 years old. Every month of my 22 menstruating years up until conceiving I kept my Nurofen with my sanitary products – at the first sign of cramping I took a pain reliever so I could ‘carry on as normal’.
Little wonder then when after a planned home water birth which took 48hrs in a long latent first stage of labour, when it was suggested by the midwife that I transfer to hospital for (in her words) ‘some much needed pain relief so I could rest’ I went along with her suggestion. When I left hospital after the full cascade of intervention, and then became pregnant again 2 years later with my second son I had learned enough to ensure the experience would be entirely different. His relaxed and easy home water birth set me on the course for my continuing enquiry into women’s inner landscape.
A month after his birth I turned 40. When I fell pregnant with our third son last year I was now 43 and excited at the prospect of experiencing the incredible awakening rite of passage of birth again. Unlike the rhythms found in nature the medical profession now classed me as ‘high risk’ because of my age (being past the plucked from the air cut off age of 40). Without a holistic look at my whole picture I was sent to the consultant who in the 10 minutes that we were with him said the phrase ‘because of your age’ 17 times. I was advised to have an induction of labour on my due date. I politely declined. I spent the rest of my pregnancy politely declining growth scans and endeavouring to stay with my inner knowing that I was about to experience another incredible woman’s initiation through the powerful process of birth.
Although I was delighted to be carrying my third child I also felt a sense of bereavement, a sense of being ‘lost at sea’, untethered, without the rhythm of my monthly menstrual cycle. It was my first pregnancy that I had known enough about feeling my inner ‘seasons’ to be able to track what was happening for me. I was heartened by the words of one of my teachers, Alexandra Pope:
“Menstruality is the female life process of menarche, the menstrual cycle, menopause and the mature years. It is the woman’s ground, ‘the mother cycle’, out of which rises the initiatory path to motherhood that is conception, pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding”.
But there were now no books, no teachers, no writings on this initiatory path. I had to rely on my former menstrual rhythm to guide me. After conception in the summer /ovulatory phase of my menstrual cycle came autumn when I prepared for the rest and renewal of my bleed which of course never came. I was now in the ten moon cycle of pregnancy and the thirteen moon cycle of the child bearing year. The first trimester for me was an extension of my inner autumn, wanting to stay close to home, take things easy, go to bed early and eat good home cooked meals. The exhaustion of early pregnancy also touched into my inner winter where the yearning was to remove myself from the outer world and to feel what was happening inside of me. My second trimester moved through my experience of inner spring where I now felt my energy returning and wanting to make tentative plans for the future as a growing family. My third trimester was an exact replica of my inner summer, my super woman invincibility got us our house sold, a new house bought and moved into all within that high energy window. As birth drew nearer and I prepared to meet my third son I watched my energy change to preparation and planning of meals again, moving through my inner autumn to the birth of my son and the fourth trimester of inner winter, the deep rest and stillness of the post-natal phase, establishing breastfeeding and staying cocooned from the outer world.
My third son’s birth was also at home in water but this time I was initiated into the certain knowing that birth is a female rite of passage. I relished feeling each and every sensation and also chose to be alone so I could go deeper into the altered state than before. With my beautiful last child I claimed my fourth trimester with jealous guardianship. Supported by my husband and the women in my community, the school run was taken care of, delicious meals were made and brought around, my family stepped forward and took my older sons out for walks and to the park. I languished in the overwhelming love that I felt for my new son, my family, friends and community. As with all of my children breastfeeding was painful and difficult in those early weeks and by claiming my ‘inner winter’ I was able to deeply rest through the terrifying agony of repeated mastitis. Able to ‘be’ with the pain and again enter into an altered state of consciousness as the oxytocin flowed at every feed and breastfeeding became a pleasure. It was not considered ‘normal’ by some acquaintances to spend so long with my newborn and not be out doing the weekly shop as soon as possible. The culture we live in is suspicious still of winter and women resting. My husband was hounded on the school run with questions regarding my mental state of health. ‘She’s not depressed is she?’; ‘Her absence shouts loudly’; ‘Are you sure there’s nothing wrong?’. On the contrary he would respond everything is as it should be.
Now as I write he is 4 months old and napping peacefully beside me. He is following his baby rhythm of awake alertness, feeding, drowsy awakeness and sleep. I wonder how our culture will have changed when he is a man. What his relationships with women might look like when they have been welcomed into womanhood at menarche and taught to observe their body’s rhythm as their own unique mindfulness practice. What effect this would have on his own relationship to the Earth through her.
How will our outer ecology change when half of the world’s population again take charge of their inner ecology? I now turn in my inner seasons towards spring again and summer is on the horizon, as a post-natal non-menstruating woman tracking my inner landscape. I recognise that we are all pioneers of this remembering. I am filled with hope and optimism.