January 23, 2015

The Labyrinth of Birth, An Unexpected Journey

After plowing through my last reading assignment, I wanted to jump right into "Labyrinth of Birth" by Pam England. I was lucky to find Cut, Stapled, & Mended (CSM) in our public library, but was not so lucky with the Labyrinth. Before spending money on a book I wasn't sure I'd derive any value from, I confess, I read all the reviews on Amazon. Most seemed pretty crunchy with five stars praising its worth. Then there was the glaring single star review that said that the book was ok in the way of being arts fartsy, but was essentially a waste of money when it came to childbirth, spend your money elsewhere. Hmmmmm…I decided to try to keep an open mind, while quieting my inner cynic.

The mailman was knocking on my door the day I finished CSM, and I didn't want to lose any steam. I tore open the envelope and began reading what I expected was a mediative book on delivery; something to help me relax, go with the flow. The subtitle of the book says, "Creating a Map, Meditations and Rituals for Your Childbearing Year." I guess I thought it would be easy, if anything, easier than Cut, Stapled, & Mended. No graphic depictions of surgery or emotionally charged chapters. Just flowers and humming, swaying, and pretty pictures.

Boy, was I wrong. This book is hard. Not hard in terms of the words on the page, or the concepts put out. Hard as in real work. It is a book that is not meant to just be read, it is meant to be experienced.

Early in the book, you are asked to draw your own labyrinth, including foot prints, a threshold, and symbolic entry decor. Well…I decided I'd skip that part and do it later. I wanted to finish the book. Period. After that, I'd go back, do the drawings or dance naked in the backyard banging a tambourine or whatever.

Nope. Doesn't work that way.

WTF am I doing?!

Of course you can read on skipping the drawings part, which I did for a half a chapter. However, I felt like I was missing a connection I was supposed to be making. What Pam was talking about in the following chapters REALLY required you to not skip any steps. I soon realized if I tried to skip steps, tried to skip the work required to truly experience this book, I was missing the entire point.

Reboot to tonight, I did my first drawing and BOY WAS IT EYE OPENING. I actually started one and then scrapped it because I was pressing so hard when I drew that I snapped my crayon clean in half. Oops.

So here it is (don't laugh, I'm a crummy artist):

So many symbols, so many realizations
Okay let's talk about this. First things first, Pam recommends that you use a sheet of paper you can fold in your pocket to take with you and hang near where your birth journey will take place. I personally grasp concepts better when they are written large. I did my drawing on a giant post-it board, the kind that you use in meetings or to play Pictionary. She also recommends using pastels in case you make a mistake you can buff it out. Well, I hate pastels, they are messy and I had tons of other art supplies. Plus, I didn't want to spend more money. I am cheap. In hindsight, however, they were probably purposefully suggested. Looking at the illustrations in the book, the examples drawn by her students have this organic feeling; this smoothness and flow. I, on the other hand, used a Sharpie marker. While I was initially satisfied with it's clean, crisp look, I now feel that it looks very ridged and unforgiving. Hmmm….

(Inner thought to meditate on: The rigidity of the walls of my labyrinth. Is this symbolic of my anxiety and search to maintain control? Perhaps symbolic of my cesarean cuts, the tight line of the scar?)

This is a 7 circuit labyrinth, which is referred to as the "classic". It is the one that the book instructs you how to draw for your first. It is round which indicates it is feminine; a square is considered masculine.

Labyrinths can be left-handed or right-handed. The "handedness" refers to the first turn you make as you enter the "mouth" or entrance of the labyrinth. An initial right turn is associated with "Great-Feminine", while a left turn is associated with "Divine-Masculine".

I struggled with this initially, trying to decided if I wanted a masculine or feminine labyrinth. It seems like a person woman on a birth journey would naturally chose a the feminine. Honestly, I have never really associated with women, so I thought masculine might be a better option for me.

Then, I thought back to the times when I wanted women around me and how there were few, if any, present. I struggled to find women to be my bridesmaids, come to bridal and baby showers, and other traditionally female times. In a way, my journey mirrored Roanna Rosewoods from CSM, as she had the same difficulty of connecting with women. I feel really alone when I look back and realize that I essentially had good number of acquaintances standing with me up on by the alter when I should've been surrounded by my best friends. Roanna must have felt the same way at her blessing-way.

I didn't want this journey to be like that one. So, in the end I chose the feminine. Thankfully so, because that is the one the book teaches you step by step to draw.

Let's go, Ladies.
I tried to just draw and let it happen. You might ask why I chose the color blue for my lab when I was intent on trying to be more feminine. Truth be told, it's because I am hoping our next baby will be a boy. So, in honor of this symbolic journey to meet him, I chose blue. I also chose blue because I wanted the labyrinth color to be soothing like water.

The paths are supposed to be wide enough so you can trace them with your fingers while saying your mediations. Check. Before I added the other parts like the feet and vines, I thought my lab looked somewhat like a placenta. HARK! Am I on the right path?

Next you are supposed to add the feet at the entrance of your lab, about 2 inches from the entrance. I chose to make the feet red for multiple reasons. First, red symbolized the blood of the surgeries I have endured, and the hundreds of shots of blood thinners I had to take while pregnant. Red is also a powerful color, and I wanted my walk to be powerful and with purpose. After I drew them I noticed they were not square with the entrance to the labyrinth:

Which way are we going?
This WAS NOT done on purpose. I don't know what else to say other than my subconscious played its hand here. Shit is getting deep.

(Inner thought to mediate on: Does my feet not being square with the entrance symbolize that I am unsure I want to continue on the road of a VBA2C or to continue on the route of a scheduled cesarean?)

Next you are to draw a threshold, a symbol of transition and transcendence. I decided to draw a tangled vine of flowers. Firstly, because I feel I can draw a half decent flower. More importantly, I wanted the mess of vines to represent the complexity and convolutedness of this journey. The analogy of following a vine from root to flower rings very very true to me. One can easily be led astray by following the wrong curly-cue, and get tangled in a web of thorns, fear, and doubt. You're tempted to hack through to find the answers you want quickly, but that kills the vine. Your birth journey is both tangled and intertwined with other women and your care providers, whether they are doctors, midwives, or lay support. Sometimes your vine takes a divergent path than that which you or your provider wants. Are they going to force you to grow their way, pruning and securing you to the "trusted" path. Or are you going to curl off in a different direction, finding your own sun and soil? Yes, I feel a vine is apt.

Lastly, you are supposed to decorate the entrance of your lab with an image that holds symbolic meaning. I chose to draw an old-fashioned key. I chose an old-fashioned key because I feel like it symbolizes the wisdom of women who have already completed this journey, who can help us younglings to find the tools we need to be successful. I chose a draw a red ribbon on the key to again, emphasize the femininity of a beautiful ribbon and power in the color red.

Women are the key to finding the answers needed on this birth journey.

Once the lab is completed, you are supposed to trace it, slowly and purposefully. Again, in a rush to get an item checked off my list, I tried to race through to make sure I didn't make any mistakes. I got lost, the lines ran together. I started again. I moved too fast. I got lost again…and again…and again…………….and again. That's when I went back to the book to see what I was doing wrong. You are supposed to go SLOWLY with your non-dominant hand, while saying a mediation. I decided to reserve the mediation for later, but I proceeded with an eye roll and a sigh to use my non-dominant hand to slowly trace the labyrinth. "This is stupid," I was thinking. "What difference does it make what speed I go, it's all going to just run together anyway.""In, to the center, turn around back out again, right?"

Well, not exactly. What I found really interesting (and perhaps personally symbolic) is that I not only did NOT get lost when I went slow, but the path went differently than I thought it would. I mean intuitively, I thought I would enter, then sharply go to the outer most circuit, working its way to the innermost circuits and back out. What really happened is that you are almost tricked into thinking you are taking this shortcut to the center before you are swung back out into the outer circuit. This realization was probably the most symbolic discovery of this whole exercise. It was teaching me that I was looking for a quick answer to the middle, to the birth I wanted. But that is not how this journey works.

No shortcuts on a spiritual journey.

I truly have many things to think about.

1 comment:

  1. Ei ei ei! Mama, I love love LOVE this post. You are a sojourning soul and you are making progress. I hear it in every post. Progress to what? To the answers to both your spoken and unspoken and UNREALIZED questions. You are doing an amazing work and I am so happy you are doing this. I am here, holding space, loving you forward with every thought :)