When I was pregnant with Cole I imagined how powerful I would feel when I gave birth. I pictured myself heavy with the strength of a goddess. I was not prepared for the emotional reality of that companion.
I may have looked like I was handling the process well, breathing through each contraction and the like, but inside I was drowning. Every insecurity, every anxiety, every desire to quit leaked from their carefully constructed compartments. I bit my lips so I wouldn’t ask for an epidural. I prayed there would be a reason for a c-section so I wouldn’t have to do this.
In the transformation stage the cervix dilates from 7 to 10 centimeters. This is the hardest phase. The waves are so intense it feels like being racked from the inside, and the only way out is through. Through the pain. Down the dark tunnel with Persephone traveling to Hades in the underworld. This is followed by the Ring of Fire in which the baby uses the body like a matchbox, like Persephone crossing the river Phlegethon.
Then the baby arrives. And it’s brilliant. Until the midwife presses on your abdomen to deliver the placenta, and it feels like knives stabbing your already wrenched body.
A friend recently gave birth to her third child. The labor happened so quickly she did not have time for the epidural she had with her previous children. “It was powerful,” she said. “Like the crucifixion.”
Which is what I wrote in my journal when Cole was less than a day old.
I never understood the crucifixion because I was caught up in the idea that it was transactional. Something went wrong in God’s good world and someone would have to shed blood to make God ok with it all again.
After labor I started to understand on a visceral level that the crucifixion is not transactional. It is transformational. With every breath Jesus teaches us how to live a transformed life. He models the difficult and freeing path of love. He embodies the pain of betrayal, violence, and descent; and what happens on the other side.
This week is Holy Week. The Episcopal Church engages the Passion of Christ with The Paschal Triduum which consists of three liturgies: Maundy Thursday marks the last supper; Good Friday moves through the crucifixion; and the Great Vigil of Easter celebrated on Saturday night rings in the Feast of the Resurrection.*
We all traverse the path of descent in our own ways. Childbirth is one. There are others. We lose friends, parents, children, pieces of ourselves. We get lost in relationships and in our own minds. We suffer violence or accidents or illness. We brush up against mortality.
The trick is to keep going. To walk through the underworld like Persephone. To endure the Passion like Jesus, knowing that a new life awaits.
After separating from my ex-husband I decided to gift myself with a ring I had wanted for more than a decade: a small painting of a Magnolia blossom encircled by gold and set atop a silver band.** Magnolia’s represent femininity and perseverance. I found it waiting in my mailbox when I returned from the Easter Vigil. I unwrapped the brown paper and lifted the lid of the jewelry box with all the excitement of a child on Christmas morning.
But it wasn’t Christmas. It was Easter. Cole was asleep in his bed. Persephone and Jesus returned from the underworld, and I was reborn.
Happy Easter Blessings,
*If you’ve never been to an Easter Vigil, I invite you to join me this Saturday at 8pm at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cary.