The Pain Of Birth

by Samantha Clark

WHY DON'T PEOPLE TALK more about the pain of childbirth? Before my daughter was born I assumed I knew what to expect during labor. I had experienced pain before. For example, in high school I accidentally burned myself with boiling water over 20 percent of my body. But when I arrived at urgent care I was immediately given pain medication that made me feel better even before the nurse had finished the shot. So I figured when I went to the hospital for childbirth I would find similar measures to ease any discomfort.

I was wrong. Even after videos and childbirth classes I was not prepared for the actual pain and mess of delivery. During medieval times, people were tortured on racks that slowly stretched them apart. Women experience the same pain when a baby is born. It is excruciating and unrelenting for hours and hours, sometimes lasting days. Women learn endurance we never knew we had.

Childbirth connects humans to the raw natural world. But it also touches our deeper selves. In having my own baby, I learned that birth can't happen in an easy, painless way. Real birth of any kind only happens with great personal sacrifice. Birth is a complicated, messy business. Too often we are lulled into thinking we can bring changes to the world while remaining comfortable.

It's easy to talk about any type of creation as birth. But after three years of art school and endless hours of my teenage years spent producing art, I now understand that artwork is not the same type of creation. Art, music or writing may be generated from passionate or gut-wrenching experiences, but the actual process of producing artistic work is intellectual. The creator has the option of stopping anytime during the process for a break.

The inspiration for the creative work is filtered through the mind for exact organization and improvements. The result can be perfected for years until deemed exactly right. Da Vinci is said to have spent most of his life working on the Mona Lisa to achieve perfection. He had the power to start the painting when he wanted and could choose when to stop. A painter doesn't necessarily have to suffer to produce artwork.

The only comparison I can make to enduring childbirth is living with social change. And the more I become involved in politics, the more I see the folly of leftists confusing the intellectual process of creation with organic childbirth. Too often social change is approached as an academic exercise.

A group of people, often excessively book-learned, gather to decide to implement sweeping social changes. They mistakenly think they have the luxury of da Vinci in deciding where they will begin and how they will solve the problem, regardless of any extenuating circumstances. They think in a vacuum, as if they were painting in a studio with a blank canvas.

As Saul Alinsky, one of America's best political organizers, explained in Rules for Radicals:

"A reformation means that masses of our people have reached the point of disillusionment with past ways and values. They don't know what will work but they do know that the prevailing system is self-defeating, frustrating, and hopeless. They won't act for change but won't strongly oppose those who do. The time is then ripe for revolution."

No single group of people, no matter how well-meaning, can randomly choose when a society will be ready for radical changes. At best, social reformers realize the time is ripe and are able to act in meaningful ways to produce positive results. Unfortunately, such stressful circumstances also open the door for bigotry, intolerance, and fascism.

Therefore, positive social reformers don't have the idle time to sit in endless meetings arguing over nuances, or how the group would bring changes under ideal circumstances. Like childbirth, once the process starts there is no turning back. The baby is going to come whether we are ready or not.

In the sixties, young people had wonderful ideas about creating a better world. But America as a whole was too comfortable to make changes. There was no way to convince the prosperous white middle class that they could benefit from social upheaval. The only real opportunity for large-scale social changes in this century came during the Depression, when our economic system failed most people. We decided on a new deal. That vision lasted until the Reagan revolution elevated the greed of the privileged few above providing basic necessities for everyone in society.

As more people are downsized, work longer hours for less pay, and hunger again becomes commonplace in America, the process of social birth will begin again. Once set in motion, it will happen whether we're prepared or not. Unfortunately, such upheavals tend to be messy and painful. We can't decide to stop in the middle, even if such a break would be prudent.

My own labor produced a beautiful and precious child. I can only hope that future social changes will lead us to a more equitable and caring society. That we will understand how our discomforts can be used positively to create a better world. ###

[December 1997]




The Meaning Of Goodbyes

by Julie Cobb

IT WAS THE SEASON. I was supposed to be joyous. And I was. Had been. But then I had to say goodbye to another cat-friend, the second in three months, and my world tilted. I would have canceled Christmas if I could have, but our son and a houseguest were arriving from out of town, and they expected a holiday. I was cast adrift in a sea of such confusion and grief that I lost almost all of what I tell myself I know. About life, death, energy, connectedness, balance. I was ugly and angry. I just wanted, want, my cats back.

Traffic, cars took the lives of my cats. I was with my older one at the end. We decided to put him to sleep rather than subject him to the enormous surgeries that were required to save his life. The choice and the letting go were heavy and fraught with pain. My young one died on a neighbor's lawn. I'm convinced that he was trying to get home to me. I was undecided about calling my daughter out of school that morning to tell her, since Piri was "her" cat. I decided to wait until regular dismissal time because he would somehow be alive a few extra hours, if only in her consciousness. That brought a kind of desperate comfort. When I did break the news to Rosie, she seemed to be able to draw on spiritual truths I myself had taught her. She cried, of course, but she didn't attach herself to the tears; she didn't lose herself in them. I, however, processed the shock and loss physically. My body took the events inside itself like blows. The bruises remain sharp.

I have no desire to dwell on the death part of it. I want to celebrate the friendship and teaching these animals brought to me and I want to share my process of healing. It's just over two weeks and a lot changes quite quickly if you're paying attention, and, since I've been able to focus on little else, I notice signs that my life force is returning. For one thing I now want to heal. My sense of attachment was so strong at first that I dreaded the gradual blurring and fading of immediate memory that inevitably occurs. It was as if his little life only existed in my mental picture of it and that if I were to look away he would disappear entirely. Now both Little John and Piri are with me in feeling, in Spirit as the Cherokee say, in my breath more than in my mind.

My dog Colin doesn't leave my side. He knows. He is the only creature friend left and that confers on him more peace and privacy but also more responsibility. His eyes follow my every move wondering "Is she going to cry or smile?"

Who exactly are these beings that we call pets? I wonder if it could be my two year vegetarianism that has rendered me so hopelessly in love with them. Could they know on some level that I no longer eat their cousins and am therefore worthy of total acceptance and unconditional love? Or, free of guilt, am I simply able to love deeper? Because that is the nature of my relationship with them. We exist in pure love, punctuated by my laughter at their expert clowning. Are they angels? Emissaries from our own heart come to mirror that which is best in us? Are we here for them as masters, caretakers? Or do they come to us with a gift, a reminder of something precious we humans tend to forget? Devotion. Do they leave us when we need to practice letting go before even greater letting go is demanded? Do they precede us to pave our way to other dimensions all the while guiding us from beyond in the form of our own surprising sweetness? And does our concentrated affection enable them to leave only to return in a more evolved form?

And who am I without them? In whose eyes will I shine as bright? Piri lived on and around my face, delivering kisses to the half inch groove between my nose and my upper lip. Does a part of me vanish with each goodbye? That is one of grief's more fearsome aspects. Loss of self. Do I exist only in the eyes of my beloveds? No. I am that I am. It is just the tightrope walk of a life, the passionate mergings and separatings on this side; the vast, undifferentiated dance of oneness on the other. Both are real. Both deserve their due.

What I'm left with after pain, fear, anger and depression is me. Alone again. And what to do with myself and my time in this world? The only thing that has occurred to me is the commitment to reopen my heart even though it keeps breaking and to work more, produce more, share more of my essence with the world. My husband observed that at the height of my sadness I appeared rudderless, no hands on the tiller, without direction. I learned, through this latest goodbye, that I need to create a thread, a melody, a perfume that is Julie. Little John and Piri, my good friends, were uniquely themselves and they never stopped their flow of beingness. In their honor I dedicate myself to creating as much evidence of the best of my existence as I can.###

[Februray 1998]