A little surrender and a lot of non-attachment allowed me to receive what was given and open to new possibilities.
Recently, I looked back on the birth of my daughter. The struggles I am currently facing in writing my first book have mirrored some of my experiences in labor. I sat down and wrote a long piece about it, but didn’t feel I could share all those gory details. Going through the birthing process was not what I had expected, yet it gave me an important gift.
It was the end of September of 2004. My labor started around 5pm, and by 4am the next morning I headed to the hospital with my husband an doula. My plan – a natural birth, without anesthesia. I had prepared myself mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually for this experience. A yoga practitioner and teacher for over 10 years at the time, I believed that my reasonably supple body would handle this just fine.
I knew a woman who ran 5 miles in her 9th month. Someone else who did Headstand (much to the concern of several yoga teachers) through her 3rd trimester. And they had easy births. Of course, they were a bit younger than me (the ripe old age of 39 – practically elderly, for a 1st time mamma!), but I thought, hey, my hips are flexible, I’ve been doing my yoga, and I’ve been visualizing. I should at least be able to get through this without medical interventions.
But one of the primary precepts of yoga practice is Vairagya – non-attachment. I was to have a big lesson in that one. Because, as I learned at age 19, “expectations lead to disappointment.” And when I gripped tightly to those expectations, I set myself up for an upsetting birth experience.
After 18 hours of labor, I had to let go of my idyllic vision of the birth and make a choice. There was unrelenting pain down my leg from my femoral nerve. The contractions were more excruciating than I thought possible. And no progress on the dilation of my cervix. Do I continue on naturally, with the risk of completely exhausting myself and having to do a C-section as a last resort, or allow myself the epidural, rest, and trust that my cervix will open?
I looked at my expectations of myself and this experience square in the eye and chose the epidural. For me, it was the right thing to do.
Some might say that I gave up, that I should have soldiered on, that my body knows what it is doing and could do this. One never knows – maybe that’s true. But, for me, that would have been a choice for my ego. I did not want to let go of the idea that I’m a yogini and should be able to do this naturally and ecstatically, when clearly it wasn’t going that route.
I had to accept that, however the birth went, it was a divine experience. My daughter was entering the world, and I could continue to clench onto the idea I had about my delivery, or I could surrender and allow this birth to unfold in its own sacred way.
I chose surrender – or perhaps it chose me. It’s another important yogic precept – Isvara Pranidhana, or surrendering to the Divine. Surrendering to something greater than yourself. Essentially, to “trust the process”, a favorite saying of mine. And that’s what I did. I surrendered what I was attached to and trusted something greater than me to carry my daughter and I through this. There was no shame in accepting an epidural.
I learned to embrace and accept myself, that I am a good enough mother regardless of the entry way in which my daughter came into the world. Here was another level of surrender; the ideas of who I am and the tendency to base my self-concept on comparison. Comparison to others, to who I thought I should be, and to what I thought I should do, rather than accepting what is and allowing myself the freedom to choose in each moment.
Non-attachment and surrender: they go hand in hand. By letting go of my expectations and surrendering to the process, I rested for 2 hours while on the epidural. My cervix dilated fully, and with a little (OK, a lot) of help from a vacuum extraction and my petite OB pulling with all her might, my daughter was safely brought into the world.
I walked (or rather gingerly hobbled) away from my daughter’s birthing with these two important gifts. Vairagya, non-attachment, allowed me to let go of my egoistic perceptions of myself and simply BE. And Isvara Pranidhana, self-surrender, became my go-to practice, especially whenever I met with physical limitations and challenges (like my emergency appendectomy 6 years later).
So no matter how you may have birthed your baby – or any other huge project in your life – you’re good enough. It is a divine process. The difficulties, mistakes, and even failures are all part of the experience and have gifts for you. Perhaps you, too, have come away from it a bit more humble and a bit more expansive, letting go of attachment to who you are and how it is, and surrendering to the Divine plan unfolding in your life.
What are you being asked to surrender in your life now? What expectations can you let go of? How can you practice more non-attachment in your situation? Are you being called to “trust the process”? Share it here!