By Lydia Wylie-Kellermann (printed in Conspire, Fall 2014)
It was unseasonably warm as I carefully stepped onto the next wrung balancing the extra weight and size. My body called me into those trees as I deliberately and gently trimmed the small, sucker branches. First the apple tree, then the peach, then the plum. Being past my due date, I knew I probably shouldn’t be on a ladder, but I kept climbing higher and higher. I felt the breeze on my cheeks and breathed in the smell of spring. While I clipped away, the fiddle and the accordion played. What a beautiful world and community this child would soon come into.
I have never been a body person. My being has always felt rooted in my mind and heart using my body only as a tool to accomplish what I need. I have been grateful for my body, but it is not who I am. And I certainly don’t want others to see me as my body. In a world filled with sexism, I would prefer to hide my body and be given respect for the workings of my mind and the depths of my spirit.
But then I gave birth. I was brought face to face with my own narrow mindedness. I had not only been living with a harmful understanding of my own personhood but I had limited God.
As I prepared for labor, I heard story after story of the ways our minds can interfere with birth. I knew I was capable of that. I spent those months trying to honor my body and learning to trust it. Looking towards the moment when I would work to calm my mind and make way for my body to do what it knew how to do. My mind knew nothing about giving birth. This baby relied upon me trusting my body.
I marveled at the mystery and miracle that a human being could be growing inside me. Spirit and body worked tirelessly in creating each hair and fingernail. Painting the lips I would soon love to watch smile. God was in the workings of my body.
As the contractions began, I felt the deep ache pulling at my cervix, calling it to open. I calmed my mind. I breathed long, slow breaths. Taking in the pain. Feeling the child at hand. Often with gentle, loving reminders from my partner, I kept breathing. I kept grounded to the work that was happening within me. I repeated in those breaths “Be still and know that I am God.”
As the hours dragged on, counted only in four and half minute segments, the moments of normalcy followed by pain and breath and then normalcy and then pain and breath and then normalcy. For a while, we sang. Songs of my childhood. Chants calling forth this child into the world.
We all came to welcome you, we all came to your birth.
We all came to welcome you, to welcome you to earth.
I was there to love you. I was there to love you.
To give my body for your quick and easy entrance here
Through heaven’s open door.
Again and again we sang. “I was there to love you. To give my body for your quick and easy entrance here.” My voice cracked and I stopped singing with tears running down by cheeks. Part pain. Part exhaustion. But mostly at finally understanding the words. This indeed was the greatest act of love I could ever give anyone. I was giving my body for this child. A wise friend once said to me, “It wasn’t until I gave birth that I understood ‘This is my body broken for you.’”
Isaac was born in a great leap. His whole body emerged in one final push- head to toe. And then…the great breath. Inhale and exhale. I will never forget it. It was the most beautiful breath I have ever taken. He was here. It was over. My soul and body breathed as one. Con-spire- “to breath together.”
Giving birth was long, slow, painful, wet, bloody, hard to the point of breaking, ordinary, earthly, beautiful, miraculous, lonely, loving, communal, awkward, and awesome. I touched a deep power that runs within me and all women. A history and force that lives in our bones. The place where body and soul are one. Where God dwells. Conspiring even now.