Your Body is Not a Lemon
These are the inimitable words of the one and only Ina May Gaskin in her birthing books.
Three home births later, I know her words to be true. But nearly 11 years on from my first birth, and exactly six from my last, I am still healing. Slowly. Physically and emotionally.
All my focus, like that of our entire society was on the birth. Not afterwards. Not on healing and support. And so there have been years of pain and blur and more pain. And not being able to “get back to normal” cos my body and hormones and everything were proper fucked. It has felt like pulling myself through chewing gum and glass on my hands and knees.
I felt that my body had failed me. I felt that I had failed.
Women were supposed to be able to give birth and then mother, and so if I couldn’t… if I needed help just to be able to do it… I was a failure.
I felt weak and ashamed.
I find reaching out for help hard at the best of times, no more so than when I’m feelling vulnerable and wrong. I find it easier to suffer alone.
When I was putting together the second edition of Moon Time this time last year I came across belly binding and the closing the bones ceremony, for the first time. This would have done me incredible good after each of my births, if I had only known about it – with a family history of lower back and pelvic issues, with what I was only told last week by a physiotherapist – after years, and thousands of euros on chiropractic work – that I have hyper mobile joints. That and the focus on nourishing and support, may have meant that I didn’t need to fall apart and simply survive early motherhood.
Where is the support – the literal support – when we become mothers? As I explore my relationship with my own mother, however much I get angry and upset about how certain things were when I was little – what makes me bitter is the lack of support – on every level that she received as a single mother living in our culture. Of course she struggled. It’s fucking hard bringing up a young child on your own, before you add in health issues.
It’s getting better in the last couple of years – thanks to women picking up techniques from other cultures, training, sharing wisdom and services – but knowing what’s needed, accessing those skills and services in your community – is a challenge for so many women, for all sorts of reasons.
For years I have been so deeply frustrated by my body letting me down – it does feel like a lemon. The last couple of weeks my almost constant lower back pain took a whole other turn for the worse, going into my hip and leaving me on my back. This – as I argue in my new book, Burning Woman – is the place that disempowered women have always been: on their backs. And here I was.
I was in agony. It wasn’t getting better. So I needed to reach beyond my comfort zone – to new practitioners and approaches – to reach consciously for healing.
One session with a new physio taught me the basic skills I needed to make my weak, unsupported, over-extended parts stronger, more reliable. (Note all these as metaphorical ways we talk about women and mothers, reflected in our lives.)
This woman readjusted me with strong capable hands. And then gently taught me through metaphor and imagery and simple exercises how to build my core strength: every time you reach for a handle, or get out of a seat, she said, imagine you’re squeezing an orange with the muscles behind your pelvis.
Oranges and lemons…
Seems like my body is not a lemon after all… Ina May was right all along.
It’s an orange!
I intuitively knew that core strength was a central component to em-power-ment when I was writing Burning Woman – the strength, power and support of our physical bodies as women, especially post partum, are so often left out of the equation. But they are a vital bit of the equation. Our bodies are the physical conduits of our power. Our bodies matter. Our power matters.
And I have experienced this firsthand. Learning to engage my own core power, physically, has had a knock on effect emotionally – of course it’s all one – suddenly I feel less able to be knocked off centre. I see that I have the power within me – literally – to support myself.