Dear Bare Heart,
After three years of trying, we are blessed. I’m pregnant. But it’s not what I fantasized. Because of a pregnancy-induced problem with my legs, I cannot stand for more than a few minutes, and I cannot sleep because I have to get up and squat-stretch every hour. The hemorrhoids are insane. My flesh itches. I keep thinking I’m going to turn a corner, but now I have pubic symphysis and it is excruciating. I can’t get through a day or night without crying. On top of all the pain, I’m angry. I was thrilled to get to carry my baby in my womb. Thrilled to get to be in that spiritual relationship that starts with mother and baby’s flesh as one. So many women I know developed their intuition there, really got to know themselves as they grew with their baby. They loved their bodies in pregnancy and their bodies loved them back. But all I am is in pain and I feel robbed. My body is not a temple right now. It’s a prison. Can you help me turn this sentence into some kind of understanding?
Pregnancy is thick with tangles and knots, all these threads of things we thought it would be and what we wanted it to be, what other people told us and what we read we were to expect, the ambitions and anticipations and very real needs of our body’s and heart’s and our human attachments.
I am not sure how any of us survives, finds the way through, gives birth and comes to be, making patchwork quilts of meaning as we go. Except we do. And you are.
And maybe that is part of why you are here, writing to me. Maybe this, the articulation of your seeking and your tugging tensions, is the very way through. And if so, know that I’m here, to catch them and hold them for a bit and then offer them back to you as your own illumination. We can stitch the pieces together into triangles and stars, creating if not the great and final answer, then shelter and the beginning of an understanding.
Your body is raging, thrashing, hot as anger and restless as a hornet’s nest waiting to be struck open. And though I know this is so far from what you had wanted for this time, your body is not broken. It is protesting.
It is growing new life, and everything in your flesh is in revolt, as if to throw barriers in the way to your own becoming. Because this is what we sometimes do. We experience profound upheaval and destruction on our way to creation, and the body is no different.
You are not required to like it, or to accept it as all for the best, or to judge yourself for failing, as if a calm demeanor is the measuring stick for enlightenment. Your body is in pain. So let it feel pain, and take as compassionately good care of yourself as you are able. Grieve. Let your skin burn, and your tears shake your ribcage, and your legs tremor. And for every echo out of your body’s flailing fight, ride the wave of your own grief in response. You feel robbed because this was so far from what you desire, so you get to grieve this very real loss, this taking of what you had always wanted.
You need not betray your own embodied experience by serving up spiritual platitudes as if they might erase the pulpy, rough-to-the-touch parts of being human. If this truly helps you, then may it be so. But if it is hurting you, harming you to hold onto the idea that your body responding this way is a spiritual failure, then you are allowed to let that one go and simply take up all your space with being in the very real grief of a true desire that is crashing into your body in protest.
Perhaps in this way, this will be a time of growing your own self-trust in your intuition. It may not be magical and lit up with the fairy lights of a woman glowing in satisfaction and communion with her life within, but it is speaking. Do you hear it? It is speaking. It is telling you what is true, that your body is hurting and your heart breaks because of this. And as your body expands to hold new life, your own selfhood may also come to stretch ever farther, allowing for you to create space for the fullness of your experience, knowing you have a right to enter it and feel it fully.
When the body is not a temple but a prison, we come to question the meaning of both. What makes something a temple? What makes something that which binds and constrains us? Where does our freedom lie? How deeply can we enter into reality without coming up with pretty-sounding stories that make it appear shinier so as to not threaten our fear of losing all control? How deeply can we love ourselves and this world while we thrash, body and soul, in protest and creation?
It is here that I think often of the biblical Jacob–which seems as if it has nothing and everything to do with your swelling belly and restless resistance and questions that come and press as close as the pain. Jacob wrestling with his angel. Jacob, refusing to let go. Jacob, insisting upon his blessing. Jacob, wounded. Jacob, limping. Jacob, who named that place the face of god. Jacob, blessed. It is Jacob that comes to me now, as I knock on the gate of your own grappling toward understanding.
Like most good myths, there are many versions and interpretations. For now, I will share this one piece of it. Jacob is a human who, while alone at night, was met by a man or an angel or a god, depending on the story being told, though I have always wanted to believe it was really himself which was also all three. They are wrestling late into the night until it is nearly morning, and the angel says to let him go, to unfasten from the struggle and the fight. But Jacob is not done. “I will not go until you bless me,” he says. And don’t we all long for this, as you have with your pregnancy, the desire to be blessed and the confusion when what we find is the struggle? Jacob will not yet let go, because the fight is still finding its way beyond the bone and into the marrow, the place where we both can stand in all our surrender and all our fury and know we are loved. The angel then touches Jacob in his hip socket, causing his joint to wound, leaving a limp that will be with him forever. And then, the story tells us, the angel blessed him, and left, and morning came. Jacob chose to name the place of the wound “The Face of God,” or “The Place Where God Is.”
And I’m wondering now, is god in the place, or in the face we mistook for another, or in the limping hip, or in the wrestling fight itself? Is god in the body betraying us, or in the permission of grief, or in the fury, or the sounds of our own self, naming what we know as true?
Are we blessed or wounded or both?
I want to say that it is both. For you. For me. For humanity and for the god we claim.
We are wounded. We are protesting. We are grieving. We are birthing. We are smashed temples and expectations. We are affected and affecting, wresting into the night and naming our gods in the morning, blessed.
For now, be in the whole of it, the raging and the wailing and the want and the need and the questions and the fight and the letting go and the birth to which you are ready to walk through as a labyrinth, inside and out. And perhaps one day it will be true, that you will look back and know that this was when the angels were unrecognizable from the gods and your own human heart, when you were wounded in a way that would never leave and you were blessed beyond belief and it is now impossible to know which is which, if they merged later or were always inseparable and forever yours.
Do you have a question for Dear Bare Heart? Send it to Letters@SoulGrowthRadio.com
Image: Miki DeVivo of The Lovely Now