Birth as Edge Walking

Birth as Edge Walking March 19, 2014

Last month I entered my third trimester of my third pregnancy. I felt the shift about 10 days before the ‘technical’ date; I felt the fullness of my belly growing, the spread of my hips, and a certain mental shift. With my first child I didn’t know what to expect; with the second and with this third one, I started out the pregnancies thinking, “Joy! I get to experience giving birth again! What a blessing!”

And then sometime in my 6th month I woke in the night, and I knew I was entering the last stage of pregnancy, because instead of some rose-tinted, abstract musing on birth, I felt the terror of what is to come. “Oh. Shit.” I thought, “I have to give birth again.” The reality of what is growing in my belly hit me hard.

While I don’t revel in being pregnant, there is something deeply profound about the experience for me. I feel much more in my body, less caught up in my head. I feel connected to females through out history, as well as the women I see daily. Millions of women have children – every day! There is a beautiful point of connection in this shared experience. Healthy female bodies generally know what to do; I trust that with good midwifery/medical care and intentional listening, our bodies don’t need much assistance to grow and birth a healthy baby. It’s all very wholesome. I see fecund Earth Mothers in myself and other pregnant ladies.

What few people talk about is how fucking terrifying giving birth is. I’ve given birth twice and I completely trust that my body will birth a healthy baby one more time. But I also know how hard birthing is. It is a Descent to the Underworld, a walk along the knife’s edge. It came as no surprise to me when I discovered only a few weeks ago that Kali is a goddess, not of fertility or pregnancy, but of birth. She is a goddess of destruction, but She destroys on behalf of truth and liberation. She wields a sword and with it She dances along the margins and sharp edges of life. Birth and death are both margins of Life.

Kali, from the Calcutta Art Studio, 1885.

Edge walking is an integral part of witchcraft and many ‘left hand paths.’ This can take many forms, from being an outsider, like John the Baptist’s ‘lone voice calling in the wilderness,’ to trance work communicating with gods and spirits; from being some one who lives boldly on the margins of what is acceptable, to embracing certain spiritual realities that make others uncomfortable. As you can see, edge walking is not for the faint of heart.

Neither is birth.

Kali is the great liberator, the bestower of freedom. The weapons She carries in Her hands are sharp, ready to sever our attachments and free us from the illusions that keep us bound. When we discard what is no longer useful in our lives, when we shed identities that do not serve us, when we establish strong boundaries, we create the space for something new to be born within us. This might be enlightenment. This might be something else entirely. Like all births, we are not in control of what emerges, nor even the process of that birth.

This part of why birth is so scary. Birth doesn’t have to be painful, but it usually is. Birth doesn’t have to take 3 days, but it sometimes does. Birth can be easy, but mostly it’s not. Birth is a new beginning, yet even with modern science and medical knowledge, birth can ride the line between life and death. Birth is bloody, messy, and forces every woman who goes through it to dig deep into their emotional and physical reserves. And birth, like death, requires us to face the aftermath – what new life is this that we brought into the world?

I do not question for one second the rightness of Kali as a goddess of birth.

My two experiences of birth have been very different from one another. My first child arrived 6 weeks early, seemingly of his own accord; we were hoping to birth at a birth center, but had to birth in a hospital. He was healthy but small, and spent the first 4 weeks of his life in the NICU. (That was the worst month of my life. A story for another time.) My labor was on the shorter side of a normal first birth, and the experience, until the very end, was not overwhelming, thanks to an adolescence of severe and debilitating menstrual cramps. Yet, even though labor felt familiar to me, there was nothing familiar nor calming about having a 7 member NICU triage team waiting in the room with me.

The birth of my daughter was entirely different. It occurred at home, in Wales, with only my husband and midwife present. It was as peaceful an environment as my hospital birth was not. Yet, I had spent the previous two weeks curled up with the flu and I had no reserves at all. I have never worked so hard in my entire life. This was a relatively short and fast labor, intense from the very first contraction. At one point I was not sure I could do it. It is the closest thing to a Descent into the Underworld that I have ever experienced. I have stood on the edge of the abyss of Profound Depression and worked my way back. But this was something else entirely. But for me only. My daughter was born happy and fat, with not one peep from her. In spite of sharing a body, we were having very different experiences.

First nursing with my daughter, 2011.

These experiences along with my understanding of Kali cause me to be all the more reverential about birth. About the birth that will be happening sometime, anytime, in the next seven weeks. Babies come when they will. I have no control over much of the experience. Like any birth, even a metaphysical one, surrender is the name of the game.

All the better for Kali’s sword to slice cleanly through my illusions. All the better for walking between life and death.




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