About a week before I went into labor with our eldest child, my husband and I participated in the final session of a six week "Birthing From Within" course, given by a local doula with several children of her own. Its goal was to prepare new parents for the process of birth.
We'd enrolled in it after I decided to eschew a traditional birth with my old-school (but excellent) OB-GYN and go for a midwife attended birth center experience.
Rainbow* (the doula) was a thin brunette in her late thirties who liked to speak of goddesses and natural cycles. Each week she welcomed the six couples in our class into a home (never hers) and then led us through a variety of activities that would purportedly help us to connect with our own inner wisdom about birthing.
The activities were fascinating, enjoyable... and did not prepare my husband or me one iota for the reality of childbirth. We painted pictures of our fetuses looking out from within the womb. We plunged our fists into buckets of ice water to simulate contractions and see how long we could bear the numbing pain. (I'm sorry - ice water didn't even reach a ONE on the scale of mild contraction (1) to childbirth (10). Not even a one.)
She told us the story of Inanna's descent into the underworld, and even had us drum in a circle under torchlight to welcome in our babies and their spirits. The men in the group pantomimed labor, to help participate in the process. I am laughing out loud remembering my husband earnestly pretending to be "born" from behind a towel.
However, one of the activities was actually truly useful - and brought us closer together as a married couple.
For the final class Rainbow had us meet down at a local beach, where she blindfolded all of the heavily pregnant wives and had our husbands lead us through the sand by giving us directions "Turn left, turn right, step over that little hill, there's some water coming up to your leg now."
I felt surprisingly close to my husband as he held my hand in that warm dusky night and led me carefully toward the sea wall. We are the kind of couple who both typically want to lead when dancing, and manage to trade off that role from dance to dance.
Relinquishing all control and letting him lead should ostensibly have been difficult for me, a nine-month pregnant woman lumbering across fragile sand. Yet I felt safe and calm, listening to his familiar voice quietly guide me through over dunes and through small troughs.
When at last we arrived at the sea wall, my husband took away my blindfold and kissed me. He then did something entirely out of character - he handed me an expensive looking box and eagerly encouraged me to open it.
"I am so looking forward to the life we will build with our baby!" he whispered, and then glowed as I opened the box and discovered the first piece of jewelry he had ever picked out on his own to give to me: a silver and marcasite necklace.
Falling in love with it on the spot, I clasped him as tightly to me as I could - given the enormous belly protruding between us - and then asked him to put it on my neck. "I love it! I love it so much, and what I love even more is that YOU picked it out for me!"
My husband turned me back around and told me what Rainbow had instructed all of the men to say, "This is your birth warrior necklace. I cannot walk this upcoming journey for you, but I will be by your side. This necklace is to tell you that I am proud of you - and that I see you as a warrior."
Happily I placed my hand on my neck upon the circlet of metal. "I will wear it the entire time!" I promised. "I will never take it off."
A few days later I (at last) went into full labor. Nearly three days after that (60 grueling hours of intense contractions, morphine, birthing tubs, urgent interventions, pitocin, epidural medication, oxygen, more anesthesia, antibiotics, IVs and real agony) our son at last entered the world sunny side up - with an extremely pointed skull and a massive hematoma, thanks to his fixed position in the birth canal during that time.
My husband stayed by my side throughout the entire arduous process, squeezing my hand and rubbing my back through the contractions and generously laughing at my hallucinations - such as the time I thought I was on an elevator with Robert De Niro and an elephant.
Once he had returned with my husband from the NICU, my husband's gift to our newborn baby was a cream colored baby t-shirt which read: "My mama is a birth warrior". We were ALL warriors after that birth!
I wore my necklace as a badge of honor then, as a symbol not only of the love my husband showed for me when I was 164 lbs pregnant, unwieldy and exhausted... but also a as a symbol of my own courage in getting through the most intensely painful experience of my life.
Looking in the mirror, I no longer recognized the lithe, wiry, electric soul that I had been just one year before. She had been replaced by a soft, thick, exhausted, emotional, hormonal being - some person completely foreign to me. The necklace remained my tether... the one thing I could physically touch to remember that somewhere deep within there was still a fighting spirit, a dynamically burning flame.
I treasured the necklace. I wore it everywhere, with everything. I almost never took it off - even during the birth of our second son two years later... and only briefly during the c-section birth of our daughter two years after that.
For a special anniversary my husband gave me exquisite delicate earrings fashioned by the same designer to match the necklace. Together they meant as much to me as my wedding ring (which I love but had picked out myself, with my husband). The mere fact that he had gone above and beyond to select these special things for me made me feel teary and grateful.
Then a year ago we decided to take a trip up the coast to see "Atoms for Peace" - the side project of Thom Yorke, lead singer of our favorite band Radiohead. We were desperate to get away... me most of all. My father had died, my health had grown progressively worse, I had weathered a stressful hospital stay and then many months of a medical odyssey that as yet had yielded no answers. We'd dealt with raising a premature newborn while dealing with two very active, intense little boys.
My husband and I were spent. Worn. Wiped. Frazzled. Even a little lost.
Unfortunately we were also broke. Getting a babysitter for two days just wasn't going to happen.
We packed the kids into the car along with my mother, and headed up to the home of my sister and her husband. So sweetly, they had all volunteered (mom, sister, husband) to watch our three children for us while we drove the rest of the way up to Santa Barbara to catch the band.
It was a magnificent show, Thom Yorke never disappoints and the outdoor ampitheater took my breath away. For two hours I lost track of everything but the music surrounding me, the band on the stage and the man at my side. I blissed out.
Abruptly the show ended. The lights came up and he and I were thrust back into a comparatively bleak reality... a long drive back to our hotel, picking up our three cranky children to stay overnight with us in a room about twenty feet square, no sleep and a long return trip in traffic to our city and home.
When we got home I realized with horror that my necklace was nowhere to be found. I had taken off the birth warrior necklace at our hotel to shower and forgotten to put it back on. Frantically I called the hotel and begged them to check the room, the floor beneath the bed, anything.
We searched high and low. We checked the car, my purse, our luggage, our jackets. Every cranny and crevice.
No use. It was gone.
I guess it may seem really silly to be hung up on a material object, just some silver necklace that was inherently replaceable. After all, there are many MANY things far more important - like the fact that we made it home safely with no traffic accident from that trip.
The part that really hurt me was the loss of the symbol. Without that necklace when I looked in the mirror I saw just the tired, quickly aging face. Just the white hairs beginning to pop up in my dark mane. Nothing to remind me of an inner me - nothing to remind me of the warrior at my core.
It has been a very long year since that time. I hit bottom in July when my esophagus stopped working and I lost another ten pounds. August brought hope and a potential path for healing. September brought the lyme disease diagnosis. October gave me a new protocol for wellness and the holidays gave me resolve and a better attitude. By January I had found a new home for our family, and now we are here - and we are thriving.
There are still bumps in the road but with every passing day, I feel like I am reclaiming the best of myself and that is AWESOME! For the first time in years, I have begun to recognize the person who smiles back at me from the mirror - a soul sister that I can relate to.
My mother and I were musing over this happily last night, as I took her to dinner for her recent birthday. I was telling her how I feel like I'm on the right path... and so grateful for every moment with the amazing family that has stayed by my side through thick and (literally) thin.
"That reminds me, I should take my vitamins," I said as we parked the car and I unzipped the pocket of my purse to grab for my Vitamin D3 and folate.
My fingers curled around something hard and cold. "What's that?" I wondered, and drew it out of the dark pocket.
Totally dumbfounded, I screamed.
"AAAAAIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEE! MYNECKLACE!!! MYBIRTHWARRIORNECKLACE!!!!" I couldn't stop squealing. "WHAT IS IT DOING HERE? OH MY GOSH MY BIRTH WARRIOR NECKLACE IS BACK!!! IT CAME BACK TO ME!!!"
"Oh wow!" exclaimed my mom, who remembered our trip to Santa Barbara and the lost necklace. "Was it in that purse ever since our trip?"
Stunned, I shook my head. "I didn't own this purse a year ago. It makes no sense that it would be here."
"Yet, here it is," smiled my mother.
"That has GOT to be a good omen!" I sang. "I'm getting well, I know it, I feel it, and now my necklace is BACK!!!!"
I cannot explain how the silver necklace my husband gave to me on the beach nearly six years ago turned up mysteriously in a handbag that I didn't even own when the necklace was lost to me.
Its reappearance defies rational explanation.
That said, I'm not going to dig too hard to figure out "why" or "how".
I've always believed that there is a connection/overlap between our material, energetic and spiritual worlds. Sometimes unusual things happen in our "real" life that are not meant to be explained. For me, the surprise return of my treasured necklace is nothing short of a small miracle. I choose to accept it as such, and to embrace it as a good omen for happy times yet to come.
The birth warrior necklace, now dark and tarnished, is once again clasped around my neck - mingling with an amber stone "Sun" pendant that my husband gave to me for our most recent wedding anniversary.
I am sporting a neck full of symbols; two unique gifts that remind me daily of qualities I prize and aspire to ~ courage, resilience and steadfast love. Plus one more beautiful reminder:
Prayers - large and small - are answered every day.
*Name changed to protect the privacy of the person in question