Back in the old, old days, in 1976 to be exact, I was a young hippie. I am an old hippie now, but that's neither here nor there. For those of you who weren't around in the old hippie days, it's very hard to imagine what it was like. I believe that the word hippie (or alternate spelling- hippy) conjures up the image of LSD-fueled young people wearing crazy clothes, perhaps body-painted and dancing wildly to free concerts by the Grateful Dead with hair flying everywhere. Love beads may be involved in this picture.
This is due to images published in places like Life Magazine, I think.
Well, I went to see the Grateful Dead once. I didn't enjoy it. I did like to dance. I did have long hair. I never got my body painted, I still don't know what love beads were and as to the LSD- well, that's a topic for another day.
The kind of hippie I aspired to be was more of the back-to-the-land variety. I'm not sure where the inspiration for this movement came from, but like many of the hippie-related events in those days, it just seemed like all of a sudden it was happening. Everywhere. We all wanted to get our little piece of ground, grow some food, build a house, and have some babies. Not necessarily in that order.
So when I had my first baby, the whole home-birth movement had just begun. The labor and delivery scene at the hospital was stuck in the fifties. Women were still drugged, tied to the delivery table, babies were separated from their mothers for up to 24-hours after birth, and it was a radical doctor who "allowed" fathers to be present when their babies were born. Women who chose to have their babies "naturally" or who wanted to breast feed were looked upon as insane. Not a good scene, as we might have said.
So I decided to have my baby at home. I had a few friends who aspired to be midwives and one had actually had a baby at home. For an instruction manual, we had a copy of Hey Beatnik, This Is The Farm Book!, which was a slender publication put out by The Farm, a community in Tennessee of a bunch of hippies mainly from California, who had been lead there by their spiritual leader, Stephen Gaskin. They grew fields of soybeans, lived in old school buses, and delivered their own babies. Stephen's wife, Ina May Gaskin, was the head midwife, and in the Hey Beatnik! publication, she had included a thin section on how to deliver a baby. This section was eventually enlarged to become the midwife's bible, Spiritual Midwifery, but we weren't there yet.
I was frankly shocked at how much labor hurt. Ina May had insisted that if you had the right attitude, labor wasn't painful. I obviously did not have the right attitude, because it hurt like hell. After 28 hours of unbelievable pain (I kept wishing someone would boil me in oil to distract me from what was going on in my uterus), I went to the hospital where my baby was born in about 15 minutes. Since they hadn't had time to fool with me, I gave birth undrugged and unrestrained. And when they handed that baby to me- the baby I had long since forgotten was the point of all this pain- a part of my heart that had previously been closed and dark, busted open with pure white light and I understood the secret of the universe. Or at least the part I was capable of understanding.
The incredible presence of that child in my arms made all the pain worthwhile. No, not worthwhile. It was as if something so incredibly important and amazing (I don't have the words here) required life and body-altering pain to produce. More than a fair deal, if you had asked me.
My next three babies were born at home. One in a trailer here in Jefferson County, one in a little yellow house in Betton Hills, and one in a brick house two blocks off Mahan drive. And with each child, more of my heart became open. Everything I have learned on this earth has been a direct result of being a mother in one way or another. That's a fact. And as my children have grown, I have been surprised at the immense delight I take in them as adults.
This past week, my next-to-the-oldest child turned 29 and my youngest child graduated from high school. What a week! I can't believe, after 31 years of being a mother with kids at home that I am about to become a mother with kids not at home. I am so very grateful that they all still live in Tallahassee because I can get my hands on them if I need to and sometimes I do need to.
I have discovered that one of the biggest joys in my life is having all four kids together in one place and watching them interact. My own family of birth was never a happy one, complicated as it was by murky gunk that fucked up any real communication or joy and I think my greatest goal has always been to have a family that actually and purely loved each other.
I think that's happened and when I see my babies, all laughing and joking and loving each other, I am delighted beyond measure. All four of my kids are vastly different from each other, and yet, I doubt they'll ever love anyone as much as they love each other. After my youngest's graduation last week, we went out for pizza and as I looked around at the table, I was filled with gratefulness. I turned to my dear friend, L, and said, "I am a fortunate woman."
And I am.
Listen- laugh about hippies all you want. We made some mistakes. But we got some things right. And one of those things was having our babies in a conscious and purposeful manner. We may not have always conceived them that way, but we often delivered them that way. I have tried to figure out the pain thing- why should something so basic hurt so much? I have decided that the pain is what makes the babies so precious. After going through what it takes to have a baby naturally, after surrendering to the forces required to create life and get it here, that baby is the most precious thing on earth. And the arrival of the child coincides exactly with the cessation of pain so that on some visceral level, the child becomes the savior. Does this make sense? It does to me.
My children have been my saviors since their births. Their presences have required me to be a better person than I ever could have been without them. I have had to be less selfish (less being the operative word here) and more patient. Just as I had to surrender to the forces of labor and delivery to get them here, I have had to surrender to their needs as they have grown from babies to adults.
And now they are all adults. Adults who know me better than anyone on earth. Adults whom I love in a way unlike the way I will ever love anyone. They have taught me not just to be less selfish and more patient, they have opened my eyes to possibilities I never could have imagined.
And as each of them travels on paths I never could have imagined, I have had to let go of any preconceived perceptions of what my children's paths might take, just as in labor I had to let go of any preconceived perceptions of what that would be like. It's all been far harder and far more filled with joy and purpose than anything I could ever have believed possible.
So here I am, a woman of more years than I ever thought I'd make, with my path open to me in a way it's never been. My husband and I cling to some of the old hippie ways. We love our little piece of ground and our garden. We still look at the way things are done and ask ourselves if maybe we can't do better, or at least different. And we have our kids for inspiration. We still make mistakes, and my kids do too, and will continue to do so. They are human, as are we. But there is something here which is so strong that it will support us and give us joy- all of us- for the rest of our lives. Something which began in pain and blood and which then turned around to be the most impossibly beautiful and complicated and simple thing imagined.
I like to think that we have evolved in certain ways for a purpose. Like childbirth. And that no matter how much technology we throw at it, it can hardly be improved. That if we follow our hearts and bodies in the way we were meant to, things will work out, the baby will be born, the universe will settle itself back around each new life. And then it will all begin again.
It's been an amazing journey, this life of mine so far. And as long as I have these amazing people around me- these children who have been my teachers, I think it will continue to be so. I just have to remember not to be afraid of the pain. I have to remember to surrender. I have to remember to be patient and less selfish.
I have to remember the joy in all of its amazing forms. The joy of the newborn at my breast to the joy of seeing my children as adults. The joy of acceptance, the joy of letting go. The joy of life, for as long as I have it.
And I the joy of dancing wildly, with or without love beads, as we all move forward to whatever comes next.