Erika, a birth coach, travels to India and the Himalayas. She finds a metaphor in the beauty and challenges, and returning home, asks how this might apply to her work and life.
As a birth worker, it’s important that I stay grounded, resourceful, skilled and empathic to the birthing women and men. To be fully present and fully trusting of my instincts is a crucial part of my role – it’s key to giving excellent support, along with self awareness and self care to sustain my practice. I’d just had a year of great loss and change in my personal life and I wondered how my work might be being affected. I realised it was important to take care of myself so I could better take care of others, so after more than 300 births, it was time for a short break…
That led me to India. I took two months to travel the country and trek the Himalayas with the intention of having a good time, to ‘be’ with myself and feel my sense of self in the world, to discover new cultures, places and people and to explore what came up for me in all that.
Having been a doula for eighteen years and a birth educator and life coach for ten, I wondered if this was still the right path for me. I couldn’t do that without creating space from it and feeling into what the world looked like from other points of view.
Amazing locations for self-reflection
So I chose some pretty awesome views to sit at and consider my life: The Taj Mahal – a place built from the love a man had for his woman; the arid and spectacular Marka Valley pass in Kashmir, 5000 metres above sea; Goa beach (where I scattered my sisters ashes); a treehouse in the rich bio-diversity of the plantations of Munnar; in the ancient ruins scattered amongst the boulders of Hampi, and, dare I say it, even in the rickshaws of the sensory-overloaded streets of New Delhi.
The questions came, the ‘aha’ moments came, and love, clarity, focus, energy and courage all breathed back into my head, heart, body, and soul.
It didn’t come easily though. Forest Gump’s metaphor is “life is like a box of chocolates”… for me, life is like giving birth. There is some hard work attached to the experience and amazing rewards at the end, with a whole lot of emotion in between. I flipped from feeling like a birthing mother to being my own coach as I climbed mountains and felt my own rebirth. I reconnected to my purpose and passion for life again, but this time it was with more grace, acceptance, calm and trust that I’m going to be ok, how ever much life changes around me.
From every new location I had the opportunity to see myself in context to the world from a new perspective. One day this is how it played out within me – I wrote this in my diary:
“Today I climb over a pass of 5000 meters. I am a bit scared but I will do it. Odd that I am more scared of feeling alone and emotional than in pain from walking. There is lots of reframing to do to be more positive; I want to do this after all. It is my choice…..
Wow; I did it!!! I feel so happy for what I have achieved. It was challenging but I feel it was another shedding of my ego and judgement of myself. The effort the walk took WAS do-able and yet every step required either my utmost attention or complete distraction. At one point trying to just take a deeper breath sent me off rhythm with my movements and breathing. I then needed to slow down to calm my beating heart. The altitude created a physical pressure against my chest and I learned that it hurt my body if I walked any faster than my natural rhythm allowed. Noticing that I needed to keep my mouth open to catch enough breath was drying me out,so with conscious thought and a moment to prepare mentally, I moved my tongue to the roof of my mouth to warm the air first. Even this took effort but it didn’t stop my stride. In time I could see the top and yet it felt like it took so long to get there.
Part way up the climb I got chatting with a fellow trekker. The distraction of listening to him chatter and our mutual banter, which at times was too much to physically manage, got me up the very last part of the hill.
The view was spectacular! I can’t describe it well enough but I feel so honoured and privileged to have this opportunity. I am in a desert of mountains on top of the world! Shedding tears of relief, joy, sadness, awe, pain and finally, having a moment alone, I let my tears roll down my face. Again the memories of my love for my sister, my loss in not sharing these moments with her, overwhelmed me. It also reflected my awareness that I AM ALIVE. I have my life still ahead of me and I am grateful for this. I know I will die one day but how do I want to be remembered? How can I be of service to people and the planet? Which ways do I want to enjoy myself? How do I want to experience it?
I am wishing for home now. I have loved my journey but I am ready to be home. 60 days have taught me a lot. I have become far more settled in myself and I can be still or rest or watch or listen better than ever before. I am happy about this.
Climbing these mountains has been a rebirth for me. I feel connected to my work again. I get it! Simple support. Breath with awareness and control. Find the rhythm in my body. Notice what helps me focus. Remember why the effort is worth it. Remember the reward is amazing and worth the challenge to get there. Know what distractions work. Lose myself in the moment. Look at all that is beautiful around me. Reach out for support. It’s ok to feel weakness and vulnerability in the body because it’s actually the process of building strength. Crying is ok and releasing emotions helps me move on and not be stuck. Have a whinge when I need to but don’t give it more power than that. Wonder if I will make it but take the next step anyway”.
Refreshed and connected
My India / Himalaya experience has refreshed my embodied sense and mental state of the birth journey. Connecting to that which grounds me, brings me confidence and wisdom to continue. I trust my intuition even deeper now. If a labouring woman is on the edge of all that she has ever experienced and wonders, “can I do it?”, I can with every fibre of my being believe in her. Like I believe in myself.
Perhaps it’s worth giving time, energy and resources to explore our practices further and connect to that which inspires us? Whatever we do – from active movement to calm meditation – we all have the potential to transcend our usual habits, beliefs, feelings and thoughts to allow a new world to open up within ourselves. We can see our challenges as our rebirth and stay relevant to the people we serve. We can be at peace with who we are and share our gifts to the world.
Erika is a birth coach, doula, educator and group facilitator for Birthready. She is one of the most experienced doulas working in Melbourne today. Her workshops, private consulting, guest speaking and volunteering for Birth for HumanKIND help guide women and their partners to achieve empowering births and transition better into life as parents. www.birthready.com.au
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