Alexa Heung: beauty, pain, and mystery in childbirth - Part 2
How did you begin to heal?
There was beauty for sure. Steaming red date tea and fragrant ginger laced Chinese home cooked dishes prepared by my mother in law. My beautiful sister and brother-in-law who sacrificially drove through the night from Mammoth Lakes with her two babies to be there for the first two days. On River’s sixth day of life the summer swelled with so much swirling heat that Ian decided to move to our new place a month early. With last-minute help of some of his friends, he stealth moved our bed and a few essentials. I’ll never forget the feeling of stepping out of the car with her swaddled to no street-lamps, engulfed in darkness, piercing stars above, and the chirping of crickets. New house, new baby.
Slowly the days started to be more punctuated with pleasure than pain. For some perfect reason sex, when we were ready, never hurt, but it wasn’t until seven months after giving birth that I could walk in the hills without searing pain. I could only nurse River laying down in those early months and that’s what we did. She grew, milk drunk asleep in our bed day after day. I grew too. I started to ask God big questions.
Why was I broken for a reason so beautiful? What did I do wrong? How could I have prevented this? Is this the curse in Genesis, our lot as women to bear and wither? I chose to REFUSE that thought because although I felt confused and in the dark, God never stopped being good. The suffering always felt just a micron under what I thought was bearable.
I remember sobbing on the couch with Ian after the first month, an eerie catch-22 loop in my head, knowing that one day all the sharpness that took place would dull into maternal amnesia and I’d want another baby - but at the moment I couldn’t stand the thought of reliving the entanglement of mental and physical anguish I was in.
Where did you find solace?
Spiritually, a turning point happened when Ian prayed over me one evening. Something about my body being a temple of the Holy Spirit. I was reminded by him that I had not been abandoned. My husband was so good to me. We both believed I wasn’t supposed to feel broken. Even though I had more reasons than ever to be critical of my body, I had never felt so beautiful and fulfilled by it, all it was doing to sustain life. It was brimming with purpose.
Eventually time did soothe. I started to see clearly what was culture and what was Kingdom. What, in our society, made mothering maddening and needlessly tumultuous, compared to how God designed to have us healed and whole and learning in community. How beautifully oxytocin works and how it needs delicate settings to be maintained. Rest is derided here. So is recovery and interdependence. I learned that the strongest, wisest thing I could do is lay low. I learned that as with pushing a baby out, pushing anything forward before its time causes harm.
I looked at my maternal lineage, pieced together cellular memories, dissected dreams, and prayed for generational healing. I got soaring visions for my own children. I was bathed in the euphoric stillness, breastfeeding and tending to my girlie. I ceased striving. I waited for renewal. Just as the baby was cocooned and grown with care, so, I think, should the newborn mother be enveloped. Surrender became my strength.
You’ve become a source of compassion and wisdom to me, and to other mothers, since then.
I am convinced we are not meant to do this alone! There needs to be more stories. Not disparaging horror stories laughed about among strangers in the grocery aisle. At every stage, childbearing women crave raw, intricate, nuanced accounts of journeys shared in honoring solemnity. I’m curious about bringing back new initiation rites for mamas like me who were so tossed and disoriented. There’s a place for sound advice. But what’s sorely lacking is space and celebration and just mothers seeking fresh manna together. We need our mamas close. Our aunties. The acquaintance down the street. No help is perfect. No family relationships are intact and unstrained. But kind whispered words, wise perspective, empathy, shared tears, touch, a bit of beauty gifted, windows flung open to the sun - all that heals. We need more than meal trains. We should witness one another weak. Or harried, laughing/crying about how hard it is sometimes. In the Kingdom, all suffering has purpose.
How we can be sweet, sisterly containers for the trauma, bliss, fresh, incoherent wonder that is adding mother to our ultimate identity as daughters of the living God? I sense it might be a way I would like to minister one day. I could serve as a postpartum doula. Or lead a support circle. Teach or design content around village building or wise preparation for postpartum bliss. Maybe make nature-sourced products that restore and soothe the body. I’m excited about anything really that can bring us closer to the blessing God originally envisioned for birthing mamas and babies. Echo his intent and find his heart in it all.
Here are the questions I am still asking: what are the true, divinely placed, physiological needs a woman has in the postpartum period, and how can we use those needs as a blueprint to gather around her? How can families be more potent in the Kingdom as they are seen and celebrated and abundantly, lavishly supported? Bonding with baby, nutritional healing, and maternal mental wellness ripples out to affect so much in our communities. A nourished mother will scatter joy for generations.
What cultures have known for millennia past is that the tending to in this sacred window is critical for our capacity to thrive long-term. There’s a saying, “The first forty days for the next forty years.” Although we are in a fractured world and there is strife and struggle and complications and mourning, my hope is to see much more sweetness and clarity around how children are brought into the world and how families are formed -- not necessarily because I want to prevent the hardship that accompanies birth, as it was all woven for my refining, but because I believe the way families are made in the furnace and haze of newborn life matters more than we can imagine.
I have a fire in my heart for this work and I wonder where I’ll be led. I was undone and remade in giving birth to my wildly precious daughter River. Unflinching I can declare, I am more whole today than I was before.
Here are the questions I am still asking: what are the true, divinely designed, physiological needs a woman has in the postpartum period, and how can we use those needs as a blueprint to serve her? How can families be more potent in the Kingdom as they are nourished and celebrated and abundantly, lavishly supported? Bonding, nutritional healing, and maternal wellness ripples out to affect so much in our communities.
What cultures have known for millennia past is that the tending to in this sacred window is critical for our capacity to thrive long-term. There’s a saying, “The first forty days for the next forty years.” Although we are in a broken world and there is strife and struggle and complications and mourning, my hope is to see much more joy and clarity around how children are brought into the world and how families are formed -- not necessarily because I want to prevent the hardship that accompanies birth, as it’s been woven for my refining, but because I believe the way families are made in the furnace and haze of newborn life matters.
I have a fire in my heart for this work and I wonder where I might be helpful to others. I was undone and remade giving birth to my wildly precious daughter River. I am more whole today than I was before.
All images courtesy of Alexa Heung.