When I got pregnant with my first child, I was 35 years old and had already been meditating for almost 16 years. I turned to my meditation practice to help me be the best mother I could possibly be. Secretly, I hoped that meditation would be a magic amulet that would mean that everything would go perfectly—perfect natural childbirth with no complications. Perfect baby who wasn’t colicky and never woke me up screaming in the middle of the night.
I discovered that motherhood is both wonderful and challenging. My mothering path has included heartbreak as well as joy, loss as well as love. Mothering a newborn was like studying with a crazy wisdom teacher in diapers, who assigned more challenging practices than I had ever experienced with meditation masters in India: For example, “Tonight you will circumambulate the living room with me in your arms, doing a deep-knee bend at every other step, while chanting the sacred mantra ‘dooty dooty doot doot doo, dooty dooty doot doot doo.’”
My meditation practice didn’t make everything perfect. What it did was help me stay present and openhearted in the middle of all the inevitable ups and downs. It helped me let go of my concepts of how things should be (myself rocking in the garden swing by the lavender bush while my newborn happily slept in a bassinet by my feet) and open my heart to the way things actually were (myself standing by the diaper table, flexing one tiny knee after another into my newborn’s colicky tummy, and cheering when a mustard-yellow fountain of poop finally erupted from his bottom). It helped me remember that with every breath, I had the opportunity to cradle my child in my arms and be present for a mystery unfolding.
Meditation helped me study my own mind as it changed, moment to moment, as quickly as my baby changed from giggles to squalls. And it helped me remember that when a cry woke me up at midnight, I had a choice: I could resent my baby for breaking into my dreams. Or I could rock him in the dark, milk pouring out of me, and soak in the intimacy of a moment so precious it broke my heart wide open.
Fertility, Motherhood, and Letting Go
Here’s A Sneak Peak of Anne Cushman’s New Book, The Mama Sutra…
Last time around, our pregnancy had arrived unplanned, after a carefree, passionate, still-unmarried romp at the beach house where we’d gone for my family reunion. Now, I planned for conception as if organizing the invasion of a small country. Planning gave me something to do so I didn’t feel so helpless and victimized. I wanted Sierra back. But since I couldn’t have her, I wanted a replacement, and I wanted it now. At thirty-six, I was terrified that I would not be able to get pregnant again. (“I’m so sorry about your loss,” an acquaintance said to me tearfully, holding my hands, when she ran into me at an event. And then, in the next breath, “And how old are you?”)
So I read every baby-making book I could get my hands on, all bearing cheery, determined titles such as Taking Charge of Your Fertility. I xeroxed multiple copies of a fertility chart and began recording my vital signs—cervical fluid, cervical position, basal body temperature—with the precision of a NASA scientist planning a moon launch.
I compulsively surfed the web, visiting sites with names such as “What Are My Odds of Getting Pregnant?” (Answer: 1 in 4, in any given cycle, if I am having sex an average of three times per week; 1 in 2.7, if I have sex each of the four fertile days preceding ovulation; 1 in 3.6, if I have sex just once, two to three days before ovulation; slightly increased if I have an orgasm within 45 seconds of my partner’s ejaculation; 1 in 10, if I am over thirty-five, no matter how often or in what position I have sex.)
I haunted newsgroups that used acronyms like BD (Baby Dance) for having sex and DH (Designated Hitter) for the person that you are BD’ing with. I bookmarked web pages comparing the sensitivity of various ovulation predictor kits and home pregnancy tests; detailing the appropriate levels of hCg (the “pregnancy hormone”) at various dpo (days past ovulation); selling fertility-enhancing herbs and visualization tapes; giving advice on “keeping BD fun” (well, stop calling it BD, for one thing).
As the DH, my husband was on duty at ovulation time and for several days before, producing sperm. His job also required him to be romantic and tender, so that the night that our new baby was conceived would be both sacred and sexy.
So, predictably, we argued. We argued about when to make love, and how, and whether he was being romantic enough, and whether he had rubbed my back long enough before unhooking my bra. The fights always ended with me crying and him checking his email. But then we had to have sex anyway, because I couldn’t bear to miss a night of egg-white cervical mucus.
In the back of my mind, the ghost of my yogini self begged me to relax. Surrender to spirit, she whispered. Wait for the child who is meant to be yours, who is waiting to incarnate.
But I was in no mood to hear her. Trusting, opening, surrounding, flowing—look where that had gotten me! I wanted the foolproof methods of science. Natural conception seemed shockingly archaic, random, and uncontrolled. Just plant some seeds and wait for them to sprout? There must be a better method than that!
We all want guarantees, in our life, in our practice, that everything is going to work out. We want to guard our hearts and say I will only love if my heart will not be broken.
But there’s plenty of proof that there are no guarantees. Life is a free fall through an abyss in which everything and everyone we love is eventually guaranteed to disappear.
In opening again to carrying a child inside me, I chose to step forward into this abyss. I chose to participate in bringing life into the world, knowing that every life is, in the words of the Diamond Sutra, “a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream, a flash of lightning in a summer cloud, a flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.” Knowing that one day it was not just possible but certain that I and the child I treasure will be separated by death.
And that the only protection I would have is that my love would be large enough to hold even death in its arms.
To read more, you can purchase Anne Cushman’s book here. Available April 16. Reprinted in arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc.