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Monday, April 30, 2012

Look Yourself in the Eye

"If you could go back and have a conversation with the 19 year old you, what advice would you give yourself?"

It's a common question often asked in interviews and at cocktail parties. Most of us have considered our answer to some degree. It usually has something to do with regret or a missed opportunity generated by the "what if..." that has been in the back of our mind over the years. An interesting but pointless endeavor, really. Any knowledge or insight we've gained at this point won't serve to change the past, so instead we use these insights as reminders of what we've been through and what we've learned.

A few days ago, while wandering through the art galleries and studios of the St. Paul Art Crawl, I had the opportunity to look my 19 year old self right in the eye. I was surprised enough to see the name of the photographer I had modeled for 20 years ago, Larry LaBonte, on the studio door but coming eye to eye with myself on the wall of his studio took my breath away.

There are 2 photos. They are both close ups showing not much more than one eye. In one I am looking down. In the other I am looking right at you, or in this case, right back at myself. I'm sure everyone who sees this image sees something different and has a different emotional response. There is so much mystery and superstition about our eyes. They give us information about the world around us.  They express emotion and connect us to other beings on a spiritual level. Larry talked about his experiences traveling and working in Japan, where people are accustomed to standing like sardines on the streets and subways but are very uncomfortable with eye contact. This was a concept he explored in his photography.

For me, though, what I see in that simple image is incredibly personal. I can see in my 19 year old gaze everything that I was then; hopeful, naive, a little defiant and relatively carefree, but mostly limitless. I was excited and optimistic about the adventure that was really just beginning. Would I really want to go back and tarnish that with advice from a more experienced me?  Maybe instead of asking what advice we would give our 19 year old selves the question we should ask is what advice they would give us?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Letting Go - My Yoga Birth Story

7 years ago today at this time I was lying in a hospital bed completely numb on my right side from my toes to my chin.  After the Pitocin kicked in I had only lasted through about an hour of contractions before asking for an epidural.  I had hoped to deliver without it but it was OK.  I remembered the lessons from my Yoga Birthing classes and my amazing prenatal Yoga teacher, Sarah Longacre.  All I needed to do is focus on my breath.  As long as I had my breath I could let go of everything else; fears, expectations, control.  Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Everything will be fine.

By that evening, after almost 2 days of non-productive labor we made the decision to have a C-section.  Baby was being monitored and was fine but my water had broken at 1 am the previous day and it was now 6pm.  Again, not what I had planned, but it was OK.  I was nervous but I knew that I could focus on my breath and that would carry me through.  My mom and sister would be there to hold my hand and comfort my fears.

The anesthesiologist explained that since the epidural hadn't worked properly (it only affected one side of my body) we wouldn't be able to use one for the C-section.  Instead, we were going to do a spinal block.  I had never heard of this but it was OK, as long as I had my breath, and I was ready to meet my sweet baby!  As I was being moved from my room to surgery the nurse said, "A spinal block can be sort of an uncomfortable feeling for some people because they can't feel anything below the neck.  Don't worry, even though you won't be able to feel yourself breathing we'll keep you talking and ask you to squeeze our hands.  As long as you can do those things you know you are still breathing,"  she said with a comforting smile.

Remembering this moment brings tears to my eyes and fills me with panic.   The walls were crumbling down.  What do I have if I don't have my breath?  Every preparation and plan I made for this birth had to do with my breath.  It was the one constant.  If all else failed, I always had my breath.  "No matter what else happens, stay with your breath," was my mantra.  I lay on the table in the operating room, crying and waiting for my mom & sister who would be allowed in after the spinal block was in place.  I was so terrified that if I hadn't been completely exhausted I probably would have tried to get off the table and run.  When the spinal block was in place it was just as they said it would be, I could not feel my chest rising and falling.  That precious feeling of the expansion of the inhale and release of the exhale was now a void.

The nurses asked me questions.  I answered.  They asked me to squeeze their hands.  I did.  I was breathing.  Even if I couldn't feel it I knew it was true.  I let go of the panic.  Everything would be OK.  Just let go.

I felt a shift as I let go.  It was going to be OK.  A wave of relief washed over me.  Even though I couldn't feel my body I know that I relaxed.  The nurse asked me to squeeze her hand.  She asked if I was OK.  I felt so calm, so perfectly peaceful, so detached.  I was aware of the flurry of activity around me, the call to the surgeon over the intercom to report "stat", the nurse's voice, "We're going to put you to sleep so we can help you breath.  Here comes the mask."  Then the mask coming down over my face.  None of this concerned me.  I observed all of it but it did not touch me.  I was not afraid.

I woke up in a different room, alone except for an unfamiliar nurse standing next to me with a bedpan.  "Here," she said.  "You might be nauseous from the anesthesia.  When you feel better we'll bring the baby in.  He is out with your family and is doing fine."  I didn't need the bedpan.  I felt fine.  They brought me my little one.  My first words to him:  "There you are."  He was perfect, healthy and beautiful.    He still is.

He came into this life with a big lesson to teach me.  Let go.  It will be OK.  Every day of his life I am reminded of this lesson.  I have so many worries.  I want to protect him from every hurt and shelter him from every storm but he wants to play in the rain and harness the lightening.  Happy 7th birthday, Little One.  You are a gift.