In the months leading up to Penelope’s birth, I did a lot of brain prep for the act of labour. I was equal parts excited and terrified to give birth and become a parent. The first time I experienced Braxton Hicks (false contractions), my whole body prickled with intense anxiety and I couldn’t sleep. My body seemed to know how to prepare but when it came to my state of mind, I let fear take over. I didn’t know how to mentally prepare for something I had never done. Time for a birth mantra.
Have you ever used a mantra? It’s a word or a phrase that you repeat in your mind in order to give your brain something to focus on. I thought a birth mantra would be helpful so I set out to find one. I’m not talking about the motivational posters found at the dentist’s office in the 90’s—cats on branches exclaiming “hang in there!” in Comic Sans, plastered to the ceiling above you as a hygienist stuck her hands in your mouth—though if that’s your jam, you do you! But what should the words be? A single word like openness or surrender? A phrase like “I open at the close?” I seriously considered that one from Harry Potter! But nothing felt momentous enough to earn a spot in my birth brain space.
I didn’t connect the dots until our second prenatal visit with our doula, Aislin (also a close personal friend). She helped me realize that I already had a mantra that I’d used for the last 5 years. I’d used it through everything from general anxiety, friendship breakups, and taking on nerve wracking responsibilities at my job. It didn’t occur to me to use it during labour.
Enter my favourite Canadian poet: Rupi Kaur. There’s one poem that resonates so deeply with me, it inspired my botanical tattoo. You can find it on page 156 of her first book, ‘Milk and Honey.’
stay strong through your pain grow flowers from it you have helped me grow flowers out of mine so bloom beautifully dangerously loudly bloom softly however you need just bloom - to the reader
The stark contrast of strength and softness is what speaks to me. To experience something painful and yet remain vulnerable and turn it into something beautiful really fits. I mean…could it support labour any better?
As my last artistic endeavour before birth, I illustrated my birth mantra using the colours of Penelope’s nursery, and added the poem in my own hand lettering. It is me, swollen with child, surrounded by abstract plant-like shapes and blossoms. I am in the act of surrender, of my own blooming.
I printed a few out, gingerly put them in the same envelope as our birth paperwork, and Aislin taped them up in our birth room at the hospital. While I was in the thick of contractions, I came back to these words over and over, and I found strength in them. And the pain of birth turned into my most beautiful accomplishment yet, my darling Penelope.