I never read the part in the birthing books about c-sections. I was a yoga teacher. I taught mindfulness and meditation. I knew how to breathe and “be with” pain.
Pregnancy hit me like a ton of bricks. I was sick all the time. When I look back now, I can see how pregnancy began to break me. It was a shock to my system. Yet like the good worker-bee I am (was), I kept at it. But soon I was to experience a whole new level of “broken.”
Two weeks overdue, my midwife sent me to the hospital. There was no more amniotic fluid and baby needed to come. I didn’t sleep for over 48 hours. That alone would break even the most well-trained Navy Seal. I went in Tuesday night and by Friday morning, without meds (I was going to do this all-natural), I was exhausted. I broke down and asked for an epidural. I felt like a failure.
A few hours later, the epidural stopped working. By then, the doctor had replaced my midwife. “Lisa,” he said, “Baby needs to come. You haven’t progressed. We have to do a c-section now.”
Defeated and exhausted, I looked at the faces of my family. They all gave me that “it’s time” look. I had no energy to fight.
In the operating room, the anesthesiologist couldn’t find “the right spot” in my spine. He poked at it for 20 minutes in between contractions. “Lisa,” he said, “I can’t find fluid in your spine.” Even in that exhaustion and defeat, in the pain of contractions, through the shaking, I reassured him, “Oh you’ll find it. It’s ok. You’ll find it.”
He eventually did find the right spot. Our beautiful son was born a few minutes later.
Later that morning, I couldn’t move my right leg without excruciating pain, and feeling so utterly exhausted and defeated, I saw my chart. Written on it in big, bold letters were three words: “Failure to progress.”
Failure to progress.
Defeated, and in a whole new type of pain, I read those words and something inside me broke.
The months that followed were a shock to my system. I didn’t know what sleep deprivation was until having a newborn. I had never considered “loneliness” an effective torture method until I was a new mom, having to finally get outside, walking alone with my baby uphill, in the stroller, no one around, calling a friend of mine and her saying, “Lisa, I think you are depressed. My sister didn’t go through this.” I knew I wasn’t depressed. I was lonely and exhausted.
But still, the world told me something was wrong with me. And walking up that hill with my infant son, against the chill of the early-spring wind, against the world, alone, and exhausted, I felt like a failure.
How many of us have been stamped with the label of “failure”?
On your medical chart, by society’s standards, or…in the pews of your church? By your parents, by our culture, by a coach or teacher?
~ Maybe you labored for hours and never planned for a c-section either.
~ Maybe you tried to breastfeed and the milk just wouldn’t come.
~ Maybe you are a mom who took time off from the corporate world to stay home with your children and you were passed up for that promotion.
~ Maybe you yell at your children, your birthday parties are hardly Pinterest perfect, you forgot to write a note in your children’s lunches (again), or you can’t get by in daily life of tending to a family without feeling overwhelmed, angry, and reactive.
~ Maybe your marriage is failing, your book has been rejected, or you are on anti-depressants again.
And you feel like a failure.
How many of our children have been stamped with the label of “failure”?
~ Maybe your son can’t sit still in preschool and he is scolded by a teacher who is too overwhelmed and too tired to really see the gem your son is.
~ Maybe your child is gay and you all have sat in the pews of your church hearing one too many times how there’s something wrong with him.
~ Maybe your daughter is quiet and bright but she doesn’t get called on in class. Maybe she gets picked last for teams in gym class. Maybe she is shy and the other girls whisper about her being stuck up.
Your child is beginning to feel defeated and like a failure.
But whose voice is that????
It is not the One True Voice within you or your child. Maybe it is society’s voice, your parent’s voice. And the problem is that THEIR voice has become the loudest and the one you are listening to the most. But it is not YOUR VOICE.
Because there is a Voice Within You that knows this isn’t the truth. It’s the deeper, quieter, steady voice within you. It knows the truth of who you are. It remembers your innate goodness and wholeness.
Nine years ago, in that moment of feeling alone pushing the stroller up the hill, something holy and merciful within me knew that I was not a failure.
But the other voices – the voices of our success-driven society – were incessantly repeating those three words: failure to progress. And it was loud.
As the wind hit the front of my body and the tears streaked down my face, I prayed to God. I said, “My Dear God, please help me. I feel broken. I feel like I am a failure.”
And I heard, “Who told you that you were broken? That you were a failure?”
I stopped. I never resonated with or believed in a God as a Judge sitting on some throne labeling people as “good” or “bad.” I’ve always believed in a God who much prefers to throw out the barometers all together, and who just wants to accompany us. And I knew in that moment – alone, cold, and tired – that in this new world of parenting, I could not measure my “success” by the world’s standards.
If I was to feel whole and to parent my children in a way that deeply nourished their sense of self and empowered them to create a more compassionate world, our success-driven society could not define success for me. It could not be my barometer with which I measured my success, worth, progress, or goodness – as a woman, as a professional, and as a mom.
And in that moment, I knew that I had to heal and parent from a holy and deep place within me.
My definition of “success” had to come from a compassionate place within me.
My barometer had to be one of gentleness and understanding rather than harsh judgment.
My voice – the voice in my own head and the voice I use with my children – had to be one of kindness and regard.
That meant dropping the all-too-prevalent role of mom as “the god who has to make it all happen.” It meant dropping the judge within me. It meant aligning with that Holy Voice Within. Use whatever name you like for that “Holy Something” – Divine, God, Universe, Beloved. But it is the Voice we must pause and listen to if we are to quiet the other voices that are not our own.
And over the last nine years, this Holy Voice Within has turned the tables on what label society would put on me:
~ When I’m exhausted – rather than listening to our success-driven culture’s advice, “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and keep going and keep running” – this Holy Voice has said, “Please rest.”
~ When I have felt like I’m not doing enough – rather than, “You need to keep trying to be good and do more” — I have heard, “You don’t have to do more to be loved or whole or good.”
~ When I have yelled at my children — rather than, “You are a horrible mother” – I have heard, “I see the pain you are in.”
~ When I have felt lonely — rather than, “There’s something wrong with you” – I have heard, “I’ll walk beside you.”
And when you hear things like:
“Let me walk beside you”
“I see you”
“You don’t have to do anything to be loved”
and “You are more than enough”
…something within you begins to soften and strengthen. You begin to risk living counter-culturally. You begin to throw away the damn barometers and measuring sticks.
You begin to see there is true power in things like:
Letting love in
and…honoring your True Voice.
You begin to let society define success how it wants to while you Listen Within. And over time, you see that you have been leading a small, quiet “revolution from within.” The Voice of the Beloved becomes YOUR voice – the voice you use with your own self and your children. You rest when you need to. You tend to what needs tending to. You follow what delights your heart with vibrancy and freedom when the time is right.
As for me, what came of that exhausted and defeated new mom nine years ago?
~ The voice of “The Judge” is learning to rest while “The Benevolent One” mends these wound and fills me with an inner vibrancy.
~ The stamp of “failure” on my chart has been erased by my two gentle hands against my heart, saying, “Dear One, I see you and you are lovely.”
~ Those three words: “failure to progress” have been replaced by “You are more than enough” and “You are loved” and “You don’t have to do more or be anything more.”
Family, friends, clients, and readers: The world will label you, me and our children. Our success-driven society will have its own definition of success. But it doesn’t have to be yours or your child’s. And it CAN NOT if you are to live fully alive, to know your innate wholeness, and parent in a way that truly empowers and nourishes your children.
It is possible for the Voice Within to be the one you hear most often throughout the day.
It is possible to build your life around honoring that Voice.
It is possible to parent in ways that empower your child to connect with and honor their Voice Within.
It’s possible to forge your own path. And in doing so, drop any label of “failure” and know – deep in your bones –
that you are Love.
And, it’s time. It’s time that each of us toss out the barometers and measuring sticks. It’s time we get to know the Benevolent Voice within us. It’s time we listen to THIS Benevolent Voice and allow it to mend us into wholeness. And this, my friends, is freedom.