I find myself continuing to think about the poem that Dr. Elizabeth Alexander, poet and Yale professor, read for President Obama’s inauguration. (Gosh—it’s sure nice to know he’s finally president.)
Her poem not only captured the tone of the moment, but it also perfectly summarized a truth that I’ve been struggling with since I first started thinking about being a mother.
One of the big fears that I discovered I was harboring while I was pregnant (and it’s also actually a fear that had kept me from wanting to get pregnant) was how to bring an innocent, new life into this world that can often be—or at least does a darn good impression of seeming to be—random, cruel, and full of suffering. The problem of suffering, which has been grappled with by philosophers and theologians throughout the ages, has always been an issue for me. The easy answers of my childhood faith never fully sufficed. I’ve always had these sorts of big questions. I remember asking my parents when I was ten how if God was a loving God, and, if God also knew the future (I think I’d been introduced to the concept of omnipotence in church that weekend), how in the world would he have created the world knowing the mess we’d all be in.
It’s still a good question.
I’ve always wanted to believe that somehow love really is the greatest power in the universe (this is why I’m such a Harry Potter fan). I’ve always wanted to feel like I could fall into a deep sense of trust, knowing that somehow there is a plan for life that rise above simple reproduction and survival. I needed to know that I wasn’t just bringing a life into the world to replicate my DNA. I needed to be able to imbue that life with meaning and hope. (Or at least be able to make a honest effort.)
As part of my intense efforts to get my Lily girl to turn head down from her breech position so we could continue with the home water birth that we had planned, I worked with a hypnotherapist (who was also a doula and my prenatal yoga instructor). I’d expected to focus just on asking Lily to turn, as I’d read about several studies where this sort of suggestive hypnosis had had as good or even better results than external cephalic versions.
Instead though, we worked on me. The idea was that if I was harboring any fears or tensions about birth or motherhood, I might in essence be creating an environment that was telling my baby that it wasn’t safe to turn and get ready to be born.
This is how I found out why I cry every time I hear O Holy Night or read a story of self-sacrificing love.
My therapist believes that we all have a place of inner wisdom where our trusted source speaks with clarity. The type of hypnosis she practices is really a guided relaxation and visualization with the goal of helping a person quiet her mind enough to connect with that trusted source. When I finally relaxed enough to directly dialogue with that trusted source I discovered that I was terrified at my very core that somehow I was lying to myself. I was utterly frightened that my hope that life was ultimately about love was just a pleasant tale I’d been telling myself to sooth over the horrors found on every nightly newscast.
Of course I didn’t get easy or pat answers about why there is such cruelty and suffering in this world, but I did feel an enormous weight lift just as a result of identifying that fear. I recognized this fear instantly as one of the core fears that had driven many of my decisions. It felt like meeting a old friend, actually.
This is why I find myself still pondering, still savoring, the poem read Tuesday at what can only be rightly described as the start of a new era for our country.
Here’s the verse I’ll be writing in Lily’s journal. This verse captures well (and far more articulately) the guiding principle that I want my parenting to exemplify.
"What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.
"In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.
"On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking forward in that light."
Praise song for the courage to welcome new life into love. Even without a guarantee. Even if I don't have the answers.