The Birth of Our History
by Heather Burke
The Grandmother held up the continuation of her lineage with a dignified pride. This was the pride that is taught only through the wisdom of many years of reflection. The wise matriarch of our family gasped at the awesomeness of the sight. Then, in the presence of us all, she sobbed. Together, the women of my family had witnessed a rebirthing of ourselves. We had witnessed, through my child, the birth of our heritage and the essence of our history.
Although pale and shaky, I had the strength to reach up and grab my completion, my son. His grandmother and I laid the young babe on my belly, where he and I rested after the long journey towards each other.
Only an hour earlier, I had been asleep, although the child had already begun his tumultuous trek to our first formal meeting. The descent was slow, and dare I say, laborious. Time hung suspended in the air, as I rested on my own bed. The familiarity of my childhood home allowed me the comfort and peace of small naps whenever my body allowed them.
Only four were invited to attend. The midwives hushed quietly in the shadows, away from the light of the flickering candles. They spoke only when necessary, and they offered a steadfast reassurance through their knowing eyes and calm spirit. My sister was also present. She sat at my back, attentively awaiting my call. Holding my trembling hand, and lying by my side was my mother, the Grand Mother to the yet born child. Each one knew my suffering and each one understood my joy, for they were all Mother to someone.
I awakened for each progressive rush of emotions, and endorphins, and pains, and sensations, though one could not tell by my limp body and closed eyes. A tightness crept up around my back, into my belly, and took hold there. It then spread throughout me entirely, fanning down into depths unknown, even to myself. Quietly, it piddled in, almost unnoticeable, although gaining momentum. Sensations were unleashed, stolen from the memory of all past hurts, and hurled at my stomach and insides.
My innate instincts screamed for me to fight, to defend myself from succumbing to this predation. I longed for the luxury of taking up arms against the predator and fighting like a man. Yet no man could have fought like that. That struggle belonged to Woman, and solely to Mother.
It was there, in the midst of the battle, that I was unrecognizable as the child I once was. I began to know the meaning of inner strength. I knew that this was the very strength used by the birthing mother and the courageous warrior. I had become the Mother, no longer the girl. Everything had changed. Now I understood.
Next, and somehow simultaneously, the desire to flee overtook me. I could outrun the daunting truth that has haunted my kind since Adam and Eve’s original sin. The curse of Genesis 3:16, where God punishes the sin of the woman through an increase of pain in childbirth, applied only to the sluggish and less sure-footed women. I could surely break free of this. I envisioned myself running, my feet softly padding over the leaves and dry brush, weaving amongst the trees. I would outsmart my oppressor and make it to the rivers edge. There in the cool, flowing waters I would find my protection.
“Tonight, I will hold my child.” I whispered aloud as my sole solace.
These rushes were advancing such that I could no longer sleep between them. The feelings overlapped, until they were as constant as the earth we stand upon. I knew, as did all Mothers before me, that my only defense was to embrace the rushes and allow them full reign over me. I was dripping, melting into the feeling and becoming them. I understood their ways and knew them intimately.
Just then, as I began to feel comfort in the consistency of my experience, the resounding roar of a Lion came through my chest. I felt it brush up my throat and fly past my teeth and lips. I stood, supported by a sister and a mother, as the fearless jungle king leaped into my soul, pouncing upon my spirit. He grasped my being with giant claws and battered it about, as was his pleasure. He was a fierce and insurmountable opponent. At that moment, I knew that I would be devoured. Fear entered my eyes.
Just as quick as he came, he pounced away. As I regrouped, I heard him rustling about, unseen by my eyes. He was toying with his prey, giving me a false hope and a lingering terror. As I pulled my bruised and battered body off the floor, I cried out. I cried, not because of the physical pain I felt, but because of the surety of his return.
In a lightening bolt of sensation, I felt the shivering hand of Death reaching towards me. For the eternity of a moment, I forgot the love of a good God. I had
lost. I had fallen to the prehistoric battle between a woman and her body. I thought of the proud mothers who had gone before me, and I was ashamed.
Just then a quiet whimper vibrated through the still room and through my sagging, silent body. I pried clamped eyelids open to behold my child. He was hanging from the hands of his grandmother, who had caught his tumble into our family. Although he was still wet and wanting back inside, he had found his way.
Today, and even as I write these words, the child sleeps in the room where I once entertained these thoughts. The baby’s body lies calmly in the same spot where he drew his first breath, although his miniature body is much larger than it was that evening. There is no thought of the value of family in this child’s mind, because that is his expectation. There is no knowledge of my own completion by his presence, nor of his important place in our family lineage. I don’t expect him to know this yet. This just is.
The memory of the newness and fullness of life that late evening stays with me. It was there to be inhaled by all. This was the truest of childbirths, devoid of all modern corruption. This was the birth of our grandmothers and of their grandmothers. This was the birth of our nation. This is our history.
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