One of the very first books that ever really affected my outlook on life was Of Woman Born by Adrienne Rich. Looking back from where I stand now, as a doula, birth mentor and advocate for those who have survived gender based violence, it had a much bigger impact than I realized at the time…20 some years ago.
The book took me on a tour of the history and place of birth in our culture that, before reading it, I had only understood in a very narrow way. As her poems would later in my life, her words went right to my gut, my heart and my mind. Here is just one small bit that planted a seed with me long before I became pregnant with my first child; and stays with me even now as I parent my third newborn:
“A woman preparing to swim the English Channel or to climb in high altitudes, is aware her system will undergo stress, her courage will be tested, and her life may even be in danger; but despite the demands to be expected on her heart, her lungs, her muscular coordination, her nerves, during such an effort, she thinks of it primarily in terms not of pain, but of challenge. The majority of women…come to childbirth as a charged, discreet happening: mysterious, sometimes polluted, often magical, as torture rack or as ‘peak experience.’ Rarely has it been viewed as one way of knowing and coming to terms with our bodies, of discovering our physical and psychic resources.”
Adrienne Rich died this week at the age of 82. Her passing comes as I emerge from the fog of the last year of pregnancy, birth and parenting a newborn. And the coverage has reminded me: of how much I/we owe to our ancestors and foremothers; of how truly privileged I am; and of how important it is to write, to speak and to take power and foster social change whenever and wherever possible as I continue this balancing act that is being a mother.
Thank you so very much, Adrienne. Rest in peace, hero of mine.