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Birthday Boffering

That’s a photo of Griffin and his friends before they went up against another set of friends at his most excellent Birthday Boffering Bash last weekend. (Boffering is essentially mock combat with foam-covered weapons and it’s SUPER fun.)

TODAY is Griffin’s TENTH birthday!! We keep saying to each other “Double digits, baby!!”

I can hardly wrap my brain around the fact that my sweet, funny, and fierce boy was born a decade ago. To say the realization is bittersweet is quite the understatement.

I can still remember the day of his birth like it was yesterday. It was absolutely the hardest and most transcendent experience I’ve ever had – because the pain and ecstasy were both so great.

As a midwife, I saw women face pain and the elation of overcoming it again and again and again. In my opinion, there is no other story that is more ancient or compelling.

I share both my experiences as a professional and my personal experience with the birth of my son – and suggest some possible lessons to take away.

For anyone reading this who has never been pregnant, consider that you are gestating ideas and dreams all the time, and it may take a midwife (read here, a trusted friend or counselor) to help you give birth to them.

Birthday BofferingReceiving the messages in pain – whether that pain is physical, emotional or spiritual – is one of life’s greatest challenges, and running away from it is one of life’s greatest temptations.

Stay open, and you will receive exactly the insights you need to live your best life.

(Note: The photo was taken moments after my son was born at home.)

Pregnancy, labor and birth are intensely physical, emotional and spiritual all at once.

As such, they are also apt metaphors for life.

Here’s the thing: Most of the instructions given to pregnant women (and anyone gestating big dreams) are inadequate – not least because they encourage women to focus on the little things related to their pregnancy and miss the big picture.

When I worked in a prenatal clinic, I spent most of my time talking with pregnant women about what’s normal and what’s not.

At the same time, I tried to give them a bigger message: pregnancy is the “new normal.”

When you’re not pregnant it’s not normal to feel nauseated, dizzy, and, most of all, in pain. But when you’re pregnant it often is. That’s the bottom line, and it’s unlikely to change.

Notice that I said pain and not something else, like discomfort.

I remember when I was pregnant thinking that if I hadn’t known that such multifaceted pain was normal, I would have gone to the ER and presented my complaints with a hope for a cure.

But there is no cure. There is simply the will to bear it. You either have the will to dig in and prepare for more or not.

This may sound frightening, but what I mean is that women are strong, incredibly strong.

And yet even in a world full of amazing women athletes, entrepreneurs, and even astronauts (not to mention billions of mothers), most of us don’t know how strong we truly are.

Maybe if more of us knew our strength ahead of time, we would prepare more and become even stronger. Ideally, we would behave like people in training – Olympic athletes, or serious applicants for the space program.

And yet, even for those who have trained for years, actually performing – whether in a stadium or on the space shuttle – remains the ultimate challenge, achieved under unique and unpredictable circumstances.

My best suggestion for anyone is to go into birth (either literal or metaphorical) with a clear vision of what you want, and surround yourself with people who support your vision.

I chose to have a homebirth with my midwife, a dear friend, attending me. As we talked about preparing for the birth she asked me what my greatest fear was.

I told her that I was haunted by the story of one of my fellow students in midwifery school: She too had planned a homebirth with a midwife, but after many hours of labor at home she ended up in the hospital with an epidural and forceps delivery.

Long after the birth I asked my friend about her birth experience. She offered that if she could have changed anything it would have been to listen to her midwife more.

She remembers having been almost paralyzed by the pain of labor and only able to sit and rock on the floor as her midwife implored her to move and try other positions.

I told my midwife, with my husband and doula and best friend in attendance, that I was afraid I would also suffer the same fate and be unwilling or unable to follow the guidance I was given during the hardest part of my labor.

However, since there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that the more a woman states what she does not want in child birth, the more likely it is to happen, I kept my birth plan simple. “I know what I want. My support team knows what I want. I will do what my midwife says.” That was it.

Was it any surprise that I came up against my greatest fear?

After a fairly short labor (12 hours) I was fully dilated, but then, after pushing strenuously for two hours, I didn’t make much progress.

So far everything had gone according to plan, but absent any more progress I knew I would soon be taking that ride to the hospital.

At this point my midwife told me to get into a squatting position.

In my exhaustion, I told her, “After the next contraction.” When the next contraction came and I said that again, I glanced up just at the moment when all of my support people looked at each other as if to say, “She’s not following our guidance. Here it is: the thing she feared.”

And then the vision I had for my homebirth, the one they had supported me in, took hold.

In the next moment they had taken me in their arms to support me in a squat. I found the position better for pushing, and although it took another hour, my son was finally born at home just as I had intended.

Instead of fearing the pain and running from it, I heard what it was telling me – this way isn’t working, you must make a change.

If your mind is prepared, the pain you feel in labor (either literal or metaphorical) – and the effort to embrace it, move toward it, and work with it – can be transmuted into a gift that informs the rest of your life.

It takes enormous courage to stay with pain long enough to hear what it has to say.

Usually it will ask you to make big changes in your life.

This is very scary, and yet, if you can do it, you’ll tap into something profound and magical that reminds you of your true power.

Tap into it and you will achieve your vision for your best life.


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what to do when the universe hates you

Earth Day - Creek CleanupThat’s a photo of Griffin (behind his friend Freddy) and a group of his classmates during a Creek Cleanup.

Griffin and I take a walk every week down to the river a mile from our home and we always go past this creek.

A few weeks ago Griffin expressed dismay that the creek was so polluted – and he was especially dismayed because there was a sign that said that his school had “adopted” this stream.

I explained to him that the sign had gone up over 10 years ago – well before he was born – and the school had probably fulfilled the agreement the sign represented when it went up.

Griffin thought it was high time for his school to recommit to its initial agreement and worked with the student council to organize a school-wide effort.

Of course, I’m thrilled and proud of his initiative – and of his interest in serving. As it happens, this incident dovetails perfectly with what I’m sharing with you below – the value of service and what it means for your purpose and sense of place in the world.

There’s a theme that has been coming up with many women during our Live on Purpose Discovery Session, and I figure if they’re experiencing this, many, many others must be too.

All of these women are supremely creative and courageous – they have gone out on a limb in order to live their purpose and make a big difference in the world, but they don’t see that the Universe is backing them up at all.

In fact, it feels like they have crashed to the ground after the Universe took a saw to the very limb they felt called to climb out on.

SecurityBack in 2002 when I quit my lucrative job as a nurse-midwife and moved to Mexico to volunteer health care to isolated, indigenous communities with Doctors Without Borders, most people thought it was a very brave, if not a little crazy, thing to do. (That’s crazy, courageous me in the photo accompanying this article!)

But I felt like I was answering a calling and I believed that I would be able to find an even more lucrative and satisfying job when I returned.

When I got back to the US, I thought it would be easy to find that job. After all, I was now fluent in Spanish, and there were a large number of Latina women living in NC who needed quality, compassionate care – and who better than me, a provider who could speak their language?

I was stunned to find that there were, in fact, no jobs available. I looked everywhere and found nothing. After several months of applying to any nursing job I could find, our savings were seriously depleted.

I’ll never forget hearing from a manager at a public health clinic that I didn’t get a nursing job for which I was completely overqualified: I hung up the phone, crumpled to the floor, and burst into tears.

I had never felt so confused and lost and, yes, forsaken by the Universe.

I couldn’t believe that I had answered my calling only to fail.

And that’s the good news: I just couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t believe it.

So I picked myself up, brushed myself off, and cast a wider net in my job search. I also started spending less of my time in a “job search mode” and more time in “service mode.”

I became the chair of a non-profit that served Latinos and I offered everything from tutoring to housing and job searching (yes, even!).

Within the month, I had found what was to me then an ideal job – yes, it meant commuting 80 miles to the hospital, but I was caring for a predominantly Latina population as a nurse-midwife in a busy hospital-based birth center.

And that’s where I worked for 11 years until I felt called to coaching.

I’ve talked before about the Six Human Needs (Certainty, Uncertainty, Love, Significance, Growth and Contribution), and here’s what I want you to know: you need to meet all of them, but the need to contribute or be of service to others is like the one that trumps them all.

Satisfy that one need and ALL the other needs are met.

So if you are feeling lost and confused, like I was when I got back from Mexico, or all these women I’ve been talking with over Discovery Sessions, here’s what you need to know:

The feeling you get from doing something selflessly for someone else WILL leave you feeling certain about your place in the world, challenged (which is another take on uncertainty), loved, significant and stronger.

I’ve talked to so many who believe they are somehow defective when the real problem is that they simply don’t allow themselves to feel a strong enough desire to put themselves “out there” more and make a contribution.

Of course, feeling defective feels BAD – and you remember what I said last week about feeling bad, right? You can’t manifest ANYTHING you want from a place of feeling bad.

If you want to manifest good things, you MUST feel good.

And if you want an effective prescription for feeling good, I give you The Fourteen-Day Cure.

Alfred Adler was an Austrian psychotherapist and founder of the Adler school of individual psychology. He once famously said that he could cure any mental illness with a “Fourteen-Day Cure Plan.” The plan consisted of doing one thing for someone else every day for fourteen days.

Take a meal to a neighborhood family who has a new baby or flowers to an elderly shut-in (especially if you don’t know them), congratulate the person on the treadmill next to you for completing a mile, buy coffee for the person in the check-out line behind you. Start small, but do something.

Here’s the really cool thing: Adler even believed that if a person would just think about doing something for someone else, there would be improvement.

So there you have it: Do something for someone else every day for fourteen days. If you can’t actually do the thing, just imagine what you would do and what it would feel like if you did.

Bonus points if you do something for someone outside of your family. Super-duper bonus points if you do something for someone not like you at all – someone from a different gender, socioeconomic background, race, ethnicity, etc. The more different, the more points!

I think what Adler was getting at was that we lose our doubts when we do something as an offering.

Because if we’re offering something for free, with no strings attached, then we know that what we’re doing – especially if it’s a simple kindness – won’t leave anyone with an opening to criticize or demean our effort.

And if no one else has that opening, then neither do we – and our fears about how we look, or whether we might fail, or whether someone will shut the door in our faces will be that much less likely to surface.

With those fears out of the way, we can focus on what we really, really, really want to do – and enjoy the challenges that crop up.

So there we are – allowing ourselves to do what we really want to do. And whether we’re discovering what that is for the first time or liberating ourselves from our doubts for the first time, giving our unique talents and passions to others makes the discovery and the liberation so much easier.

It’s all part of the gift, right? We just focus on making a contribution. And that makes all the difference.

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