Holy Moments: Remembering Why You Were Born


    Provided to Edge Life by Phil Bolsta

    I never intended to go to medical school. I wanted to be a biology teacher. I was
    also interested in music. In fact, I minored in applied music through the Cleveland
    Institute of Music harp department. But, through a series of quirks, I ended up at
    Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, New Hampshire. My experience has been that spirit
    is always leading me, even though my ego doesn’t know in which direction.

    Although I was in medical school, I figured I’d just do research and never
    actually practice. I had watched my aunt and uncle, who were both medical doctors,
    lead a life that I just wasn’t interested in. They were on call constantly, they
    had to leave every Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner, and it looked like a lousy
    way to live.

    Then we had our first ob/gyn rotation. When the other medical students and I gathered
    to watch our first delivery, I was so moved I began to cry. I thought I was going
    to fall down on the floor sobbing. Luckily, I had been in the culture of medicine
    long enough to know that I didn’t want to be seen as a crying woman who loses it,
    especially when we were one of the first classes to include a significant number
    of women.

    One of the medical students hadn’t clamped the umbilical cord properly, and it became
    a mini fire hose, spurting blood all over the room. The nurse was yelling at the
    student, and another nurse was whisking the baby away. And every cell in my body
    cried out, Why don’t you people understand that this is a holy moment? How can
    you be yelling at this student? We should all be down on our knees in awe and reverence!

    Moth to a flame
    Watching that birth was one of the holiest moments of my life. And I realized that
    being around women giving birth was as easy to me as breathing. I was drawn to that
    practice like a moth to a flame. In July 1975, I started my ob/gyn residency at Tufts
    New England Medical Center in Boston.

    I chose Boston because my husband had been offered a place in the Tufts orthopedic
    residency. The previous September, we had decided to get married in May – a month
    before I’d get my M.D. – partly because we wanted to do our training in the same
    city. And we knew I had a better chance of getting a position myself if we could
    tell the chief of the ob/gyn program that we were married and that we wanted to be
    in the same area. This was back in the time when if you were going to be taken seriously
    in your profession, you couldn’t say to the chief of the department, "Well,
    I want to be in this program because my boyfriend is going to be in this city and
    I want to be with him." That just wouldn’t cut it. Our chances were better if
    we were married. It’s no secret that the culture of medicine was not particularly
    supportive of one’s personal life at that time.

    I loved my training in ob/gyn. I really took the time to sit with my patients and
    listen to what was going on with their health and in their lives. When a woman would
    have a miscarriage in the middle of the night and I would be there taking care of
    her, I always knew that I needed to deal with her grief. This wasn’t just a blighted
    ovum or a mistake of genes, this was the loss of a baby. It was a Catholic hospital
    and many of the women were Catholic, so sometimes we’d baptize the "products
    of conception," as we called them. These, too, would become holy moments. There
    was a constant sense of the sacredness of life running through my practice, but it
    was in a setting where this was never acknowledged and where it had to be kept hidden.

    Women to women
    Fast-forward to 1985. I was completely burned out with my conventional practice.
    I had two little kids by then and decided I needed to work in a setting that supported
    what it means to be a woman and a mother. So three of my colleagues and I opened
    a center called Women to Women in Yarmouth, Maine. It was a model for what has now
    become very common: a women’s center run by women. But it was a radical idea at the
    time. A male doctor actually said to me, "Oh, my God, you’re going to have a
    center that sees women and is going to be run by women? Don’t you think that’s a
    little imbalanced?" Like, hello?

    But it wasn’t long before we realized that we were as exhausted as we ever were when
    the guys had been running the practice. We were working way too many hours and neglecting
    our own health. We also suspected that one of my colleagues had an addiction problem.
    I realized that we had met the enemy, and she was us. We had been determined to run
    our practice differently, but here we were, out of balance, burned out, and sick,
    wondering, Why is this so hard?

    We couldn’t figure out what to do, so the four of us signed up for a 10-day, co-dependency
    intensive led by Anne Wilson Schaef, the author of Women’s Reality. It was called
    the "Living in Process" seminar. Participants just sat in a circle and
    talked about what was going on in their lives. Frequently, when someone would tell
    a particularly poignant story that moved them emotionally, they’d get down on a mattress
    and let their feelings arise. I felt like I was watching labor and birth again. These
    men and women would cry, wail or pound the wall as long as they needed to. But I
    noticed that they would look younger and better when they got up, and that they would
    get healthier as time went on. Yet, I was so well trained in Western medicine and
    left-brain thinking that I was able to watch all this very objectively. I wasn’t
    thinking that any of it applied to me. I just thought, Oh, you poor people. You’ve
    got so much pain

    Then we did an intervention with my colleague. Now, the three parts of an intervention
    are: first you tell the person how much you love them and what they mean to you;
    then you tell them how their behavior is impacting you; and finally, you tell them
    what the limits are and what will happen if they continue with their addiction. So
    we were sitting in a circle and I’m telling her how much I appreciated her for things
    like parking my car once when I was coming into the hospital; in the culture of medicine
    at that time, women were not very supportive of other women, and she had been supportive
    of me.

    Taking pity
    All of a sudden, I started to cry. In the witness part of my mind, I saw myself starting
    to have one of those processes that I’d been watching for eight days and taking pity
    on people for.

    So Anne said to me, "Do you want to get down and see what comes up?"

    I pushed back the tears, pulled myself up by my bootstraps, got it together, and
    said, "No, I think I can handle this."

    And Anne looked at me and said, "You are so tired." And then the dam broke,
    and I was down on that mat sobbing uncontrollably.

    I was crying for all the times I never got to rest, and for all the times I never
    got to be with my kids. After I got through all my stuff, I found myself crying for
    all the times my mother never rested, and for the pain she had felt from losing two
    children. Then I was crying for my grandmother’s pain of losing her mother when she
    was 3. And then, when all that was done, I dropped into the place in the collective
    unconscious that I call "the pain of all women." And when I hit that, I
    started to make those sounds you hear in the Middle East at the Wailing Wall – primal
    sounds of pain. I didn’t know that I had those sounds in my body. And, as I continued,
    the whole room began to sob in the same way. I don’t know how long it went on –
    an hour, maybe two – but when it was over, I knew exactly why I had gone into ob/gyn.
    I knew why I had been born. I knew why I was doing the work I was doing. It was to
    take this collective pain and transform it into joy. And I realized that the first
    birth I witnessed, which had moved me to tears, would have led me to this same place
    had I allowed myself to go all the way into the process.

    There have been many, many moments of joy and laughter along the way, but I feel
    that now, after writing three books and going through menopause, the joy part is
    just beginning. And that excites me enormously.

    Christiane Northrup, M.D., an obstetrician/gynecologist, is an internationally known
    visionary in women’s health and wellness. As a practicing physician for more than
    20 years and a former assistant clinical professor of ob/gyn at Maine Medical Center,
    Dr. Northrup is a leading proponent of medicine and healing that acknowledge the
    unity of the mind and body, as well as the powerful role of the human spirit in creating
    health. Her books include Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, Mother-Daughter Wisdom
    and The Wisdom of Menopause. For more information on Dr. Northrup, visit www.drnorthrup.com.

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