The Pull of the River: Bringing what is yours into the world

pull of the river“You are so pregnant,” she said to me, wrapping my hands in hers. The kindness of her eyes pulled me in. I didn’t even flinch at her mention of the impossible, the reality that my body is unable to conceive.

I stared at the lines around her eyes, the unruly silver curls she’d tried to tuck behind her ears, and the breadth of her smile. I’d just finished telling a room full of spiritual seekers the story of how I came to say yes―for the second time―to adopting a child. It was a chance to be “grandfathered in” the social worker had told me. A chance, I remember thinking, to restart a stalled out process.

The lights were low, the retreat tables lit by clusters of candlelight. Magdalene and I were sitting toward the back. It was a year ago, late May, and the retreat was about cooperating with the spirit, going with the current of the river―not against it―and accepting our call to live into who we are. I wanted Magdalene to say more about her own journey, but the intent in her voice told me that it was she who would be doing the mothering.

“Nothing about this time is practical,” she instructed.

The warmth of her hands radiated up my arms. I had tried so hard to be pragmatic. A single mother to be, I’d convinced myself that keeping my business open would be too risky, too unpredictable to raise a child. I wanted better health insurance and the security of knowing I had a job to go to each and every day. I told myself that I had to give up the perks of working for myself (and a boss I truly love) to embrace a former rhythm in my life, one that I refused to admit left me feeling dry and boxed in.

I threw myself into the job search, my cause being just, I reasoned. I did not engage in arguments to the contrary and ignored business advice offered by well-meaning colleagues. In my mind, the decision was made. Closing my business was the right thing to do, the only thing to do, the sole way to make the dream of becoming a mom materialize. Even in the midst of the recession, with hundreds of other applicants vying for the same positions, I trudged on. As my savings dwindled and contracts grew scarce, I made the painful decision to put the adoption on hold. I did not know how much longer this drought of work would last.

Fifteen months later the social worker called to tell me that the laws were changing; my adoption could either move forward under the old laws or wait for the new. It was up to me. Tears streamed down my face as I listened to her detail the advantages and disadvantages of both options. I knew in my heart what I needed to do, but I was too paralyzed by fear and rejection to make such an impractical choice.

I hung up the phone and stared out my back door at a tiny cluster of tulip blades cutting up through the cold, hard earth. I had one month to decide. “God,” I pleaded, “I can no longer give up my business, my way of being who I am in the world, of using my gifts, for my child.” I started to pause, to reconsider, but the words kept tumbling out of my mouth. “And I can no more give up my child for my sense of calling and livelihood.”

“I need both,” I heard myself whisper.

I’d never before stated my desires so honestly. Every part of me felt raw and vulnerable. My throat burned. I prayed desperately that next month. I prayed to be open, to relinquish my sense of rightness, to surrender my need for security, financial and otherwise. I tried to give up practicality and make room for trust. I called the social worker on the first of May and told her I wanted to move forward. A week later, two writing contracts landed in my lap.

There are many ways to open ourselves up to the spirit, to cooperate with God and live our lives fully. The mistake we make is in thinking that our way is the right way, the only way. Being pregnant, it seems to me, is just as open and wide-ranging. I’ve read stories about the mountaintop experiences of some and cringed at the constipation of others. I’ve wept with those who have carried life inside of them for three days, two months, and just shy of full term.

There is no one right way to walk into motherhood, or into any of our dreams. No way to ensure our safety. No way to cement a happy ending. No way to know the outcome in advance. There is only ever the step before you, with all its wild unknowns, and the current that slowly pulls the river out into the sea.

Sitting there at that retreat table, in the shadow of the candlelight, I watched Magdalene’s eyes shine. Being a mom is part of who I am. And being a writer is too. Magdalene squeezed my hands. “This is yours to birth,” she said softly. “This is yours to bring into the world.”