I knew next to nothing about how the actual ayahuasca ceremony worked. I did know that there was a strong likelihood that it would involve vomiting.
I had been privileged to experience some First Nations practices and the ayahuasca ceremony reminded me of a blend of two: sweats and vision quests. In the sweat lodge you are clustered around a pit in a circular dome covered with hides or blankets. The pit is filled with rocks, which have been sitting in fire, often for hours. The door to the lodge is closed and you are surrounded in darkness. There is singing and drumming. The elder running the sweat will put water on the stones. The heat of the steam fills the lodge and it is difficult to breathe. There are many lessons to learn in the sweat lodge, but the primary purpose of the sweat is for healing. The purpose of the vision quest, on the other hand, is to prepare children for the transition to adulthood. The rite of passage involves a minimum of four days of isolation, sacrifice and deprivation, which leads to visions where the person’s spirit animal will be revealed. When I had done my vision quest, I learned many, many things, but it had not led to visions as the deprivation only lasted three days.
My experience of the ayahuasca ceremony was that it was a blend of these two traditional North American indigenous practices. We entered a dark room and sat in a circle. The shaman gave each of us tobacco, which he said would help us with the medicine. Through our guide, who translated, he told us that the medicine we would be taking was powerful. It would bring us visions that would reveal to us what was needed to heal our bodies and our spirits. I was nervous. In the dark I could see buckets on the floor and knew their purpose. We were told we would have to share. I ended up clinging on to my bucket and let no one else near it.
The Shaman went to each of us and offered the ayahuasca in a wooden cup. It tasted wretched. Then he started singing and shaking his rattles. He sang for hours without stopping. The music was hypnotic. People were smoking their tobacco and the smell was making me queasy. Soon I started to feel the effects of the medicine. My perceptions of the world around me shifted. I could hear and feel the hum of all of the living things around me; their energy. I heard people say things that they later told me they had not said. I could feel people’s fear and saw shadows of a giant man on the walls. The power of the medicine was frightening. I felt panic, an urge to flee from it, but nowhere to go. I closed my eyes and felt the world around me spin, a kaleidoscope of colour and light. I surrendered the spinning. Surrendering was exactly what I needed to do. And then started to feel sick. I was the first one to vomit.
I had not thought about what healing I would ask from the Shaman. I had already spent so many years of my life healing, mostly from loss. I was sick of healing. But there was one thing which I had banished from my mind. The loss was too painful. Did I dare even think it?
I wanted him to heal my womb; to untwist my fallopian tubes, to allow my fimbriae to loosen from their contorted knots. It was a ridiculous request. I was 40 years old with twisted insides. I could not conceive. But I reached out for his help anyway. I used my thoughts and my heart to send the Shaman this message. Please heal me. He answered. I saw in my mind’s eye me lying down on my back. My belly was exposed. Two lines of flowers, blood red and brilliant white, were streaming out of my belly. People surrounded me. They were laughing and smiling and filled with joy. I relaxed. It would be okay.
My awareness then shifted to my body. I was vomiting. There was snot coming out of my nose (thank goodness it was dark). Ayahuasca is not for the vain. As I focused on my body, I realized that this must be what it is like to be a baby. They are completely focused on the physical sensations of their bodies: hunger, pain, touch. But most of what they do is expel liquids from their bodies; tears, mucous, vomit, urine, feces. I was completely aware of the physical sensations of my body and how primitive we are when we strip everything away.
Once I had finished purging, however, the misery I felt in my body was replaced with a sense of deep contentment. I lay down, curled up in a foetal position on a blanket. I was so cozy. The vision that came to me was of a little baby lion, all curled up in the sun and utterly satisfied. I lay, all curled up, listening to the Shaman’s singing, and the shaking of the rattles. I was filled with a lazy sense of bliss, like a baby animal would feel after eating a good meal and snuggling up next to his mama. Then the next wave of nausea would come and lift me out of that warm place. I would vomit, and then drift back to the cozy baby lion.
When the medicine started to wear off, the Shaman came to each of us to give us a treatment. Mine consisted mostly of him whacking me on the head with some kind of straw fan. He seemed to be lingering on me a lot longer than the others. I was sure that he could sense that I am one of those people who are plagued with too many thoughts. It felt like he was trying to swat them away like flies. But I didn’t mind. My thoughts can be like little flies, buzzing around, just to be annoying. “Swat away”, I thought.
When it was over, the sun was starting to come up. We staggered, wordless, to our rooms and went to sleep. It was the next morning that it dawned on me that I had not had my period once on our entire trip. It had been almost a month. I had always been terrible with keeping track of my cycle, but I had brought enough supplies to get through two periods, and I had not yet had one. Up until that point I had not thought about it because I was just so grateful that I hadn’t had to deal with it while trekking through the mountains or tramping through the jungle. But when I did the math, it became clear. I was late. Very, very late.
On the bus ride back to Cusco, up the windy, bumpy roads through the mountains, I felt ill. I had gotten along incredibly well with J the entire trip, but now everything he did bothered me. I kept my suspicions to myself and said little. We took a bus to Arequipa, the last city of our journey. Once there, I finally told him what was bothering me. He was sure it was simply the effects of travelling. It happened to his girlfriend all the time. I was not convinced. “Well go and get a test if you’re that worried!” “Fine! I will!”
I was sure it was going to cost a fortune. It was near the end of our trip and we had both spent more money than we had planned for. I went to the pharmacy and bought the pregnancy test. It was $1.50. It was not a box with a lovely, modern, plastic wand inside, but the size of a large bandaid. The shiny wrapper stated that the pregnancy test was the result of a Canadian initiative. Being Canadian, I thought that was fitting. I went to the bathroom and peed on the tiny strip of paper I found inside. The result was immediate.
I came out of the bathroom and said to J “Well, I’m pregnant”, as if it was his fault for not believing me that it was possible. He gave me a big hug. I was PREGNANT!!! Then it dawned on me. What the hell was Dave going to say?