Coming out the other side – Part V of Trust in the Process

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?

Trust in the Process – Part I

There are still times I look at Maya and realize, with shock, that she is my daughter. I have a daughter. These moments don’t happen as often as when she was first born, but it hits me every now and then. This is real. And I couldn’t be more pleased.

I didn’t think about having children until I was in my mid 30’s. I was in grad school and out of the blue, some chemical reaction took hold in my brain and all of a sudden I felt an excruciating desire to procreate. I became a crazy person, literally. As I was single at the time, this left me with few options. The only viable option I could conceive of, which I thought was brilliant, was to enter into a co-parenting partnership with a gay friend. If my male gay friends wanted a child, they needed a woman’s assistance. I needed a man’s semen. It was a match made in heaven!

As I looked around me, so many parents who created a family the normal way, meeting, falling in love, getting married and then having children, ended up divorced. I figured if you rid the family of the falling in love/sex part, which seemed to be the catalyst for divorce when either of these faltered, and instead created a partnership based on shared values, whose sole purpose was to have and raise children, what could be more perfect than that? Since you didn’t fall in love to begin with, you couldn’t fall out of love. Infidelity would not exist, for fidelity wouldn’t be part of the deal in the first place. It would be a partnership based on mutual respect, and a shared vision.  My utopian family was equally as valid as any other family, I thought, therefore I was surprised at how many people (including gay people) poo pooed my idea. It couldn’t possibly work, they said. It was doomed for failure. Really? The divorce rate is almost 50% but the traditional family was not similarly doomed for failure? Oh well. It’s not the first time my ideas have been dismissed. I still think it’s a fabulous idea.

Just about that time I met the man of my dreams. He was older and had a teenage daughter of his own, but he could see having another family with me. I swooned. We fell in love almost immediately and it was a whirlwind, intoxicating romance. He was a professor. He spoke three languages and travelled extensively. I did my thesis in Paris, where he was a guest lecturer for a month. On the flight from Romania to Paris he proposed. We had been together for 6 months. I was in heaven. I really should have known that this was all a mirage, because things like that just don’t happen to me. My life is not a fairy tale. And this was a fairy tale.

Prior to us marrying, he became obsessed with this idea that as soon as we married I would change into this horrible bitch of a woman. I assured him that who I was would likely not change. Looking back, I should have known this was projecting. For he was the one who changed into a person I didn’t recognize. A person filled with hate and bitterness and self pity. He drowned it with alcohol, which made the hatefulness worse. I was dumbfounded. How did I get myself into this? By this time I was in my late 30’s. I held on to the hope that his lunacy was work and stress related. I wanted a child. It wasn’t happening. I went to the doctor and we did the tests. His semen was tested and I went under the knife so that we could see whose fault our infertility was. Turned out it was mine. The specialist, after taking a good look at my insides, determined that my fallopian tubes were twisted and contorted and the fimbriae, which should be as graceful as sea anemones, were like the gnarled roots of trees. His semen, on the other hand, was of superb quality. The young resident blushed when she told him the good news. He was brimming with pride.

The specialist told us that our options were few. Spend tens of thousands of dollars for in vitro fertilization treatments, or remain childless. He, intoxicated by the news of his super human sperm, decided that if we could not have children naturally, we would simply not have children at all.  I was stunned. I discovered later that it was at this point that the flirtation he had been having developed into a full blown affair.

I, meanwhile, was devastated. I couldn’t believe that this was true. The last remaining years of hope for a child were slipping away from me and I had no options. I had not realized just how much I wanted a child until I was told I could not have one. It was the most isolating grief I have known. A pain the depth of which I shared with no one. And suddenly it seemed like everyone around me was pregnant. I couldn’t bear to be around them. I was the only one not fighting to hold the baby when they came to work to show them off. 

But there was a part of me, that entire time, which persisted in disbelief. This cannot be. I had trusted in the knowledge that I would one day have a child. I had known this from the bottom of my being. Just one child. This cannot be. This cannot be.

Eventually, my sorrow turned to acceptance. I accepted that there were several other ways to have children in my life. I realized that they didn’t have to be my own. I worked with troubled young people at that time. It was very intense work. Many, many of them needed a mother. Their need was palpable and legitimate. I knew I couldn’t be their mother. But I could love them, have dreams for them until they were brave enough to have dreams for their own lives, believe in them, encourage them and help to heal their wounded spirits.

My husband, for his part, encouraged me to go back to school. I chose a challenging, professional program, which terrified me. He was very supportive and told me that school would take my mind off of having children. In the first two weeks of this petrifying path that I had embarked on, a journey that would ultimately change my life, I found solid evidence of what I had suspected for months. I confronted my husband about the affair. When he finally admitted it, there was a large part of me that felt relief. The other part wanted to throw up. I moved out a month later.

Even though this should have been devastating, it wasn’t. I had already spent the entire previous year grieving the loss of the wonderful man I thought I had married. He had turned into a narcissistic, clichéd disappointment. I knew, without any hesitation, that I would be fine. But what I could not understand is how any of this made sense. When I met him, I was certain that there was a purpose in us being together. I had never felt this more strongly in my life. What was the point of us being together if it ended like this? It made no sense. I was childless and the man of my dreams was an illusion. What was the point? It was chaos. I didn’t understand it. But somehow in this chaos, was order. I had to trust that what I was experiencing was that exact process; creating order out of chaos. I would never, in a million years, have been able to guess what the next few months of my life would bring.

Tune in next week for Part II!