A few months ago, as my flame dimmed to a flicker, I prepared for my final exhale from this body. What happened instead was a benevolent rescue by the Goddess, in many forms and guises, and being inspired by her once again. You see, I believe that in my fervor to exclaim her name and try to cram her into a society that still actively (if covertly) disowns her existence, I was quickly wandering off the path she had laid out for me. Now you might think it’s silly or even repellant for me to refer to the Goddess, but I bet if I had said God you wouldn’t bat an eye. The truth is, the divine nature of the universe has been given many names, and hers happens to be the one that rings truest to me. In fact, viewing the divine as a great mother is the oldest form of religion known to humankind, and by the end of this article you might just understand why.
As she breathed new life into my lungs and pumped new blood into my veins, she also reignited my passion for her, but this time it was for a deeper and more primitive layer of her expression, namely her beautifully cyclical nature. This new focus developed out of a dire need to recover my health and save my own life. Over the past three years, in my frenzy to learn and do everything I possibly could to build and fulfill my life’s dream, I slowly and quite literally almost let myself bleed to death. As I was expressing myself energetically and physically to the world as a performer, teacher, and leader, I was also “expressing” myself on another level; essentially I started having heavy, erratic, and non-stop-for-months-at-a-time menstrual periods.
Now a normal person probably would have suspected something was wrong long before I did and gone to the doctor. I am not a normal person : ) The truth is, I knew something wasn’t quite right, but I was too busy living my life, and for whatever reason it never occurred to me that this menstrual blood could be coming from my own life supply. I just thought it was appearing from an annoyingly unending well somewhere above my vagina and viewed the experience as more of a nuisance than a health concern. Also, I strongly suspected (and was not wrong) that if I went to the doctor, I would be given two options: take birth control pills or get a hysterectomy. Neither of these “solutions” appealed to me and actually violently opposed my do-it-naturally nature.
So, once they ran all the tests and came to the conclusion that there was nothing critically wrong with me, I agreed to take a modified birth control pill until my blood level was restored to normal, but I also started researching and experimenting with as many natural methods for restoring my hormone balance as I could find. This included everything from diet changes, to breast and stomach massage, to essential oils and herbs. While all of these things have been helpful, and many of them incorporated into my lifestyle, the discovery that has healed me the most was of nature’s fertility cycle within women, and developing an appreciation and reverence for it.
Traditionally, a woman’s cycle has been tied directly to the changes of the moon. In fact, the word month is derived from the root word for moon, because it was a simple way to track the passage of time, tracking the phases of the moon. When women are described as complex and changeable, it can easily be seen in the phases of the moon and the corresponding phases of our menstrual cycles. Just as the sun rises and sets in the sky every day, so does the moon every night, but unlike the sun, the face she reveals is a little different each time. Each month she grows from a dark seedling into a full glowing mommy, and then gives birth to herself to start the process all over again. Likewise, each month we as women build a nurturing blood nest in our wombs, prepare for and possibly get pregnant by ripening our own mini-moon eggs, and then release what hasn’t been used at the end of the month to begin anew. This link with the moon, as well as the ability of women to grow and bring forth life from their bodies, is why the divine was regarded as feminine, and why women and their natures were revered and respected. They were seen as having a deeper connection to the underpinnings of the universe and therefore a closer relationship with the divine.
It was surprising to me that so much of my focus during this time of healing centered around fertility and mothering, because most of my life has been spent actively avoiding pregnancy. I would often joke with people that for me, getting pregnant was on my list of things I wanted in life just above being raped and tortured. Sad but true. In my eyes, getting pregnant and starting a family meant forsaking all of my dreams and aspirations, which seemed to call to me more loudly than they did to others, and I knew that if I let that happen, I would die inside. My calling felt more like an obligation than a simple desire (although it was still something I wanted very much to do), and it was my duty to follow through with it, even if that meant sacrificing acceptance, relationships, children, and security. So it’s really no surprise that my body was accommodating my deepest wish by short-circuiting my fertility cycle altogether.
It has only been in the past year or so that I have wanted to start a family, as I felt I had finally built enough of a structure (think of it as my little Robyn’s nest) and accomplished enough that I could continue to build on it while having loved ones to share it with. This had been my main impetus for pushing myself so hard, to get to this basic level of achievement, but there was only one problem: I wasn’t actually creating any room or time in my life to create a family. I believe that the true disease that had developed within me was not anemia or hormonal imbalance, but workaholism, and that my body’s incessant bleeding was really a desperate cry for me to do what is supposed to be done during this period: relax, recuperate, look within, and most of all, let go.
As it turns out, I had quite a bit to let go of. First of all was control over my body and actions. I have always been a healthy person, so for that to suddenly be something I couldn’t count on was more than a little terrifying. I am so not used to being an invalid, and it was an adjustment to learn how to relax and not be so goal oriented. In fact I tried several times to kick start my body, resume my normal schedule, and pretend it had all been a bad dream, but each time the Great Mother pushed me back into bed until finally I couldn’t get up again. Suddenly I was like a newborn who needed to be watched over, fed, and could do very little for herself. Fortunately, the Goddess stepped forward in her first incarnation as my sister, Erica, who acted as my unconditionally loving and nurturing mother. Every cry of fear and need I had, she listened to attentively and heeded. I would quite possibly be dead if it hadn’t been for her. She was soon followed and accompanied by many beautiful and loving women and men who checked in on me, brought me food, and just generally cared about me. Their love, nurturing, and attention helped me feel safe at a time when I felt far from it physically.
Once I was able to finally give in and let go of all my expectations and obligations, I discovered the freedom that lies underneath it all, even if my apartment was starting to feel like a prison. Suddenly I was grateful for all the love in my life, the beauty and restorative capacity of nature, and the simple warmth of the sun on my skin. During my daily walks in nature, I noticed myriad beautiful things that had gone unseen before as I sped through life, focused only on “getting there.” I had to learn to stop chasing after the things I thought I was supposed to make happen and trust that the universe, like a mother, would provide for me and either guide me to the things I needed or guide them to me.
I discovered that this is Mother Nature’s gift to us each month as women, the option to slow down and quite literally go with the flow. Unfortunately for us, society tells us we’re not allowed to do that. Back in the heyday of the Goddess, a woman’s “moon time” was considered sacred, a time she spent in solitude or with other menstruating women, when she travelled in the divine realm and learned all that needed to be known, so that she could come back renewed and nurture her family, her community, and herself. Today, we are asked instead to pretend as if our bodies are not going through a transformational phase and to feel ashamed for our tantrums of emotional frustration when our desire to stay in bed for a few days and hide from the world and (temporarily) let go of our obligations is denied. Not taking this time to rest and recover during our menstrual phase, especially in this age of driving ourselves so hard, is equivalent to asking our bodies to never sleep and still function optimally, which sadly a lot of us also do. Instead we need to embrace the idea of honoring our menstrual periods as times to retreat, get rid of that which no longer serves us, and recharge so that we can ultimately give birth to a new version of ourselves.
On an even deeper level, I needed to finally take the time to feel and let go of the pain, grief, and guilt surrounding my mother’s recent death. Even though this sort of retreat is more accepted by society, my siblings and I had spent the last six weeks of my mother’s life taking care of her and letting her die at home surrounded by her children, so when she finally passed, I wanted to put the experience behind me and move forward into my future. Unfortunately there was a lot more within me that needed to be released (and still does), and my illness finally forced me to slow down and look at it all. The day my illness climaxed and sent me to the hospital happened to roughly coincide with the anniversary of when my mother’s cancer officially returned, and she (and we) spent the rest of the summer in various hospitals as she fought through surgeries and horrific bacterial infections and just generally battled death. As I got sicker and sicker in the weeks leading up to my hospital stay, I believed my mother was punishing me for not grieving her enough, for not being with her more as she was dying, and for not being a good enough daughter. Instead, as I lay in my hospital bed for two days and nights, I felt her loving embrace as she kept me safe and sound, until I was ready to finally go home again.
The weeks that followed brought me even closer to her as I experienced what last summer must have been like for her. It was not easy to suddenly go from being an independent woman who did everything for herself to someone who can barely get out of bed, and the experience was humbling to say the least. I now understood why she took all those midnight trips to the bathroom unassisted, even though we had warned her that it was too dangerous and that’s what we were there for. It was also terrifying to live each day, and sleep each night, experiencing new symptoms, wondering what they meant, if they were fatal, and if I should call someone and ask for help. I also began to understand how much a hospital bed (even if it’s at home) can feel like a prison. When one listless (or scary) day follows another, it’s overjoying to have a surge of energy and motivation, and all you want to do is resolve to go out swinging (or in my case, dancing), rather than slowly fade away into that eternal sleep. Even though it saddened me to remember all of the times I reprimanded her for these very same actions, which were frustrating to deal with as a caregiver, I also realized how much I am my mother’s daughter and that I was just carrying on the tradition of strong women in our family.
Everything I went through, and am still learning from, is very much the modern woman’s dilemma. In the West, we as women have the unique opportunity to live up to our own individual potentials, but unfortunately our social structure is still primarily patriarchal and therefore not set up to accommodate our feminine natures, so we often feel like we must choose between family and career, between pushing through and taking time to honor our emotions and bodies. We are trying to have it all, we are trying to be independent (sometimes even within our families), but we also tend to put everyone else before us – everyone else needs to be taken care of before we do. However, if we don’t take care of ourselves, we won’t be able to take care of anyone else. When you don’t have your health, you suddenly realize how it’s almost impossible to have anything else – it is the very foundation on which everything else is built. We as women need to learn to embrace our cyclical and changeable nature and appreciate the wisdom of its design. There is a season for each desire to be fulfilled, and each phase of our lives will be born when the time is right. We can start to trust nature’s progression by becoming aligned with our own monthly cycles, by noticing that each phase serves a valuable purpose and nurtures the next phase into being. If we as women each learn to return to some of the wise ways that have been all but obliterated in the West, together we can create a world where women can pursue their hearts’ desires, while also having a family and home life, and not having to choose between the two.