“Someone heard, heard what was happening, what was true and painful, when the center would not hold.
They sat, listened, and breathed with me, like doulas.”
Anne Lamott, Hallelujah Anyway
I am such a different person now than when I had my children, which makes me wonder what I would do differently if I did it all again. I like to think that I would have a midwife, use cloth diapers and make all my own organic baby food. None of this matters because this baby shop is closed for business. Permanently. But recently, I got to hear Anne Lamott discuss the idea of a “birth coach.” She was not speaking of actual labor and delivery assistance or a doula. She was referring to serving as a birth coach and listener to metaphorical new lives being discovered - a birth of one’s true self. It sounded a lot like my process of unbecoming.
When I gave birth to my kids, I was adamant that I did not want anyone present in the room except my husband. My girlfriends wanted to have sisters, mothers and friends present at the birth of their children. Most likely insecurity and pride kept me from welcoming more help as a new mother or a concern that I would make a fool of myself. I have gotten over that fear. As I left Lamott’s talk that night, I started to ponder who my birth coaches have been in this time of new discovery and awakening in my life.
Now, at 38, I have no problem admitting that I need an entire army of individuals to help me maintain forward momentum. I am a lucky person with a network of really incredible people who decided to put up with me. I mean, I am A LOT to handle. I am loud, emotional, dramatic and tend to overreact to everything. Yet, I have amazing friends who stand beside me offering emotional, physical and intellectual support. They remind me to focus on my breath, and quite literally, coach me through the birth of a new self.
My soul sister and coworker, Elizabeth, is a constant source of emotional support. She voluntells me to do things way beyond my comfort zone. Our writing group was her brain child. She is someone who believes in me far more than I believe in myself. I am embarrassed on a regular basis when she brags about me or my accomplishments in public (everyone needs a friend who will do this to her). I usually want to crawl under a rock and hide. Elizabeth is the one that told me to start my blog, submit my work for publication, and teach workshops on writing. On more than one occasion, she has looked me in the eyes and said, “YOU ARE DOING THIS.” In the best possible way, Elizabeth helped me push through into this new phase of my life. She encourages me to dream bigger, to believe in myself and my work, and to be kinder to myself. Elizabeth is a beautiful birth coach.
Members of my writing group, both male and female, would probably be quite surprised to hear me describe them as “birth coaches,” but they have been in the very best way. Lamott always paired birth coach with the verb “listen.” My writer friends sit with me on a regular basis and do just that. They help me cultivate and sharpen my inner voice. We have spent countless hours scrolling through ideas, perspectives, motivations, feelings, memories and so much more. I get to be my quirky, creative self when I am with them. Since I write nonfiction, they know more about me than they probably should. A group comprised of a historian, sociologist, poet, and author- they help me to create a guiding curriculum of self-improvement and education. It takes a village to coach some births.
Birds of a feather flock together. I find great comfort in another friend in my life who is also giving birth to a new self. Nate is working towards complete reinvention and overhaul in his life based on new awareness and priorities. He changed career paths and opted to fully embrace his role as a dad. His moves have been bold and dramatic. I watch him riding the waves of his new life straight into the eye of the storm. Sometimes we both look at each other and say, “What are we doing? What are we looking for?” Neither of us claim to have the answers. But mostly we are cheerleaders for each other. Nate is there to remind me, “We’re gonna figure this out, kid.” We share books, ideas, and a desire to grow as people. Sometimes a fellow traveler can step in and fulfill the role of coach.
Lamott also discussed the idea that people can serve as maps guiding us back to what is real. Rebecca, my best friend and editor, is my map. Ariel Levy describes the role of an editor: “She is the person you trust with the most intimate thing you have, your own voice.” I crave the comfort of truth. Kindness does not always come in pretty packages. Sometimes it is a hurling meteor or a mirror reflecting your ugliest self. “Give it to me straight.” I can always depend on Rebecca to dish up a healthy dose of reality. She helps me feel empowered and confident knowing that I am not sugar coating or hiding anything. Rebecca knows me and is coaching me to birth the truest, best version of myself.
My husband is my partner in life. He was assigned the role of birth coach by default, but that doesn’t mean he had to fully embrace it. I am not the same girl he married 16 years ago (thankfully). I know he has experienced moments of exhaustion dealing with my monkey mind. But he has spent entire days of his life simply listening. Every single thought I have I bounce off of him first. He has heard summaries of every story, article or post I have ever written or read. We get in bed at the same time each night and discuss our inner thoughts and questions. Additionally, he is my CrossFit coach, so he guides me to a stronger physical self. We have coached each other through births, deaths, challenges and the pursuit of our dreams. It is a two way street.
It has been said that you are the sum of the three people you spend the most time with in your life. If this is true, we have to carefully consider who we choose to “have in the room” when crafting a new sense of self. Who truly listens and supports you emotionally, physically and intellectually? Which people push you to reach beyond your current state to the best version of yourself? Where do you turn for absolute honesty and unadulterated truth in your life? I shudder to think where I would be without all the nudging. The books, ideas, boosts of confidence, hugs, and words of verbal affirmation have been the catalyst to keep me pushing towards life beyond my second awakening.
If we are genuine and true to ourselves, we will attract the right kind of people. My birth coaches might push me to become a better human, but it is only because they are also pushing themselves. They want to be better friends, citizens, moms, dads, daughters, spouses, teachers, coaches, and human beings. We are all coaching and listening. And I can marvel at the beautiful souls present for this birth - the cheerleader, the band of artists, the kindred spirit, the truth teller and my partner in life. Then, the most unexpected coaches appear. Two blonde, blue eyed children giggle and push their way towards me determined to make their presence known.