Transforming distrust and fear into self advocacy and surrender
I can remember it like yesterday. The girls locker room, lit with bright fluorescent lighting, excitable pre-pubescent teens in training bras, and the birthplace of my earliest recallable trauma.
At our school, it was health week and scoliosis evaluation day in gym class. I was undressed down to my underwear, freezing, and waiting in a line to be evaluated by a nurse I’d never seen before. Her technique, a wooden stick run down the back of each one of us, evaluating the curvature of spines and jotting her diagnosis onto tiny pieces of paper. My piece of paper said “scoliosis” and something along the lines of “see your doctor immediately for further evaluation”. In that moment, without even really knowing what scoliosis was or how minor my case would be, I felt deformed. The backbone of my self-esteem, shattered. Trust in my body…questioned forever.
As I moved through my teen years, I casually accumulated moments that I now consider to be traumatic experiences.
Each moment shaped my belief system around the body’s ability to heal and perform as it “should”. With a late start to puberty, delayed menstrual cycles and shockingly slow breast growth, a few of us members of the gymnastics team were labeled by our peers as the “Itty Bitty Titty Committee”. A moment that seems rather insignificant, but another moment during the formative years that allowed doubt and shame to resurface. More trust in the body…gone.
Acid reflux, chronic debilitating migraines, digestion issues, sprained ankles, misaligned teeth; little things here and there providing further evidence my body didn’t know how to take care of itself. The accumulation of these traumas leaving me in a heightened, fight or flight state. My subconscious mind labeling anything that goes awry as defective. Trust in my body was on a speedy decline and I was always bracing for the next predictable impact.
As we embarked on our fertility journey, my belief system was really put to the test. I was at a place where trust in my body was at its all time lowest, but the desire for my body to perform in a certain way, was at its peak.
With each negative result on a pregnancy test, I became more and more jaded to the possibility of a miracle. I even remember periods of time where I would disassociate from my body, living as an outsider versus someone living in harmony within. I lacked gentleness and compassion for the hard work my body was doing and overlooked all the progress we’ve made thus far. And I became a witness to what it feels like to have the “safe space” of my body cracked open, and trauma to settle in deep. My guard was down and my heart was aching.
During this time, my saving grace came in the form of a maternal mindset coach by the name of Saskia. She specialized in unexplained infertility, and together we reprogrammed my thought patterns, spending a lot of time validating or dismantling my subconscious beliefs around my body’s innate power to heal and perform. It was Saskia who helped me identify moments of upheaval and gave me permission to label them as “traumatic”.
I always felt sheepish using the words “trauma” or “traumatic”, believing it was a collection of vocabulary reserved for those deeply wounded by rape, abuse, death, war, or other ungodly acts against humanity.
I latched onto the identity of trauma in a really “all in” kind of way. It was the first time someone articulated appropriate words to the deep, guttural responses I was experiencing within every cell of my body. I was a victim of trauma who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD. A new identity I was glad to understand but very eager to leave behind.
Pregnancy came and went with the arrival of miscarriage. All too familiar and normal for many women, but nothing less than horrific and traumatizing.
Everyone, even those I consider to be a part of my support system, felt the earth shake with that loss. It was the epitome of failure in my eyes and something that has left a dark imprint on my soul.
There is also something beautiful about miscarriage that’s hard to put into words. If you allow it, that small amount of time sitting within the veil between maiden and mother can be a truly revealing experience. It’s as if secrets from the wisest parts of you are whispered into your subconscious and you start to really believe in the superpowers of women. A complete rewiring as a gift from the universe.
Over time, the trauma of the miscarriage morphed into an unyeilding desire to bring about significant change to the way our women, including myself, were honored and witnessed. I started to embody the matriarch within me, slowly learning to mother the mother already born inside. I became more gentle, more forgiving, and more empathetic. Trust in my body, slowly being restored and improved upon with each humbling day on our fertility journey.
Sometime over the next two years the energetic weight of trauma slowly left my side. The incessant thoughts were gone.
I believed I’d be a mother again and it was only going to be a matter of time. It was a practice of forgiving myself and surrendering to the magical hidden plan created for each of us. Those two lines of the pregnancy test came pretty quickly after the energetic shift. Elation, mixed with a heavy dose of fear became the new status quo. There was fear of losing the baby, fear of adopting the wrong lifestyle habits, fear of choosing the wrong name, fear of birth complications, fear of losing my identity, and just general fear of the unknown. I worked hard to keep myself floating high on endorphins, and now I had the skills to acknowledge, validate, and articulate my fears. These skills allowed me the opportunity to put the cocktail of emotions secondary to the beauty of pregnancy metamorphosis.
During a routine third trimester scan, we were informed our baby was in the breech position and very unlikely to rotate on her own. She was stuck under my ribs. The doctor ordered a c-section to be scheduled in advance because that was the only way our hospital felt comfortable bringing breech babies earthside. All of my efforts to create a low-intervention, natural birth experience gone in a matter of minutes. My official rite of passage into motherhood, interrupted yet again. As I laid there with the doppler on my belly, blood left my face, my breath became irregular and my mind reverted back to old narratives. I felt triggered and was feeling it viscerally. My thoughts were irrational and unproductive, creating stories like, “of course she is” and “see, my body is unable to do things properly”.
Here I was again, facing my biggest demon: the lack of trust in my body.
I knew I needed to call in “backup” immediately. I was fortunate enough to have chosen a birth doula that also specialized in hospital-induced trauma. Her husband had lost the battle to cancer and through that tandem journey, she learned how to become a patient’s biggest advocate and had little secrets for navigating the inner workings of “the system”. Our doula was incredibly skilled in helping redirect a mother’s longing heart after her birth intentions came crumbling down. She was able to build me up in a way that I felt empowered and supported, even while being fully outside of my comfort zone within a system I doubted and an environment that gave me hives.
The three of us, my partner, doula and I would take trips to the hospital, walking the halls debunking my triggers when they showed up. It was things like the voice on the intercom saying, “code yellow…code yellow”, or the flashing lights above a patient’s door, or beeping sounds of the heart rate monitors…all triggers to my brain that someone’s body was being evaluated or a potential threat was near. We’d walk those halls until my blood pressure would return to normal and I was desensitized to the buzz of the system. Turns out, “code yellow” means there was a spill on the floor. Nothing to see here!
The birth of our daughter was fast, furious, and relatively uneventful in the grand scheme of potential outcomes. I believe it was the fast pace of the process that actually kept me from sinking into fear and overthinking things.
It was purely a matter of just getting the baby out. I was in alignment with what needed to happen and what was coming next. I’m beyond grateful to have made it through labor and emergency surgical delivery without any new imprints of trauma.
During recovery and early postpartum, I would be challenged time and time again. My body often demanding an answer to the foreboding question, “Do you trust me?”. Many times, the answer was “no” and I’d scurry back to my support system. These days, my support system included a postpartum doula, lactation consultants, massage therapists, online motherhood forums, sleep experts, pediatricians and lots of gracious family members. I was navigating motherhood with my hand-selected village and feeling more and more empowered each day.
My journey into motherhood, crafted in a way that allowed me to experience how deep the feelings of fear and distrust can sink and how high you can float in the presence of surrender. I gained invaluable skills in learning how to identify the status of my mental health and know where to turn when I need outside help. Advocacy has become the backbone to my healing process, along with the ability to soften and listen to my inner wisdom. Unconditional empathy…another perspective gained that offers me the opportunity to connect with other women and mothers in ways that I was never able to before.
Our Seva was born from the darkest moments of my journey, when I lacked surrender, trust and longed for skills in self advocacy.
It was a desire for great change that lit the spark within me, fueling my soul’s purpose in this lifetime. With this extra fuel and the whispers from my inner wisdom, I created a community of activists determined to join me in changing the way we honor our women as they transition into motherhood. As a collective, we are shifting the paradigm, where validated trauma takes a backseat and advocating for our needs is the new normal.
Cassie Ballard is the founder of Our Seva and the Our Seva Motherhood Circle, a collective of women forging deeper dialogue around the unspoken spaces of motherhood. As a postpartum activist and brand storyteller, she’s passionate about inspiring women to tap into their inner wisdom, find gentleness within and honor the transition into motherhood as a forgotten rite of passage.
You can join the Our Seva Motherhood Circle private Facebook group for transparent discussions around shifting identities, maternal mental health, cultural expectations and our sacred service to motherhood.
Connect with Cassie + her work at https://our-seva.com, the Our Seva Facebook Group and Instagram @our.seva.