The Frog and the Turtle
At 34 weeks the baby’s head began to engage into the pelvis, causing some pain for my wife, Bronwyn. That night she had a dream of trying to gather a frog and a turtle into a small cage, but she was having trouble catching them – particularly the frog that was very slippery and bouncing around everywhere. This dream is extremely interesting. The frog is a foetal symbol; a symbol of transformation, particularly the transformation from the water based egg and tadpole to a land-going creature. Bron’s psyche is telling her that the baby is getting ready to move from her watery womb out into the air filled world as it positions itself for its journey through the birth canal; ‘transforming’ from foetus to baby.
The turtle symbolises strength, patience, endurance, stability, slowness, longevity and fecundity. The first five of these qualities a woman needs to take her through the process of labor and birthing; particularly for the first child. ‘Slowness’ though, is a human judgment. Without interference the turtle takes her own good time – just as a woman in labor does.
In the dream Bronwyn is trying to get the frog and turtle into a cage. Perhaps this is her way of bringing them into consciousness, so she can draw upon these particular qualities when she needs them? I felt that it would be good for her to explore these energies a bit further, to see if she could advance the dream story a bit more. After all, she hadn’t yet got them into the cage; hadn’t yet ‘grasped it’, so to speak. What might happen next? I bought Bron a slab of potter’s clay. One day I came home to find that she had formed from the clay a mother turtle and its baby. However, the baby turtle didn’t have a head. I asked about this and she said she didn’t know why. For some reason she just didn’t give it one. Unfired, she placed mother and baby turtle side by side on the shelf. A week or so later, when I again came home, I found that the mother turtle was now headless and the baby turtle suddenly had a head. ‘What happened?’ I asked in surprise. Bron told me that, during the day, the mother’s head fell off, so she attached it to the baby! This blew me away. Here we can see that the mother turtle has given a part of herself – her head no less – to the child. This shows what is needed from her to birth the baby; her head needs to fall off. Or, put another way, she needs to ‘lose her head’. On any hero’s journey, something in the hero needs to die before they are ‘re-born’. In the context of becoming a mother, something in the woman needs to die before the baby is born. In our modern understanding of the hero’s journey we know that what needs to die is the ego; which is usually associated with the mind, in the head.
Becoming conscious of what her psyche is expressing through her dreams serves to connect Bronwyn more deeply with her body and the baby in order to surrender, or to let go, as much of herself that is necessary to the process. In this dream and the subsequent process of bringing form to the turtles, Bronwyn’s psyche is bringing to the fore particular qualities that will be needed to help her ‘lose her head’, allowing for the emergence of something new.
The fact that my beloved is dreaming of turtles also tells us that she is truly standing on the shoulders of every woman in history that has given birth before her. It shows us the symbolic truth that the entire history of humanity rests on the sturdy back of the turtle and all those beneath her. As we already know (but in a parallel mythical context), ‘it’s turtles all the way down’!
Our birthing zone was a blow up pool in the living room of our house. A perfect ‘crucible’, holding the space for labour and birth. My beloved in the centre, forced by the contractions and expansions to focus inwards, into her sacred ‘inner zone’; at first trying to surf the waves of pain then turning round and diving under as they came. Myself on the outside, in the pool, supporting her through the process, backed up by our midwife and Bronwyn’s mother. From the first contractions to the birth took 22 and a half exhausting hours (and more for the 3rd stage).
During the 18 hours of 1st stage labour, Bronwyn’s contractions stopped four times. Twice I used acupressure points to successfully get them going again. Another time getting her out of the pool and walking around, peeing and showering – getting her active – got the contractions going again. However, one time when the contractions stopped and the acupressure had no effect, our midwife beautifully and gently came forward and asked Bron if there was anything she was afraid of? Bron burst into tears and exclaimed that, “I’m not ready yet!”. Labor had begun ten days earlier than expected and caught us unawares. She still needed that brief time to complete the mental and emotional processing of becoming a mother. Soon after these words came out of her, along with the grief, the contractions started again. The unconscious fear of change and ‘not being ready yet’ had a subtle influence. Simply bringing the fear to the surface positively effected the process. Bron was now less inhibited in her unfolding. Here is where she has finally caught the frog and got it into the cage. She has finally ‘grasped’ the psychological depth of this transformational process.
Throughout the day, I witnessed my beloved slowly surrender, moving deeper and deeper into herself, overcoming self made pressures, expectations and doubts. She truly drew upon the turtle’s strength, patience and endurance. At the height of the 1st stage contractions, in the hour or two before full dilation, I wrote in our birth story that Bronwyn;
‘was moaning the roof off. Always placid and serene I watched her layers slowly come off as she moved to a deeper space inside herself to let it all out’.
This was the stage that her head began to fall off. Her mind was gradually letting go of some of the concepts and beliefs she had about herself, which are part of her everyday personality, and put them aside because they weren’t serving her at this time. In doing so, she became the very opposite of placid and serene. She was in the process of losing her head. It was wonderful to watch.
Bronwyn had another amazing dream the night after the frog and turtle dream, which was to also have a major influence in the birthing process. In this dream a group of men lifted and proceeded to carry a huge heavy rock. This, obviously, represented a masculine strength that would be needed during the birthing process along side the feminine strength of the turtle. A week or so after the dream we visited the beach where Bron spent her childhood, so she could swim in the surf and feel once more the power of the ocean. She felt she needed to do this before the birth. Whilst walking around the headland she found a rock she loved so much we took it home. She placed it on the shelf and then set the turtles on top of it. With a couple of candles our birth alter was complete.
During 2nd stage, the pushing stage of labor;
Bronwyn said to me through sweat and tears that she now understood why women take pain relief. This was as close as she came to asking for any. She knew that there wasn’t any in the house, not even an aspirin and heading to hospital didn’t even enter our minds. I remember telling her that I knew she could do this. These words look a bit weak on the screen, but from the heart said with love it was the thing that picked her up and helped her carry on. I was the rock supporting the turtle.
Bronwyn pushed, and pushed, and pushed. For four hours she pushed. And the contractions were more intense than ever.
She needed something to push against, to help her push the baby out. The edge of the pool was too soft, so she used me. Before, in our moments of intimacy in between contractions we would put our foreheads together, as if our third eyes were kissing. We always do this. It is our habit of affection. Now, in the pool with our foreheads touching, another contraction arose. Bronwyn began to moan and push her forehead against mine. I had to push back with equal force. Stripped bare of all dignity she heroically bore the pain in all her primal rawness and sounded herself out to the world. She was using me for physical, emotional, and energetic support and I had to give her everything I had.
For over three hours we were connected at the forehead. The energy between us was incredible. She was in the height of labour pushing against my forehead with a strength generated by all the birthing goddesses in all of history. I had to match this by tapping into my own universal male energies. I needed to draw upon an equal amount of energy to support her through this. I not only brought in the energy of the immovable rock but I also brought in the energy of my Aries ram. My forehead locked onto the forehead of the lioness. If there wasn’t a male birthing god in existence before this moment, then one was created that day in our living room.
In this process my beloved’s head finally fell off. Giving it all she got she gave everything of herself to birth our tiny turtle – complete with head.
In Part 3 we’ll look at the other energies that supported me in supporting my wife in the birthing zone, and how we unconsciously ‘attuned’ to each other – creating deeper intimacy in total vulnerability. To get a more complete picture of our birthing experience please also read our birth story (without the dream analysis).
Photo by Jen Shipston, with permission.