Healing Birth Trauma with Mushrooms
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to function as medical advice. Nor is it intended to admonish anyone from seeking standard medical intervention in times of crisis. I acknowledge that certain medical interventions taken during my pregnancy are likely to have had positive impact on both my son and my life. My point is rather to catalyze a larger conversation about what rarely gets discussed in traumatic birth stories which is the long-term impact on mother and child. The physiological crisis passes, but what persists? To acknowledge birth as one of the most important metaphysical journeys in a woman’s life, should she choose to have that experience, then what is the cost of having that journey catastrophized by a medical model which seeks constantly, preemptively to intervene while pressing for consent under duress?
This is my story of saving the spirit of a certain part of me who got lost in the operating room.
The medicine sends ripples of calm through my body, reminding me I am not only capable, but comfortable, existing somewhere other than alert. My nervous system softens, my heart opens, and I lay down in child’s pose on the altar of the Earth.
“Show me what you know, Pachamama,” I whisper, and wait.
In a voice soft, but firm, I hear these words: “Today I am going to teach you about the complexity of womanhood and giving birth. I’m going to help you reconceptualize the moment you were the most fragile and the most fierce.”
An image of a large pink flower floating in water appears in front of me, something like a sea anemone, densely packed with tendrils and folds. Rich in depth and texture. I felt I could reach into that flower and infinitely more flowers would emerge. Each tendril, a portal to a universe beyond.
Just above the flower, a delicate hand moved with a tiny vile containing something like jet black ink. The hand tilted and a satiny stream spread over the flower, into all the grooves, cracks and curves. The dark syrup absorbed as the flower transformed into something different, shifting from soft and watery, to hard and structured. Pink deepened to red, and I realized this flower was metamorphosizing into a brain. Specifically, in this case, a woman’s brain, and more specifically, my own. I watched the black liquid shape and reshape my mind infinite times, revealing how many versions of myself I could be and had already been.
I heard the Great Mother’s voice, “My language is metaphor. Translate the symbols and help me heal the Earth.”
I love being a student of looking and listening, so I gladly study this symbol, this flower turning to the mind, the mind covered in darkness. Then a flower again. Cycle repeat. And repeat.
“These are your hormones, my child,” I hear that ancient female voice whisper, “Your femininity washed over the walls of your mind. And, no, there’s nothing wrong with you. You’ve never not been in my hands. It’s safe to feel the darkness and the pain. The darkness will not crush you, but rather, give you something to press against.”
I watch this complex elixir of female hormones course through the flower-brain, at times red, then black, then brown, then white. Over and over through the spindles of time and the grooves of the mind. There is an intricacy and complexity to all of this. I’m being taught something about the evolution of a woman throughout the stages of life. How the chemistry in her body evolves as she evolves. How this exquisite design is not revered or celebrated but viewed as an inconvenience or a problem to solve. This cycle of demystifying the feminine – this is how the flower becomes black, how the hormones imbalance. When there is an absence of love and nurture, neither the woman nor the flower can grow.
The metaphors and symbols fade, and I am square in a concrete recollection, a familiar place I’ve been, inside another chapter of myself. I am not scared, but aware of a threat lodged in the archives of my story, a fissure to be reconciled.
They say trauma comes back as a feeling in the body. Not details in the mind. The feeling in my body suddenly is fear. Something like my heart being ripped from my chest. The air sucked from my lungs.
Rather than run from it, I lean in deeper, pressing my ear to the ground. Guided past childhood, past sexual trauma, past all the usual suspects – I find myself in my pregnant body, cupping my hands around a newly emerging baby bump with little tears of blood streaming down my cheeks. Between my legs, another pool of blood gathers.
I see the surgeon march into my hospital room, smug and chipper.
“You’re going to meet your baby today. Now, don’t look scared. This is a good thing,” he declared with the authority of a demigod.
A voice I couldn’t yet access wanted to scream. Hands I couldn’t yet move wanted to throw things. How dare he speak with such flippancy? This same man who’d bombarded me with worst case scenarios and insisted on every medical intervention up his sleeve to control my body and my baby for weeks on end. Now, he demanded even my optimism – the same optimism he’d seen fit to douse so many times before.
Inside this slice of time, I was 7 months pregnant and had already been in the hospital plugged into machines for 6 weeks surrounded by doctors talking about my baby and I as if weren’t even in the room. We were problems to solve, not humans to nurture.
Seconds after his declaration, they injected things into my body through the IV. No one truly asked for permission. They shoved a consent form in my hands and urged me to sign with palpable desperation. What a vast body of work remains to understand the vast complexity of consent. Apply this awareness to everything. Consent is far more than a signature demanded under distress, or a muffled ok under squelched breath.
Our birth playlist hummed in the background, tethering me to the 233 days prior to this one in which I had sung to this little spirit growing inside me. Our journey into this shared lifetime wasn’t as I imagined, but it was no less a doorway to divinity. I felt the portal open as they wheeled us down the neon corridor.
In the operating room, a sterile, triage procedure unfolded at the hands of scared and scary men hunting for control and self-preservation. They operated in a space so far beyond their comprehension, puffed up with hubris, a world of fancy technical training, and perhaps even good intentions, but still yet lacking that deep soul embodiment and the sacred reverence for Mother Nature’s ritual design.
For a second, I emerged from this memory, heart pounding in real time as in the past. Pachamama’s voice whispered again inside my ear.
“You are never not in my hands, especially here. My design is prism of possibilities in which each soul chooses their destiny. Now, go reconstruct this memory.
A thousand pictures inside this single frame begin to shift and rearrange.
Something inside me did die in that hospital, not tragically, but of necessity.
My child and I did not come here to be stuck in the energy of crisis. We are born of the voracity that comes from playing with fire and a willingness to burn. Descendants of gypsies and grit. We’re walking on a new path, the one everyone said was forbidden. And over our shoulders, playfully and curious we say – dare me.
Watch us dance the ancient weave. Watch us tear down walls and break cycles. Let this blueprint become the new foundation in which we remember that everything is a beautiful cycle of creation, destruction, creation, destruction. We are not too late to learn or too early to arrive. We are right on time.
They sent me out of the hospital like a wounded bird with prescriptions for pain and postpartum psychosis. They thought I was broken, if they thought of me at all. They praised themselves for saving us with all their modern interventions.
They weren’t all wrong, but they certainly weren’t all right. What they missed was perhaps what mattered most – my mental health, my sense of agency, my baby’s need for a seen and supported mother.
Pachamama is the one who truly saved me. She sucked that fear right out of the marrow in my bones and in its place left wisdom and courage. She gave me the book of translation and told me to start writing the story of her mythopoetic design.
About the Author: Raised by evangelicals on a farm in rural Tennessee, Micah Stover is now far from home in Mexico where she resides with her family and works as an integrative support therapist with trauma survivors. Micah is currently writing and revising a memoir, chronicling the path to healing intergenerational trauma and PTSD with MDMA, psilocybin and guided psychotherapy. To learn more about her work, check her Website or Instagram.