Postpartum, Psychedelics and Sexual Healing - A Journey of Rituals
When I found myself in the midst of a postpartum crisis, I was blessed to have incredible support. I’d spent eight weeks in the hospital before my son was born two months ahead of schedule. I had hyperemesis. Then two placental abruptions, and finally, preeclampsia. By the time my son was in my arms, I’d been told consistently to prepare for all kinds of risks, including and worst of all, the risk that we might lose him. If there’s anything to make a mother lose her mind – it’s the thought of losing her child. So, given we’d made it through all that, and he was barely over three pounds – my sanity seemed understandably compromised.
The man-doctor-expert in Maternal Fetal Medicine called us both superheroes the day we went home. I felt anything but superhero. I was terrified to leave the hospital and all the nurses and machines to monitor my son’s stability.
I started seeing a psychologist early in my pregnancy when things went off the rails. In the days after we came home and I told her I was drinking five cups of coffee a day to stay awake, she insisted I rest. When I said I heard voices at night, she insisted I take medication. When I resisted medication, she insisted my husband come for a session. When he mentioned finding me in the bathroom with duct tape, considering the viability of taping my eyelids open – she really insisted on meds and intensive care.
I melted down in the car. I felt defeated. I told my husband I didn’t want to go on prescription drugs. I assured him that despite the red flags, I was somehow healing. The manic moments I experienced were punctuated by a new clarity. Of course, grandiosity and a sense of heightened awareness are also warning signs of mania. But my husband listened, and he told me he trusted me, he believed in me. That experience of unconditional love was new. He suggested we consult with my naturopath and the alternative therapist I’d begun seeing after coming home. She worked with plant medicines in the underground network. We decided if we could get the whole team on the same page with a solid plan for support, then I would try an alternate path.
All my bloodwork returned healthy and strong. My psychologist monitored my progress closely in three sessions each week. Despite her initial concerns, I remained stable. She and the alternative therapist had a consultation, and they agreed to collaborate in my support.
That was the beginning of my introduction to plant medicine. A crisis and a crack where the light came in, and the dark could have engulfed me, but didn’t.
This is not a path I recommend for the faint of heart. Nor is it one to be entered into without robust support. Had any of those players on my team not been supporting me, things could have gone very differently. Please if you find yourself in the swirl of postpartum pain – seek support. You are deserving. You are worthy. However fragile and broken you may feel in this moment – there is hope and there is healing. Trust your maternal intuition. It is there, underneath the hurt and the hormones, waiting to be resuscitated and nurtured back to life.
I started compulsively washing my hands when I was five. My mother discovered at Christmas in the middle of writing Santa, only I couldn’t finish my letter because I had to wash my hands so many times. In my five-year-old brain there was an entire formula and framework governing this purification ritual.
First, I washed my hands. Then, thoroughly, I washed the sink. Finally, carefully, I cleaned the light switch. Then, I would rinse again. Methodical, necessary, stressful, relieving. This was the swirl of emotions afforded my nervous system by way of the process.
After washing commenced, I still had to make it back to whatever I was doing before without re-contamination. For example, the brush of air against my skin before it was perfectly dry – this required starting the whole process over. The air and the world so full of germs, too much for my inner protector who was already creating a complex, secret infrastructure to keep me safe and clean.
I’d made at least ten trips to the bathroom before I finished writing Santa. My attempt at subtlety only thinly veiled the compulsion. I can hear the alarm in my mom’s voice, see it on her face as she grabbed and examined my cracked, bloody knuckles. How my little body felt caught and uncomfortable. Now that she was onto me, I would lose this mechanism for control as well. After that, I went to bed with Vaseline and wool socks on my hands until the cracks dried, and the blood was gone.
My girlhood was a swirl of rituals like this, along with Nancy Drew, playing school and hiding in the garden. I loved Nancy Drew and the idea that a girl could solve complex puzzles and problems. If she could do it, then so could I.
I played school because it afforded me the unique experience of control. My parents made jokes about what a mean teacher I was, always yelling at my stuffed animal students. That little girl must have held so much rage inside. That little girl who is also me.
The garden was the safe place, the place where I first met Pachamama. When the fighting would start, I’d sneak out the sliding door into the garden. I’d dig my toes and fingers into the dirt and pray. I see Little Girl Me most clearly in the garden, as if looking through a window straight into the past. Her blonde, wispy curls fall around her shoulders. Her tan little body perfectly designed. She’s precious but has no idea. Out there in Mother Nature’s lap, she doesn’t worry so much. She’s held and protected between the corn husks on her little mound of earth, where for a stint, she’s just a normal little girl without compulsions or fears, waiting for someone to let her know she’s sacred.
That little girl was still buried inside when I became a mom. She was trapped underneath volumes of memories and infrastructure, purification rituals accumulated and adapted along the way. I had no idea she was frozen in time, waiting for something to happen, for someone to save her.
In hindsight, it makes sense. All the searching and running I’d done, traveling around the world looking for a thing I couldn’t quite find. All the codependent, failed relationships. That little girl was looking for love only I’d outsourced the search, not realizing the one she was waiting for, was me.
My coping mechanisms were no match to the onslaught of postpartum malaise. The psychiatrist called it mania and suggested heavy duty pharmaceuticals. My body said no. My spirit said no. The violated girl screamed to be seen, reparented and released. The crack in my sanity was the sliver of self in which she’d been swallowed up and nearly extinguished. Only now, that sliver was momentarily and uniquely open again. The little girl me locked away in a sexual awareness, an adult world introduced far too soon.
PTSD and sexual trauma are often grossly misunderstood. We seek specific labels, diagnoses, solutions, looking from the outside in for a way to manage the symptoms. I’d been treated for anorexia, OCD, depression and anxiety. As a kid, they asked my parents if things were ok at home. But no one ever asked me. Maybe they did and I don’t remember. Maybe I was too afraid to tell the truth. The majority of child sexual abuse cases happen at home. Neuroses and diagnoses come much later and fail to get to the root, the actual source of the problem. So, what is buried remains. We pile things on top and move further and further from the truth.
There was something about the intense fragility of my postpartum body that created an opening back to little girl me. Once I stopped resisting her and fighting myself, I started to see the pattern beneath the surface, the ghosts in the yellow wallpaper of our collective past. Women breaking character and convention has always been problematic. They want us to be domesticated animals. Quiet, pretty, demure.
Only now, I was a woman who’d given birth to two sons. Two beautiful boys emerged from the same womb space acquainted with violation. The act of carrying my babies inside me, birthing them from my body was the most primal thing I’d done. The greatest reclaiming of myself as my own. The pain to birth them from my womb was real and affirming, and also, it was ecstatic. It shattered a numbness that had dominated my life and my sexuality. Their births made silencing the primordial scream not only unnecessary, but altogether impossible. My faint, apologetic voice shifted from a whisper to roar as I sprang them from my womb into the world.
Reflected through a kaleidoscope view of the past – I saw my life reflected back – the little girl washing her hands, hiding in the garden, the adolescent starving herself, the young woman on the run. So much ritual, so little transcendence. Until the ritual of birth. The midwives holding me, supporting me, encouraging me to scream. I was reborn in that moment alongside my babies, their innocence reconnecting me to my own.
I walked into psychedelic therapy hopeful and conflicted. All my conditioning said no while every other part of me said yes. I reconciled the difference by being clear on the goals driving my decision. I wanted to be a good mom, a mom who didn’t pass on my sexual shame.
Ceremony after ceremony, the medicine taught me how to reclaim myself and my rituals from patriarchal colonization. She showed me all the moments in which my body was taken from me, and how to get it back. One, after another, and another – she demanded my anesthetized sexuality rise up. She made it clear the commodification of my body and my orgasm, was the actual crime. Not me.
In 38 years of life, I’d never experienced an orgasm. I had no idea. It’s hard to go from sexual trauma to sexual pleasure. I didn’t realize my sexuality was a pantomime, or even a thing of value. I certainly didn’t understand how my sexuality had anything to do with being a good mother.
But the medicine made that explicit too by showing me it’s impossible to raise a generation of men who know how to honor women unless I first honor myself. And there is no honor without embodiment, and honor cannot simply be an intellectual, selective concept. It must be a lived experience in which we demand the objectification of our body stops. We must see ourselves as sacred before we can expect our sons, our lovers, our husbands to do the same.
Giving birth and having an orgasm are two sides of a single coin. Each reflects the epitome of power without ego, a great brush against the eternal, the exquisite range of a woman’s body, designed to do supernatural things. Each is a ritual and a ripple in time. The little girl in me, turned maiden, now mama spent years working at the wrong rituals, trying to wash away a filth that wasn’t hers. But not anymore.
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.