My family of 7 were hiking up Enchanted Rock, gazing at the beauty and grandeur of nature all around us. As was customary for the Deelah clan, when we crested the final rocky incline, we took photos commemorating our achievement, laid down on the warm ochre boulders, and enjoyed the sunshine before setting off for the more perilous descent.
Now, for any of you who have been to Enchanted Rock, there is a gradual incline (and subsequent decline) on one face of the rock, which most hikers take. On the 'backside' of the boulder, there is a rappelling section. To the far right face, wilderness, and to the far left face, a much steeper, much more craggy and advanced decline.
We came up the front/gradual incline, but decided to hike down the left face. Now when I say it is more advanced, I mean that it is only a slight grade less than requiring climbing gear. It is also the more adventurous/fun route, though, with crooked, craggy rock piles creating the perfect landscape for this thrill-seeking family.
I'm afraid of heights... well, more aptly, I'm afraid of the vertigo I feel near sheer cliffs and edges, the heights alone don't bother me.
So, here we are, setting out winding our way through slow slopes and steep grades, craggy cutouts and cavernous knee-scratching scuttles. We zigged, we zagged, and our laughter rang out along the beautiful afternoon landscape. But soon, the laughter lessened, as the path became more difficult and the leaping and praying and crack climbing intensified. On more than one occasion, our fearless leader (my husband) motioned for us to all turn around and head back the way we came to try another path.
Fewer and fewer other hikers followed us, and soon it was only our family, and one young couple a short way behind us, as we hopped from 2sq/ft ledge to 2sq/ft ledge. My husband moved ahead to the next ledge, cautioning us all to hang back - when he plunged forward onto another rock, I heard him say 'no way to go but forward now!'. We were committed - there was no way he could come back the way he had just leapt.
My son went first, easily launching himself into my husband's arms, who quickly set him to rest on the ledge behind him and directing him to shimmy down, hands on one rock face, feet on another, through a crevice, to the main 'floor' of the Enchanted Rock and off of the perilous boulder heap we had been hiking. Next, the lithe, no-fear twins, and then my second born, sliding down my husbands arm with hers, to wrap her legs around his torso before lowering herself onto his perch and follow her siblings down.
The last two of our family, my daughter and I, looked at each other. She knew my fear, though no one in our family except for me (thankfully) suffered from vertigo. She offered to go last, so that I wasn't left alone on the ledge. The mother in me wanted her to go ahead of me though, just in case I had to haul her back into safety of my arms.
My husband cautioned her to shimmy on her buttocks and hands toward the edge of the higher rock. Simultaneously, he cautioned her that, at some point, the grade became to steep and she would have no choice but to slide right off and onto the next ledge, 4 feet below the one we were on and 2 feet away from it. When she hit that spot, she was to 'free fall' into his embrace, sliding her arm up to her armpit up HIS free arm, and wrapping her legs around his waist. In this way, he would, one-handed, 'catch' her from her slide off of the safety of our rock.
She did as she was told and was soon shimmying herself down the crooked crevice to safety.
It was my turn.
Did I mention I get vertigo?
Now, leaping from one small ledge down to another, ledge only 4 feet below and 2 feet away doesn't sound like a big deal, but it is when the gap between it drops 30 feet. And to your left is a crevice wide enough for a large man to get stuck in, which also drops 30 feet, and to your right is a drop 15-20 feet that would land you into jagged spires of rock. And it doesn't help when the gradual decline into that jump ends with you sliding toward, what, from your vantage point, looks like oh-crap-I-can't-make-it and your feet/buttocks cannot grip the pebbles cruelly pressing you forward.
And it really becomes a big deal when your vertigo tells every sense in your body that you are plummeting headlong into a 30 foot drop, because you can't see the small ledge below you that you are supposed to miraculously find - and it must be there because your husband is standing on it.
I told him I couldn't make it, that I had to go back the way we came and find another way down. He nodded, saying, 'ok'. He was so gentle about it, that it encouraged me to try, once more. So I sat my tush on the rock and began the slide toward his waiting, loving, strong hand. The moment vertigo gripped me, my fingertips barely grazing his fingers and the pebbles below me threatening to hurdle me forward, I scrambled backward, crablike, crying, "I can't do it! I can't do it. I'm going the other way, I'm sorry!"
He retracted his hand and nodded again, "ok, we'll see you further down." I could see he wanted to tell me I could do it, but he also knew it had to be my choice. I was only limited by what I believed my limitations were.
The kindness in his eyes told me I could do it. I mean, rationally, I knew I could do it. My children had done it, and they were now 30 feet below me yelling up the gaping hole to me, half telling me not to do it because I was going to fall (thank you children, you have a wicked sense of humor) and the other half cheering me on. My husband had done it, unless he had suddenly manifested a new superpower of levitating between rocks...
So I tried again. And begged off again. We did this for a good 5 minutes. Me becoming increasingly more steadfast that I would make this leap of faith, before crumpling into an increasingly more panicky and hysterical heal of snotty tears.
Finally, I looked at him, and to this day I don't remember what I said... but I slid, right into his arms...
And onto a narrow rock face that was a mere two feet away and 4 feet below the ledge I had just left. I felt ridiculous and radical, empowered and oafish. My knees shook as I turned to smile at him, saying, "I've got it from here".
I scuttled through the crevice to the main face of the rock and sprawled out in the sunshine with my daughter, who put her hand on my shoulder and smiled at me, "You did great mamma, I'm so proud of you!". We soaked in our victory, as small as is might have been, while we listened to my husband coach the young couple who had followed us through the same obstacle. The man was heard saying, "you've got me, right?" to Calvin, while the girl cried as hard as I had.
I heard my new-self, my 'I conquer rocks and leap over chasms' self silently send them love and courage: you can do it!
And it dawned on me.
This doula had just been doulaed. My husband knew that, from his perspective and having already made the leap himself, I could do it. But I had to decide that I wanted to do it and I had to believe that I could do it.
And so it is with birth. Every birthing journey comes to a point that we must surrender to the forward motion, the all or nothing, that is birth. We must choose to wholly give over to it and leap, in faith, that there is solid ground beyond to catch us.
Or we can choose to go the easier route, the more gentle slope, even if it takes us a little longer. Both journeys can be beautiful and awe-inspiring, both get you to the bottom of the rock, but one has a triumph that is indescribable.
Perspective makes all the difference. From my vantage point, as with many mamas in their birthing journeys, there was no solid ground to land on, even though my doula was standing there with his hands outstretched, having already made the leap himself, telling me that I could do it; and even when he didn't press me, but supported me, knowing it had to be my choice.
My perspective had to make the leap before I could. But once it did...
Once it did....