The Labor Pains of Change and Leaning into Hard Things


Now is the time for women to take the helm as leaders through this current crisis.

Why? Because we are familiar with the labor pains of change.

Leaders keep referring to the time we are in as unprecedented. As if to tell us we don’t know what is happening. We are figuring it out as we go. We are doing the best we can. Although I understand why they are describing our current situation that way, I cringe just a bit because the truth is, we have all experienced this before—perhaps not on this scale, and perhaps not to this magnitude but we have all, each and every one of us, been through a transition.

mother and childMothers know what it means to go through a change so huge that it reshapes our very existence and shifts our identity. So instead of saying it is unprecedented, I wish leaders would remind us that we have each experienced change previously in our lives. I wish they would ask us to remember a time of difficult change so we can tap into that strength. I wish they would say the words that I have heard from mentors and coaches many times: “Change is scary but it always follows a pattern. It is hard in the beginning, messy in the middle and beautiful at the end.” We just need to keep moving forward.

I wish they would remind us that as women, we are familiar with the labor pains of change and that we can do hard things.

These days, every time I catch myself saying, “I wish our leaders would say…” I remind myself that we are the ones we have been waiting for. If I think something needs to be said then well, I guess I need to just say it. So here goes. Think about whatever that big change was in your life (and I’m sure there have been several,) the one that was hard in the beginning, messy in the middle and beautiful at the end. Yes, that one. Tap into that power now. Remember who you were and why the change occurred. Think about who and what you needed during the process of changing to keep going and think about how the experience changed you when it was over.

What comes to my mind is giving birth. In many ways, giving birth seems like an appropriate analogy for what we are currently going through.

The planet and our species seem to be in the midst of the labor pains of change and I know that the experience is vastly different for many of us but there are some commonalities. Those contractions start slowly at first and are mild—almost like a warning system to let us know that the process is starting. We should prepare ourselves for the change on the horizon. Then the contractions become more intense and closer together. There are moments where we may feel overwhelmed, so we need to begin to imagine what we are looking forward to. That’s what will pull us through the most difficult part of this process.

That’s where we are now. This is the time to imagine and dream—what life do you want for yourself, your family, your community, your country, and the world?

Think through each sphere one by one from a place of love and peace and joy. Come up with images real or imagined for how wonderful life can be if everything turns out just the way you wish it would.

I was fortunate enough to have a labor doula for my first birth. A labor doula seemed to be a luxury during a time when my family’s financial resources were scarce but I knew I needed the support. I’ve been lucky enough during this time of pandemic to find people who are sharing a message that gives me hope and their words feel a bit like a doula as well. If you haven’t done so already, find those people now. They have a larger perspective about the changes that are happening and they are in a position to help us as we navigate the process.

I was committed to natural birth for my children—it was a personal choice and not one that I am at all judgmental about, it was just best for me at the time. In making that choice, one piece of advice that I learned was not to go to the hospital too early. We usually think we are further along in the laboring process than we actually are. We still have quite a way to go so the more we can use time at home to hone the skills that we need to stay present for the journey, the better. I recall the doula arriving after the labor pains started. She saw my disposition and immediately knew that I was still a long way off. I was disappointed. But when my labor pains intensified, I immediately knew what she was talking about.

The labor pains came in waves that overwhelmed me. I didn’t know if I could take the pain. I wanted to give up. But I had a desire to see my baby when it was all over and that desire pulled me through.

man and womanThat is why it is best to set the vision now—you’ll need it later. Pain pushes while the vision pulls.

Years before I had children, I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tanzania. In that culture, and in quite a few cultures in Africa, after a woman gives birth, her name is changed to reflect the name of her child. I loved that. A new identity was birthed along with the child. It is a way to acknowledge that the transition had changed a mother to her very nature. It offered an opportunity for a mother to reinvent herself and her place in the community, in the world.

The same is true for us in this crisis moment. We can reinvent ourselves as well. We will emerge from this process anew. Not one of us will emerge unscathed.

So while we are here, in this very moment, we know what we need to do. We have gone through something like this before, we can do hard things—we’ve already done them. Like you, I wish there wasn’t so much pain, so much suffering in this world. I wish there was something I could do to make it easier for all of us, to take the labor pains away, but I know that the only way out is through. As much as I want to give up sometimes, I can’t. We can’t. The baby is coming. And in the end, there will be so much love, peace, and joy to behold after the labor pains of change.

Breathe and push.

The Labor Pains of Change and Leaning into Hard Things


Guest Author: Kalimah Fergus Ayele


Kalimah Fergus Ayele is the author of “Roundtrip Ticket Home” a memoir of her experiences living in different parts of the world. She has over 20 years of experience as a school leader and secondary science educator in both U.S. and international public and private schools. She began her teaching career as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tanzania, East Africa, and has also taught in South Africa, Lesotho, and most recently, Egypt. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry at Stanford University, Master of Arts in Secondary Science Education at Teachers College Columbia University, Master of Science in School Administration from the College of Saint Rose and Ed.M in Organization Leadership through the Klingenstein Center at Teachers College Columbia University.


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