Just in Transition – Lessons from Childbirth

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A while back, my dear friend called for advice.  She said that she was struggling with negative thoughts and feelings and asked how to get over them. I was flattered and gave her lots of inspiring counsel—for which I am now apologizing!!! You see, recently I have been having some struggles of my own and I realize that my advice to her was simplistic and dismissive. There is much more depth and nuance in our response to trials than can be addressed with a simple call to positivity.

My paradigm for life IS positive; nonetheless, I have been struggling to work through the negative thoughts and emotions associated with discouragement and disappointment. Built into life are experiences that take us to the threshold of our capabilities and without these experiences, we could not see miracles in our lives and we could not reach our potential. 

There is a certain feeling that accompanies these experiences that I can only describe as distress and discomfort —the feeling is generally unpleasant and can be downright excruciating.  

I use a metaphor from childbirth for obvious reasons. It has been my experience that the most painful part of childbirth is the transition phase of labor. The word transition means the process or period of changing from one state to another. In labor, transition is the final period wherein the body becomes fully prepared to give birth, and in my experience it is NOT pleasant. 

For me transition does not last long, but I nevertheless rehearsed the same thought each time I was in the middle of it, and that thought was:


 Somewhere in between this thought and a newborn baby in my arms, a miracle occurs.


These same kinds of miracles occur around us continuously. We do all we can do, we give all we can give, we literally reach the threshold of our capability and then a miracle takes place in our lives.  

This reminds me of the miracle of the loaves and the fishes.  The Savior multiplied what the disciples brought to the table, but he asked them to bring all they had.  Sometimes the miracles in our lives go unnoticed because they are not awe-inspiring in magnitude, but are simple things like survival and progression. 

One of my earliest memories is of walking home from school when I was five or six years old. I was holding a half-sheet of paper with the sight-words that I was supposed to practice that week. I distinctly remember looking at that paper and having a childlike feeling of distress and discomfort. The words were too difficult for me. I could not do it. But a miracle occurred and somehow I learned to read. 

As I have gotten older, the stakes have gotten higher–and the intensity of the distress and discomfort of transition has magnified. Sadly I have not been fully conscious of the miracles taking place in my life. With hindsight I can see that each time I felt that I was being stretched to the threshold of my capabilities, each time I felt to cry out “I cannot do this,” a miracle was taking place in my life.  I was in the midst of metamorphosis. 

So today I am rewriting the advice I gave to my friend. Although what I said was true: 

How and what we think determines how we feel.

And how we feel determines the actions we take in the world.

And the actions we take create our results.

But sometimes it makes as much sense to advise someone about positive thinking in the midst of life’s challenges as it does in the midst of childbirth’s transition.  

Life has some experiences our brains insist on interpreting as painful. Perhaps the most appropriate attitude in the midst of these trials is one of anticipation, wherein we look forward to the miracle about to take place in our lives and we marvel at the person we are becoming. I am going to channel this perspective going forward. It will be one of the lessons from childbirth that stuck with me. And my new explanation for those day when I don’t hold it together is going to be, “I’m just in transition!”  

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  1. Kendra says

    Shawna Morrissey…that was the best most perfect analogy I have ever heard! Thanks for your beautiful insight. I have 3 friends that are going through life altering transitions right now and I am so excited to share this! Thanks again!

  2. Kelli says

    Thank you for posting this today. I am going through a very tough struggle today, and I am scared of how I will make it through emotionally, and how long it will last till I am healed. But the one thing I have learned through my struggles in my divorce, is that its all part of going through the refiners fire, it is making me stronger. Even though I am not happy about this current situation, your story really helps me look at the bigger picture. :)

  3. Keisha says

    Have I told you lately how amazing you are, Shawna? Well, you are. Thank you for sharing your insights. I love the idea of saying, “I’m just in transition!”

  4. Ang says

    Shawna, I wish you knew how much I love you! I love your insights so much. You are so talented at expressing yourself. I think maybe some people are better at hiding their pain than others – you’d be surprised how hard it is not to just lose it all the time. I’ve been dying to talk to you lately but the timing hasn’t been right. Expect a phone call soon!

  5. MissouriMormonMama says

    I am so, so glad you posted this. We’ve been going through a ‘transition’ time for quite some time now, and this really helped me ( : Beautiful writing.

  6. Cathy Manning says

    Love this article!
    It reminded me of a quote I thought you might enjoy by Neil A. Maxwell.
    When speaking of “stretching” times in our lives he said; “the soul is like violin string: it makes music only when it is stretched.” :-) one of my very favorite quotes!

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