White Shores Are Calling
You and I will meet again
And you’ll be here in my arms
Pregnancy insomnia— because growing a human inside one’s body isn’t hard enough.
So I was happy to discover the Exploring The Lord of the Rings archive of past classes to help pass the long nocturnal hours. I was not expecting for a slow burn through book one to be so timely and useful as prenatal preparation reading.
Obviously it’s a little dramatic to compare something as mundane as pregnancy to Frodo’s fictional struggle across Middle Earth and up the slope of the volcanic Mount Doom, all while bearing an evil object trying to crush and dominate his mind and spirit the entire time. I’m only saying there are certain parallels and themes that I’m finding pretty helpful as I approach the fire of childbirth for the second time.
Proximity matters in Lord of the Rings. As Frodo nears the Cracks of Doom, resisting the power of the Ring becomes increasingly difficult. In pregnancy, physical symptoms gradually become worse and harder as that 40-week milestone approaches. Having done this once before, fear of what’s to come is playing into my emotional state because the weight of trimester three is already heavy upon me. Orodruin looms figuratively on my horizon, and the fact that I can see the hospital from our bedroom window feels similarly ominous.
So, three main themes from class have actually been helping me.
The Inevitable Ford
Strider and the hobbits travel through the wilderness towards the haven of Rivendell, off the road to avoid being seen by Black Riders. But sooner or later, they must cross the river at a certain location, the Ford of Bruinen. To cross it elsewhere would result in such a detour that their provisions would run out, plus the clock is ticking on Frodo’s stab wound. Even though it’s certain the Riders will be waiting for them at this last choke point, they need to cross and there’s no other option.
I feel like pregnancy is a common real-life instance that parallels this concept— birth (however it happens) is the only way out of pregnancy that offers a possibility of life, but it is not without its perils. Yet there is solace to be taken when you are corralled into only one possible course of action— all you can do is try to make the best of a difficult mission. Resisting it or feeling petulant doesn’t help.
One way or another, this baby has to come out. I can worry and fret, or I can believe in my possible success. In fact, the more I learn and discuss with other moms, the more strongly I believe in the power of the mind/body connection when it comes to birth— which leads into to point two.
Despair and Hope
An ongoing theme in this story. Strider seems aware that Frodo’s bearing the Ring to Rivendell (at least) will be as much of a spiritual hardship as a physical one, and is incredibly careful in controlling the levels of hope and despair of all four hobbits. He hedges and holds back information to stop hopes from rising too high and potentially crashing, but doles out reassurance when necessary.
Thinning out in response to increased walking and rationed food portions, Frodo jokes that maybe he will become a wraith, betraying the possibility that he’s been mulling over the thought on his own for some time. Strider is quick to rebuke this quip: in a mental game like this, words and thoughts are incredibly powerful. What starts as a little joke can grow into reality.
Maybe we have no idea what footholds we give to poor outcomes just by giving them too much thought and visualization. Since this section of book one, I have made a big effort to curate my thoughts surrounding birth: is it a thought out of fear? Is it really helpful? Is a better outcome possible? Probable even?
Of course, checking my own mental discourse is difficult at times because of…
The Black Breath or in my case, Hormones
Contrary to their portrayal in the films, the Ringwraiths in the book don’t primarily attack with swords, but with fear.
Having crossed the river, Frodo atop the elf-horse Asfaloth turns to see all nine wraiths arrayed along the far side of the river. Moments before, they were calling to him and causing fear to fill his mind. The seasoned readers in the class recognized this as the wraiths using their Black Breath power— a “despair whammy” if you will. Frodo is slammed with an inescapable sense of hopelessness and loses his will to carry on.
But it was also pointed out that, objectively, Frodo is in a much better position than his foes. His horse is demonstrably faster and knows the way home; the wraiths have issues crossing water— bridges, even, let alone fording rivers. And in a spiritual sense, crossing into Elf territory is no small feat for evil creatures.
I’ve said it before but: pregnancy hormones are a hell of a drug. It’s straight-up worrisome the extent to which they can alter your perception of reality. And the degree to which they can do different things to you from pregnancy to pregnancy. Last time, it was the crying. Crying every day, crying over nostalgia. Crying over the smell of grandma’s spaghetti sauce; crying so hard during church for no reason that we had to go home. This time, nope. Haven’t cried in months. This time it’s neurotic house-cleaning, perfectionism, and crippling, lie-awake fear of birth. Fear that recovery will be just as hard as last time. Hopelessness comes so easy.
The awareness that a force, a chemical force, is acting on my thoughts is helpful though. It allows me to step back and say, no. This isn’t me. Even though it’s sometimes difficult to see through the hormone fog, it is possible.
One day at a time. Gandalf first asks Frodo to take the Ring to Rivendell even though he knows he’ll have to go all the way to Mordor. But, big tasks are easier if broken up into smaller segments. Same with pregnancy. One day at a time. Hopefully less than 28 days for me!
(cover image by Ted Nasmith)