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The Birth of Held Part I: Conception

Updated: Aug 13, 2023

When I was 7 months postpartum with my first child, a trusted soul friend asked me a question that I have treasured ever since.

It was the night of my 28th birthday. My friend had called to sing to me, and to invite me to tell the story of my year. It had been a year of deep initiation into life. At the time I felt brittle, so depleted my bones felt hollow and dry.

So I told the story my bones needed me to tell.

I told the story of how, earlier that night, I had nursed and rocked my son to sleep in my arms, just as I had every night since he'd been born. Like many of those nights, on this night my son had cried, arched, and screamed through our ritual. I had held him, rocked him, sung to him – at times with compassion and sensitivity, at times in a state of anger and dysregulation, and at times calling in my husband to take over –until he calmed, quieted, melted into sleep. When he was finally deeply asleep, whoever held him rolled him gently off their body and onto our bed for a precious hour or two of time "alone."

But I was never truly alone. Every night, long after I put him down, my son's screams continued to echo off the walls of my heart. Truly, it felt as if they originated inside me, like a piercing siren was sounding from deep within to alert me to a danger I could neither identify nor extinguish. I ached with a depth of pain, exhaustion, and a sense of internal fracture I had not known was possible.

I told my friend: I am holding him through it all, but it just isn’t enough.

I don’t know if I am enough.

Mmm, she said. I could feel her receive the weight of the inquiry I was holding; the weight of my heart. And then there was silence for a time.

She did not rush to offer a platitude, or hollow assurances of my enoughness as a mother. Instead, after a pause, she gifted me this question:

Torrey, do you feel yourself held as you are holding him?

Her question landed in my chest – in that tender, newly expanded heart of mine. It had felt more like a cage or a cave lately, hardened as I tried to weather the storms of dysregulation and isolation that so often swept across my inner landscape in those days.

But her question unlocked me. It softened and reorganized my tissues on a cellular level. I felt my heart as a sensory muscle again, a home of love and wisdom. No one had asked my heart a question like this in a long time. Despite all the hands that had traveled miles to hold my newborn son, no one had quite known how to hold me as a newborn mother.

Of course, I realized. Of course I need to receive this kind of compassionate holding in order to embody it and share it with my child. Of course I need to feel myself held.

So... do I?

I felt into my body for its answer, and the truth was clear.

No. I feel alone.

As soon as the words left my lips, my body contracted in a sting of shame. I had spent most of my pregnancy working as an interfaith chaplain resident in a hospital accompanying people as they navigated journeys of illness, loss, grief, and transformation. I'd done so grounded in my belief that God – by whatever name – was present, loving, and accompanying each person I met. It felt hypocritical to now acknowledge how utterly alone I felt in my own journey, despite my rich spiritual life. I desired – and truly needed – tangible, tactile presence and support.

But when I listened outside of myself for my friend's response to what I had said, I was met with compassion and acceptance. My body relaxed, and tears – that healing elixir – began to flow.

When I traced the map of where I have been, trying to locate where and how I started on this journey with Held so I could share our origin story and thus speak a bit about who we are, my finger rested here in this moment. And I laughed, unsurprised, because I have seen, over and over, the coherence, clarity, and healing that unfurls when we trust the sacredness and wisdom of our own experience. It is Life-giving.

As we remember how to trust ourselves in deeper and fuller ways, the people with whom we can speak our truth out loud, who can reflect us accurately and not flinch or try to reframe our story into something more palatable, who never waver in seeing us as whole and wise no matter how broken we suspect we might actually be – these people are essential. Community like this is essential on our journeys to come into coherence with ourselves, to see reality clearly, and to awaken, heal, and truly live.

When I relaxed that night and tears came to my eyes, those tears opened a flow of Grief that has been one of my greatest teachers on this journey. I began to grieve that my community has forgotten, over the years, how to hold freshly forged mothers as they stepped out of the fires of transformation. As my journey goes on, I see it is not just the new mothers that suffer from this forgotten knowledge and action – it's everyone. We have forgotten how to hold each other. But to be held with sensitivity is a developmental human need that we have from the time we are born (see the work of Robin Grille for more on this). I need human hands to hold me. So do you.

We need each other.

Often forgotten, ignored, or misunderstood in our modern world, that we need each other is simple yet potent wisdom I was given during my initiation into motherhood. It’s wisdom I continue to slowly integrate into my daily life. (The culture of self-sufficient individualism here in America is deeply ingrained in my body, and it's a daily practice to choose to remember and honor the innumerable relationships that fuel my life and my family's life.) It's wisdom I live or die by as a mother. (I really cannot do it all on my own, but whew – I've tried. Just ask my frustrated and bewildered husband and children.)

That we need each other is also the spirit in which Held was conceived, the spirit in which I offer my work in the world. Over the course of the last 7 years I have tended this seed as it has gestated and emerged as Held, but I certainly have not done the work of nourishing and growing this seed alone. In my next letter, I will speak to my lineage and the lineage of Held in Part II of this post: Gestation.

In the meantime, as you do the work of holding and tending that which is yours to hold, may you yourself be held. If you're seeking human hands to hold you, I would be honored to nourish and support you on your journey of becoming.

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1 Comment

Jane Elsner
Jane Elsner
Nov 26, 2023

Tor, these are beautiful and courageous words. I love you.

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