Dreams, Demons, and Desires: The Work of the Subconscious Mind and the Power of Inner Awareness
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 130, Summer 2019.
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“I have had this recurring dream all my life and I can never figure what it means,” Annabelle confesses as we relax in a warm sauna. “Please tell me,” I say eagerly, “I love dreams. I think they are important.”
Annabelle describes being in a boat on a vast ocean all alone. The sky is blue. The waters are deep and clear. She feels at ease and all feels right to her. “But it wasn’t right!” she announces with passion. “I was hanging off the side of the boat but instead of hanging into the water, I was hanging into the sky. Everything was upside down. But I felt so peaceful. I always wake up perplexed with my emotion one way and the reality doesn’t fit.”
I ask her a simple question. “How were you born?”
“Oh, I was born breech. They wanted to section my mother but I came too fast. So I was born naturally but feet first.” She hears herself and stares at me wide-eyed. “My dream,” she exclaims.
Annabelle was having a perinatal dream. Many of us do. More of us than we realize.
Dreams are opportunities for heightened awareness, questioning, pondering, and curiosity. They are time-specific opportunities for altering our consciousness. Dreams are the work of the deep subconscious realms to enhance the power of our inner awareness. They lead to opportunities for great insight into our daily lives. For many people, dreams can feel like “working” through the night. Actually, we are.
During pregnancy, dreams and their resulting impetus toward soul searching and understanding of the inner self can become a form of communication and dialogue with a mother. Dreams can help a woman discover the internal workings of her deep intuition and knowing.
With respectful and sincere questions amid privacy and unrushed space, dreamwork can help address hidden issues that otherwise act out in relationships and later in labor, often to the confusion and dismay of all involved.
Dreams may be audio, visual, olfactory, or tactile in nature. They may come at any time, day or night. Dreams may contain images from ancestors, living family or friends, Creator, pets, or pure strangers. Often during pregnancy, the mother’s inner self or her womb baby is the central focus. Integration of the dream’s content or message is dependent on the mother’s capacity to interpret and then apply the new insight in current relationships or circumstances.
Dreams may take form as visitations, annunciations, night terrors, waking trances, visions, or “sweet” dreams. They may feel terrifying, satisfying, relieving, reassuring, irritating, evil, heavenly, curious, confusing, or any emotion that will open the mother to fresh possibilities of thinking and feeling. It is this opening that we must learn to encourage, recognize, honor, and guard. The self-discoveries become an opening in the psyche that can lead to an easier opening in the physical body during labor and birth. Dreams are possibilities of the unseen, the mysterious, the hidden, which are in the psyche of every pregnant mother.
A womyn’s body is like a flower in nature. Some wimyn have had their petals forced open, physically or emotionally. Some wimyn have known the opening of their petals in ripe timing, according to their own desires. Either way, dreams help. They are from a mother’s own making, which in itself gives her great power and authority. We are like an invited guest to a mother’s dreamwork. With calm attention we become a witness to her truth telling. We can learn to ask helpful questions that lead her to an intimate relationship with her own inner power and intuitive knowing.
Demons are our fears. They visit us during moments of vulnerability and isolation. Within dreams they are like skeletons that come out of the closet at night and rattle at the foot of our bed, scaring the bejiggers out of us. Given the attention they demand, fears enhance self-awareness and wholeness. This transforming opportunity is greatly aided by the use of dreams as well as open dialogue or meditation or prayer.
During pregnancy, fears can serve a mother. They issue forth from her past experiences and her innate nature and alert her to danger. In this way, they are friends, not foes from whom the mother must fight or flee. They are part of her deep instinct. Surprisingly, dreamwork can help to separate raw and real fears from the imaginary.
If the mother sees her life as a continuum, the fears may be quite old—as old as many lives. The fears may be from her own womb-time or birth-time. They may be from her pre-verbal life. They may be individual, part of her tribal ancestry, or part of the collective fear. These deep and often hidden and powerful fears appear in dreams during pregnancy to help the mother have a more complete knowledge of herself, as she prepares for the great unknown of labor and birth.
Dreamwork can offer the empowerment necessary to experience the mystery of life without this fear. Unaddressed fears will come out in relationships and often in labor.
Some mothers know exactly where their fears come from but many of us have a more haunting feeling. Mastering the fear builds a bridge from “dis-ease” to “self-ease.” Dreams are a common place where the subconscious has freedom to unveil the demons of our fears. Dreamwork can help.
A birthkeeper is a guardian of the mother’s passage through fear-acknowledgment toward self-empowerment. When we make it a personal journey to face our demons, it is easier be a calm and quiet soulster to a mother who fears pain, loss, death, abandonment, isolation, rejection, or something horrible and unnameable.
Some mothers are in complete denial of fear. It takes time and wisdom to discern how such a mother can best be served. Sometimes it takes several births to build the trust necessary to face deep fears. This is one value of a community or village midwife.
If the mother reveals overwhelming fears or emotional instability, assure her there are other people who can help and continue to co-serve her within the boundaries of your own expertise. A survivor of childhood sexual abuse, for example, can feel incredibly disempowered by the sensations brought on by dreamwork. These sensations can trigger recalls of being “overpowered.” “Better now than in labor,” we often say.
Know your limits. Stay calm and encouraging while you seek additional help. In time your own skills with dreamwork will improve and you will navigate troubled waters with greater ease, just as she will. With proper preparation including naming the fear, finding power in her current choices, and developing a trust in her body and intuition, dreamwork, along with labor and birth, will become part of a healing that can feel miraculous to her.
Desires are our wishes for the future. Silence, prayer, meditation, and unrushed time spent in nature allow the mind to quiet and the instinct to grow. A mother needs time to envision her ideal birth. During pregnancy, desires are the heartbeat of a mother. The flux of reality changes constantly. Some mothers have an initial excitement, only to deal with a long overdue wait that leaves them anxious or facing the loss of their chosen care provider. Desires come into conflict, as a sleepy mother tends to a small toddler or taxing work schedule. The physical, emotional, social, mental, and spiritual aspects of becoming a mother are complicated further by rapidly enlarging breasts, belly, and bottom and a “forgetful” mind, changing interests, and stress within changing roles of her most important relationships. A mother-to-be needs balance on all these levels. Her desires guide her in creating the optimal balance for managing her changing world. A pregnant mother needs time every day to “daydream” and stay in touch with her innermost desires and her ideal birth. Trusting her desires will serve greatly as she becomes a wildish creature who instinctually chooses the stance, breath pattern, nourishment, environment, relationships, and internal attitude necessary to respond to the demands of labor, birth, bonding, breastfeeding, and a whole new sense of belonging.
Desires are meant to help us communicate clearly what we want, why we want it, how we plan to get it, and what we think will happen if we don’t. Desires can be hidden deep within and surprise us when we discover them. We desire to travel, only to find that we miss home; or we make a commitment, only to find that we need more freedom; or we break free, only to find that we feel alone. Life is complicated and never more so than when we become a mother. Learning to be honest with our deep desires—to listen to them, to honor them, and speak them aloud to others—is a sure path to healthy mind/body/soul. Birthkeepers are guardians of such sacred word medicine. Our work is to make connections between a mother’s desires and her ability to birth with as much congruency as possible.
Desires can be intense, even rigid. If the mother has expectations where the energy is strained, stagnant, and inflexible, help her discover acceptable options if her desires cannot be met. Maybe she could ask for help in a dream. At the least, ask her about her fears. Equally important to voicing a mother’s ideal birth is the safe space to speak of her worries, her concerns, her “worst” fears. Once she can speak and develop some trust, the tension and rigidity will lessen.
Communication skills are essential in weaving together a mother’s dreams, demons, and desires. The mother may begin to reveal expectations of herself, of others, of events, or of the future. Through dialogue and questions, we learn what she says as well as what she never says. As she tells the stories, notice what pleases or delights and what frightens, angers, or disgusts her.
Desires can be brought into greater balance, understanding, and clarity by addressing and assessing dreams and demons. As her birthkeeper, you have a unique opportunity to help each mother birth her power as well as her baby. Be brave. Take heart. Though you serve a thousand mothers, you will serve this mother in this pregnancy but once. Dreamwork can help.
Assisting a Dreamer in Dream-telling
At the initial visit, begin by asking permission. Ask permission to touch, to speak, to question, to listen, to hear, to share your own dreams and, most critically, to receive or share hers.
Following a thorough herstory—screening for physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual abuse—describe the value of dreams, especially during pregnancy. Speak in a non-threatening, inviting way, using words, terminology, and personal examples that are appropriate to this mother.
Clearly disclose your professional education, training, and experience. If you are not a licensed therapist, make this perfectly clear at the onset and re-verbalize as frequently as necessary to keep the relationship honest. Be aware that the focus is on the mother and her storytelling. If you find the focus shifting to you, gently bring the focus back to the mother with a sincere question about her dream. Make a mental note of the circumstances to determine if further work on your own personal issues would be helpful. Under no circumstances would it be appropriate to explore your own issues with her. Have privacy, water, tissues, and a warm blanket available.
With permission, open the discussion with questions such as:
- When do you go to bed?
- Do you nap? Forenoon? Afternoon?
- How many times do you get up in the night?
- Do you easily fall asleep? Easily wake?
- Do you feel well rested when you awaken?
- Do you remember your dreams?
- Do you remember any dreams during this special time? This week?
- Were any of your dreams, in your opinion, connected to recent events?
- Do you feel comfortable sharing your dream?
- Do you mind if I take notes and give them to you?
- Listen quietly and attentively while she tells you her dream. If she pauses but you think there might be more, ask, “Then what happened?”
After the telling of a dream, you might ask these kinds of questions:
- May I ask questions?
- How did you feel when you awakened?
- How did you feel when you were in the dream? At __________ point?
- Can you think of anything in your wakeful life that may have catalyzed the dream?
- What do you think the dream is telling you?
- If the dream had gone on, what do you think might have happened?
- Is there anything else you would like to tell me?
- Thank you for telling me your dream.
Do not think that you must have insight into someone else’s dream. There is value and healing simply in the telling and the receiving of a dream. Make your receiving attentive, quiet, focused, and sincere and you will have given a great gift to the mother.
She often will express a deeper understanding simply by having given voice to the dream images. If you have a spontaneous question or observation, with permission, share it. She will respond by relating or not relating to your point of view.
If she wishes to explore the images further, ask what the specific images mean to her. Some images are universal. For example, water may tell us the depth of our emotions or the clarity of our insight or be foreshadowing of “troubled waters” ahead. As in the dream of Annabelle, water can be a hint at our own perinatal life. It is most important to discover what water means to this mother. Do not assume that you know anything about the mother’s inner truth, even if you have known her for a lifetime. You discover by asking questions. What she discovers is far more important and useful to her than anything you discover.
Soul work is a lifelong journey. You have honored her inner work. She has a big voyage to make and speaking her dream can be a great helm on the sea of labor later on.