In childbirth, there's a period that is notoriously painful during which the cervix dilates to its maximum expansion and the fetus moves into the birth canal in preparation for being expelled. This is the time when even women who had been adamant about natural childbirth cave in and plead for drugs, anything to kill the dreadful spasms. The intense contractions are not infrequently accompanied by trembling, vomiting, irritability, despair, hysteria, disorientation, hormonal surges of overheating and chills. The extreme pain induces hallucinatory experiences. When people compare the agony of, say, kidney stones to childbirth, they are talking about this stage of labor. And its name is transition.
When I told my friend H about the emotional paroxysms our family has been enduring as we prepare to send C to college, she likened it to the transition of childbirth. And it's a wonderful analogy: the pain, the nightmarish aura, the wrenching separation of child and parent, the catapulting of the child into a new world and a long trajectory of growth and discovery, the slow healing of the bedraggled mother (and father). And the blessed brevity (we hope) of this anguishing passage from past to future.