From the Great Above she opened her ear to the Great Below
From the Great Above the goddess opened her ear to the Great Below
From the Great Above Inanna opened her ear to the Great Below

I remember when I first heard the call to nursing.  It was during my senior year of undergrad, when, after taking a personality profile, the number one career match for me based on my values and interests was nursing.  I immediately dismissed it on the basis that I was a biology major for chrissake – too smart to be a nurse, and certainly not interested in changing bed pans for a living.  Two years later nurse-midwifery entered the picture in the form of a dream, a conversation with my mother and a book.  This time I dismissed it because I had no interest in going back to school.  Two years after that, I heard the call again, and that time decided to listen.

My lady abandoned Heaven and Earth to descend to the Underworld
Inanna abandoned Heaven and Earth to descend to the Underworld
She abandoned her office as holy priestess to descend to the Underworld

I began the application process in secret – partly in a spirit of rebellion, partly out of a fear of failing, but largely because deep down I knew it was something I needed to do alone.  I left my home, my family, my partner, my best friend, my support network, my autonomy as a self-employed person, my simple, comfortable, happy lifestyle and probably my sanity, to journey to a place where I didn’t know anyone, had never been to and would ordinarily never choose to go.

She gathered together the seven me
She took them in her hands
With the me in her possession, she prepared herself:

I brought my books – the ones about birth, self-help and spirituality, of course, but also the ones about marine biology, Japanese and fantasy fiction.  After all, you can tell a lot about a person by the books on their shelf.  I brought pictures of my friends and family, my sister’s old comforter, my partner’s old shirt.  I brought Teddy and Doggy who have been with me since birth.  I brought seashells from Tanegashima, no winter clothing to speak of, my car with its proud display of California plates and San Francisco parking sticker, my grandmother’s knitting needles.  I brought my West Coast attitude, my skepticism of Western medicine, my confidence in my abilities as a student.  I had spent six months in therapy working out how I was going to make the transition with grace and had even armed myself with the knowledge that no matter how much you prepare for something, ultimately you have to surrender to the process in order to make the transformation to the other side.

When Inanna arrived at the outer gates of the Underworld,
She knocked loudly.

She cried out in a fierce voice,
“Open the door gatekeeper!
“Open the door Neti!
“I alone would enter!”

Neti, the chief gatekeeper of the kur, asked,
“Who are you?”

She answered,
“I am Inanna, Queen of Heaven,
On my way to the East.”

Neti said:
“If you are truly Inanna, Queen of Heaven…
Why has your heart lead you on the road
From which no traveler returns?”

Good question.  Well, there were lots of reasons actually:  I wanted to work with a more diverse population of people.  I felt that quality health care (and specifically maternity care) was a basic human right that should be available to all.  I wanted to make more money.  I wanted to be able to take a vacation and not feel guilty about it.  I wanted to sleep with my phone off and have more than one glass of wine.  I had a masochistic need to do something hard.  Really hard.  Something that would consume me entirely and when it was through with me, spit me out as something changed and new.  I wanted to fight the bear, kill it, sleep in its skin and return home a Warrior.

When she entered the first gate
From her head, the 
shugurra, the crown of the steppe was removed.

Inanna asked,
“What is this?”

She was told:
“Quiet, Inanna.  The ways of the Underworld are perfect.
They may not be questioned.”

The first thing to go was my voicemail greeting.  For the last three years it had been something uber-professional, something that my friends often made fun of me for.  But, as I made my journey East, I realized that my voicemail greeting would need to change.  It took a few tries; it felt weird to say, “Hi, this is Audrey, period.”  There wasn’t anything else after that.  Just Audrey.  I spent a lot of last year fighting to hang on to things, only to have them slip away one by one.  The smaller things were easier to give up – Asian, White, science geek, logical, organized, risk-taker, kawaii, pretty, funny – these were all labels that I had worn for transient periods of time and so it didn’t hurt so much to let them go.  The things I’ve given up this year have been harder – my car now sports Connecticut plates, I’ve finally dipped into my savings, my near-perfect GPA is in jeopardy and I find in myself a softness, a vulnerability, a crack in my usual mask of stoicism that I am accustomed to wearing in these situations.  I find myself bargaining with myself, “It’s okay to give that up, because I still have this.”  But, as I descend deeper and deeper into the Underworld, the edges get blurrier and blurrier around the things I’ve come to think of as intrinsic to myself.  Even though I know the rest of Inanna’s story, I am terrified that I will shed so much of myself in this process that there won’t be anything left to bring back.

When a laboring woman expresses this sentiment, I smile because I know that she is in transition.  Transition – that special, aptly-named moment in labor when women feel like they are being pulled apart, when they think they might die, when a part of them is actually dying.  I smile for them because I know that somewhere on that wild ride, their terror is transformed into ecstasy.

Inanna’s story quoted from Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer.

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