The ancient form of indigenous folk healing, curanderismo, uses the term “susto” to describe a person’s reaction to a traumatic event. A susto occurs when the mind, body and spirit disconnect in response to fear that is so intense, it touches the soul.
I learned about sustos and curanderismo after I was diagnosed with RR MS in a college class taught by a gifted curandera, a female healer. I am open to alternative forms of healing and learned a tremendous amount by being from my teacher. Of all the information that I took away, the description of a susto was most relatable in my life and to my MS.
When I took that course I was a relatively healthy person. I was four years out from two major exacerbations, yet I remained fearful of my body. MS had caused a deep distrust of my body in how it would react, how it would perform and fear of when it would again breakdown. Even though I had in a sense healed and my vision returned as did my ability to walk without a cane, I never let go of the fear and how it felt to be sick.
In January 2011, my husband and I decided to work with my doctors to focus on having our first baby. The doctors all agreed that having a baby with RR MS was completely possible and like always, there were no guarantees as to my health or the baby’s. The first hurdle to clear was that I had to be off of my MS medication for three months prior to conception. The very thought of skipping one shot let alone three months worth drummed up every awful thought related to MS that I could conjure up. Susto.
My pregnancy ended up being a wonderful journey of wellness. I felt amazingly “normal” every single day. But I battled against myself on the issue of the delivery of my child. For months, I was determined to have an elective c-section because I did not believe that I had the strength for a healthy delivery. I figured the c-section surgery would stave off an exacerbation that I convinced myself was waiting for me as a side effect of the exhaustive labor process. It took a ton of courage, and support from my husband, before I would agree to a natural delivery.
The fear of my disease and of my own body was with me up until the moment that my water broke. And then something pretty phenomenal happened. My body did exactly what it was meant to do, indeed, what it was supposed to do. After years of MS boycotting my goals and plans, this time it didn’t. It took 17 hours of labor to deliver my daughter naturally and I am proud of every second of the pushing it took to bring her here.
Looking back I see the disconnection between my mind, body and spirit. The RR MS had held me captive for many years. It wasn’t that I was terrified to give birth to my daughter – it was that I was scared to be sick. In the end it took me, all of me, to bring her into this world. My mind was determined to have a healthy baby naturally, my body rose to the occasion, and my spirit did not waver.
Curanderismo teaches that the mind, body and spirit can come back together in a ceremony. My birth experience was a ceremony of sorts, the feeling of empowerment and confidence that I felt following my daughter’s birth will always remain with me.