Notes on the passage of illness; Hawthorn through covid convalescence

I’ve been quiet this last while; doing the bare minimum between surrendering into and emerging steadily from a covid underworld. I’ve been present with the rich, in-between space of illness, recovery and all it brings; sometimes peaceful, sometimes with pain, sometimes unable to meet the demands of motherhood, sometimes exhausted and sometimes deeply nourished by slow, simple pleasures. Tasks, concerns and responsibilities (the needed plus the imagined/ self-fabricated) simply fell away to protect my vital mother-energy.

I’ve learned (the hard way) to respect and value how motherhood demands such fierce protection of our vital mother energy. I often find myself naming this as one of the many ‘choiceless choices’ of mothering village-less through these times. We need to, correction, we HAVE to look after ourselves and we need to (HAVE to) get discerning about where our vital mother energy goes. I definitely got exposed to this skill pre-motherhood but back then, there was this spaciously wide buffer of free time for repair and rest if it all went a bit awry. These days, with a far narrower buffer, I worship at the well of vital mother energy because I have to. There is too much at risk if I don’t; too much that suffers when the mother at the heart of the family isn’t well, replenished and in a position to give. 

So this past while, each moment within my narrow buffer has been for tending the passage of illness and convalescence. I’ve always likened periods of illness as rite of passages of sorts. Despite the absence of intentional social structures that might guide us through soul path thresholds, there are certain moments in modern life that gift us with a taste of it; times that naturally lend themselves to tasks of the soul. 

Periods of illness have always offered this to me. Why? Because illness is physically challenging, it draws us away from familiar rhythms, people and places to slow us down/ pause or stop our productive role in the culture (first stage = the separation). It affords time out or more accurately, time in to shift our perception of time, reality, priorities and challenges our illusion of comfort, safety and security. 

Times of illness can offer a chance to take stock, feel and reflect (mid stage = the transition). With the stripping away of everyday tasks, distractions and coping strategies, illness can bring us closer to our real selves and our actual experience. The passage of illness, albeit challenging ~ especially as village-less parents ~ has the potential to surrender, to release, bring insight and heal us in unexpected ways on many levels at once.

For me, the passage through covid and its convalescence was intensely healing. 2 years postpartum, the deep bed rest was needed but there was also more to it. The vast societal impacts of the virus and how it has shaped our collective experience for so long, made being ill with it poignant. The mysterious stranger that had already changed our world finally came knocking at our door. Amidst the intense physical pain the virus brought as it made its home in my body, I came face to face with the places within me and my family that it had already shaped. In the liminal passage of illness, the many challenges of becoming parents through the pandemic and the impact that continues to have on our life were close by. It took being ‘taken in’ by covid to finally accept and integrate the impact covid has had on my life. 

With the first signs of returning health calling me back to normal life, I resisted. Instead of the bouncing back expected by the outer world, I decided instead to claim a period of time for the lost art of convalescence. The gradual recovery of health and strength after illness is vital for our whole being, yet not obvious or easy to achieve in an over-culture that demands we simply get back to it. In the time between the subsidence of an illness and the complete restoration to health, the body and psyche are susceptible to returning or ongoing illness. This time is often overlooked as a threshold when rest, integration and herbal support are much needed; especially when the illness has taken us to tender places within our heart and soul. 

In this way, convalescence carries a similar weight to postpartum or days 1-5 of the menstrual cycle where rest, replenishment, nourishment, and going at our own pace can bring deep, lasting benefits to our long term health. Claiming a period of convalescence is a way of claiming the illness as a rite of passage; allowing the integration of the experience, its hardship, insight and the new wisdom/ self that is forming from it. 

If a period of illness is a rite of passage then the bit after the illness is just as important. Having a witness to our return and to be received home is needed for the integration of the altered self (last stage = the incorporation). In the absence of village, this task falls on ourselves or those around to us ~ the human and the more than human. To support my convalescence integration, I turned to the local Hawthorn trees who were steadily moving from leaf into blossom. I’ve written about herbs being part of my village before and over the years have developed a practice of calling on them to support my shifting needs. I don’t know how the transition into motherhood would have looked without my herb village. Knowing who to turn to and where to find them across the landscape has become a valued skill. My herb village is scattered through hedgerows, along cycle paths, across the rolling hills, in secret and not-so-secret places. 

I see Hawthorn as one of the key medicinal gatekeeper trees of this land. She is very comfortable meeting us in liminal, threshold spaces because she operates in and between the visible, tangible stuff of the world (with a good dose of fairy!). Her medicine has a truly magical and almost instant effect of keeping us in touch with what is tender and true in our hearts. She is warming and aids circulation, movement and change in the body so a great match for the gentle ‘how much can I do’ phase post-illness. She soothes, opens and strengthens blood vessels. She counsels a return to the rhythm of our own heart’s pace (to our own heartbeat) which makes her a guide in recovering from a period of isolation through illness as we steadily reconvene with the demands and pace of the outer world and its many expectations of our energy. 

For the last few weeks my convalescence and tender heart has been held by the steady blossoming of Hawthorn. Through nibbling her fresh leaves on gentle walks, drinking her dried berry and fresh blossom in teas, I intentionally took in her medicine as guidance for convalescencing. I revisited some drops my sensory herb group made together from her budding new leaves when the pandemic first revealed itself back in March 2020 just as I was coming to the end of my first 40 days postpartum. Connecting this time of integrating out of covid convalescence with the integrating out of my first 40 days into that first lockdown (and the challenges and gifts it brought to newborn life) has been healing. 

Hawthorn’s guidance has supported me to move at my own heart’s pace rather than trying to keep up with the demands of this more-than-busy world. With beltane, and some final visits to Hawthorn over the coming days, my convalescence is completing. I emerge carrying a clearer heart for what sustains my vital mother energy, family, clients and wider community. Thank you covid. Thank you Hawthorn. And thank you for staying with these words. Happy beltane all x

As always, if you need support from me and herbs do reach out to say hi. There are many ways we can work together alongside herbs ranging from small one-off investments for bespoke remedies to larger investments for ongoing 1:1 support around the fire. Take a look around my website or get in to book an initial free connection call to find out how I might be able to help. 

*** Please be aware that Hawthorn is contraindicated for heart and blood pressure medications. ***