The birth of my son was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. It was an experience in which I was able to fully trust in the wisdom of my woman’s body and let nature take me over. Few things are more powerful.
My partner and I began planning for my birth when I was five months along; it was a bit of a scramble. I knew beyond all shadow of doubt that I wanted a midwife to deliver my child. I interviewed several and chose one that was 1) available at such short notice, and 2) gave me a safe, warm feeling when we spoke.
This lovely woman, a mother herself to an adopted child she was raising with her wife, and her two apprentice midwives would be attending my birth. It ended up that two friends were training to be doulas and would be present as well. It was a pretty full house.
Everything was progressing normally and I was in the peak of physical health; 22 and a bonafide health nut since my teens. We had our birthing tub ready to go, we had an arsenal of diapers, both cloth and disposable, and a meal train set up to help us feed ourselves while we were preoccupied with the new life we were bringing into the world.
The First Signs of Labor
I woke in the middle of the night to the feeling of dampness between my legs. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought I had started my period. I got out of bed and stood on our wood floor. My partner asked me what was wrong.
There was soon a puddle under my feet, and I was grinning from ear to ear.
We called the midwives and they advised me to go back to sleep; no other symptoms or contractions meant I could try and conserve my energy for the big stuff. So I did.
I slept until 8 in the morning when the contractions started to feel like earthquakes riddling my body. It was almost as if my body had the wisdom to let me rest for the remainder of the night.
My partner’s mother stopped by for a visit and I remember going in and out. It was difficult to make small talk at that point, the contractions were becoming so all-consuming.
My partner was there alongside me for every moment of it. The midwives were knitting booties out in the living room. I did a lot of pacing, a lot of bouncing, a lot of humming and moaning. I got a lot of massages from my partner and my friends, mostly on my lower back where the pressure was most intense.
The more labor progressed, the more I felt like I was merging with my experience; very little thought, very little sense of time.
By the afternoon, things hadn’t changed much. Being the impatient type, I asked my midwives over and over whether I could start pushing. They sat patiently and stated simply that no, I wasn’t dilated enough yet. Always kind and always calm.
I tried different positions and found that none were as comfortable as squatting, letting my son’s weight push down on my expanding cervix. As the pain intensified, the midwives brought me a birthing stool so I could stay in this squatting positions but create space for my son’s head to eventually crown.
I bounced my body up and down on the stool and felt his head carve its way through my body. I realized that the pain was like a map for me; it showed me what muscles to contract and stretch in order to let him through. Just like a good stretch feels so satisfying after a hard workout that leaves you sore, the soreness of my muscles welcomed the pressure of my son’s tiny head. I was amazed at the wisdom of our bodies in that moment.
Eventually, after my persistent questioning, my midwives relented and gave me the sign to push. I wasn’t quite fully dilated, but close enough.
For the final stretch, I spent most of my time in the inflatable birth tub set up at the end of our bed. My doula friend literally hosed me with hot water to soothe my lower back, and pushed on my kidneys with every ounce of her muscles to relieve their aching. She pushed so hard and with such dedication that she was sore afterwards.
This was the point I remember hurting the most, as my son’s head emerged from my body. I could reach down and feel his soft scalp.
I was starting to reach exhaustion, it being almost five in the afternoon at this point. Feeling my mind starting to resist the experience, I recalled a meditation I had read about in a birthing book my sister had bought for me, Mindful Birthing.
In it, the author described an exercise to help birthing mothers be present with their experience, to not start wishing for the birth process to end or fearing for the future of what’s going to happen next.
Like the book instructed, I focused my attention on little details of the room, one at a time. I focused on the dusky sunlight playing on our flannel sheets. I breathed. I focused on a fluttering fabric hanging from the wall. I breathed. I focused on the flickering candle my partner had lit, watching the flame dance, indifferent to the human activity in the room.
Each of these tiny meditations and the breaths that went with them helped to bring me out of my head, out of the resistance to my pain and impatience, and brought me back into the room, back into my body, and back into my experience.
That small but powerful effort reinvigorated me for the final stretch of my labor. I was no longer focused on my tired aching body, how long it had been since my contractions kicked in, or how much I longed for my baby to finally be in the room with me. I simply focused my mind and pushed.
First Moments of New Life
When he finally shot from my body with my last push and into the water, everything happened so quickly compared to the hours of rhythmic throbbing, pulsing, and pushing.
My partner’s shaking hands cut the cord and there he was.
I was ready to collapse when my midwives reminded me I had to push out the afterbirth. After a fiery moment, I acquiesced. To my relief, it felt like nothing compared to my son’s solid, angular body.
I very literally crawled from the birthing tub onto my bed as the midwives toweled me off. I was shaking from head to toe, my nervous system completely shot from the hours of effort. I collapsed into my bed and held my baby for the first time.
My biggest fears were instantly erased as he immediately clamped onto my breast and started nursing within moments of being passed into my hands. I had been poised for a breast-feeding battle, having heard stories of clogged ducts and lactation consultants from almost every mother I knew.
My partner, my son, and I were like one solid mass of human in our cozy little bed, and there we stayed for virtually the next month. We were clumsy, awkward, and overwhelmed in our new roles, but we somehow managed beautifully despite it all. If I ever did it again, I would never do it any other way.