A year ago today, I still did not know if I was having a son or a daughter– but I was in the greatest work out (physically and mentally) of my life helping to get that little being into the world.
I remember turning to my friend Megan and saying, “I need some help here. I need some positive thoughts to help me override the pain.”
She said, “Surrender. Open. Open. Open.” That wasn’t exactly what I was looking for but of course it was the best advice. I put it to use right away during every agonizing contraction—and before long our little heart was moving out into the world.
There were so many absurd moments during the birth of my daughter. The one that still makes me almost cry with laughter (in hindsight of course) was when, in full active labor I found myself sitting in a wheel chair on the curb waiting while my husband gathered our belongings (including a full blown birth ball) to bring into the hospital. It was raining and cold. In an effort to shield out the world, keep warm and dry I had made my husband throw every blanket possible on me (including over my head) before he attended to our belongings. I was vomiting into a five gallon bucket that had the words, “I love you! And you can do this!” penned on the inside of it by my husband. I can still remember peering through my knitted blankets, down throw, and haze of misery at the young male valet parking attendants. They were eyeing me like I was a rare and interesting bird specimen, something that could possibly add a little flavor to an otherwise boring morning, but one that should definitely be watched from a distance.
Although we planned on having a home birth with both of our children I was again, like with my son, at the hospital. This time I was at the University of Washington hospital and my “Dr.” was really a Dr. in training, i.e. “Fake Dr.” Fortunately for me, this was my second baby so I knew the ropes so to speak. The poor woman — “Fakie” as I will henceforth refer to her—every time she would tell me something like, “I need to check your dilation,” I would say, “Do I have a choice about this?” Because I had a mid-wife I knew it was unnecessary to be checked so frequently (and it’s also very painful when you are un-medicated like I was). I knew that if I were giving birth at home my mid-wife would hardly be checking my prognosis at all—following all the other signs that were clearly being exhibited she would note—the birth was progressing perfectly.
While I was laboring in the bathtub Fakie came in with her hand held ultra-sound equipment to check the position of the baby. Sadly since the woman was still learning she pushed the equipment into me so hard that my agony tripled—if that is even possible! But the absurd moment came when she practically shouted, and with thinly veiled panic, “The baby is breach!” I had my eyes closed at the time—attempting to cope with the pain and the process—but I remember feeling not the slightest bit of alarm at her statement. My first thought was, “Well, that’s not what I was expecting.” My second thought was, “Is that true?” My third thought was, “No. It’s not true. The baby is not breach.” While they panicked and she called for a back-up opinion I labored on as calmly as ever. I was already in the zone. If you’ve ever been in natural labor—you know the one. That place where even though you are experiencing more pain than your mind can even conceive of—you have accepted it. You have surrendered to it until it has become you—in the best possible way. You know, that agony and all, you are a player in a process much bigger than yourself, and the only way out of it is through it.
I took one moment to open my eyes and look at my mid-wife, who was also in the room with me, but due to the change in locations, she was now acting as a doula, instead of the leading professional. My eyes pierced into hers with clarity. She also sat there as calm as ever watching the hubbub around her almost distantly. She also knew, as I knew she would, that the baby was not breach. She had been with me at home before I went to the hospital and unlike the physicians she was able to tell these details without using electronics.
I opened my eyes briefly when the “real Dr.”, who had a gentle touch with the ultra-sound equipment, did a double check and realized that no, the baby was not breach. It was indeed the butt appearing on their screen, but only because the baby was much farther down than they had anticipated. After that, I shut my eyes again.
The next most intense absurd moment came for me when Fakie told me, “Don’t push!”
I should mention I was already pushing.
If you’ve ever been in un-medicated labor (I know because I’ve been in both) you know that when your body decides it’s time to push—you do not have a choice. You are no longer in control of that thing you’ve been walking around in for years. You are not pushing. Your body is now calling ALL shots. You are basically just a set of beady, wide-open eyes witness to the writhing, super natural, almost sci-fi like motions happening in your skin. Every muscle is contracting of its own accord to help eight pounds of another person’s being descend through the hole of your vagina. To say you are not in command is a gross understatement. Even the sounds coming out of my mouth were like nothing I’ve ever heard, nor am I likely to hear again.
Just after making her profoundly baffling statement, Fakie left the room. I felt like someone had just said to me, “Now, get in your rocket and fly to the moon! Quick!” I was left sputtering, “I, I, I don’t have a rocket!” I turned to my mid-wife with questioning mystified eyes. “What did she mean by that statement?” my eyes asked.
Calmly and powerfully my mid-wife responded, “Just trust your body.” She knew what thousands of births had taught her—that even if it looks like the cervix isn’t open all the way, if the water has already broken, the force of gravity combined with the weight of the baby will move together as one to speed things up. And that the woman’s body is the best judge of whether or not she should stop pushing.
The last lovely instant of absurdity is probably one that every woman giving birth in a hospital in this country experiences. At the tail end of your endeavor, what I call the “peanut gallery” arrives. That means anywhere from 5-12 strangers who you’ve never seen before enter the room to watch you writhe in your alien state and stare directly at your hoonie. Then a head appears there. Need I say more?
Looking back on it all, I actually love the whole experience I had giving birth to my daughter. The crazy moments lend it a flavor of funniness that I so appreciate now. I might not have totally experienced it as such when I had 8lbs of baby bearing down on my cervix, but afterward it did seem like a funny joke. And I got my girl, which of course was the best gift of all.