“It started out like a song, it started quiet and slow, with no surprise.” – from Merrily We Roll Along
When I begin to write about births, this lyric always pops into my head. Yes, they start out like a song. And end like an operatic aria, rising from bones and blood.
They all got me. Right here. You see it? The glowy spot on my heart, the one you touch and chills run along the length of my mortal body? Their births, alive with melody and fraught with the cadence of a deep-in-work breath.
This past May there were three in a row, born almost exactly 24 hours apart each (thank you, kind babies): 8:59 am, 6:31 am, 6:37 am. One almost at home, one in the hospital, one at home.
It was the way she hushed all her fears into the corner, it was her ever present mind and body, and her letting go of body and expectations.
(art by Gaelyn Larrick)
May 2009, Birth #47, Unassisted VBAC of second baby (note: she and her partner monitored vital signs and baby’s heart rate every hour during labor and had prepared well in advance for this birth. I was her doula, there solely for support and encouragement).
The rollercoaster journey of her soul leading up to the birth. From a planned C-section, to renewed desire for reclamation of her body and birth space, to legal midwifery care, to no more midwifery care, back to a small support team for an unassisted birth, to OB care during pregnancy, to a triumphant VBAC.
A courageous statement of “I want to make it to my due date this time. I want my body to go into labor on its own this time”. Her reaffirmation of this on a daily basis.
The text message about a week before her due date “I’m in labor. Contractions all day!” Hours later, on the phone, listening as she was frustrated that contractions had slowed a bit and she was stressed out. Knowing this meant she likely just needed some support to believe it was real. Telling her “I’m 10 minutes away and coming now”.
Arriving around 9:00pm to her bright smile and ripe belly, in a grape colored tank top. Setting up the birth tub to seal the deal that a baby would be coming very, very soon.
Her waters opening – to her surprise – and contractions picking up. Over and over, her statement: “I am so excited. I just can’t believe I’m in labor, and that I did it on my own!”. Slipping into laborland so effortlessly at this point that she didn’t care about her continually soaked pants.
A dear mutual friend and client of mine (6 months pregnant with her second) arriving quietly as loving care, support, and an extra pair of hands. Seeing how she jumped right in to care for my client with an ease of grace and peace. Knowing I’ll have the honor of repaying her with limitless love as summer eases into fall. Remembering what it was like to attend a birth 6 months pregnant with Indigo and anticipate…
Her deep, slow breathing. So calm. As flowing as a gentle stream nestled into cool mountains.
Reminding her “You are deserving and worthy of a great and healing experience”. A gradual nod of her head, eyes closed, affirming this statement through her breath.
The way her partner could always find their baby’s heart rate so easily. Letting my eyes close as I silently counted beats. A deep smile. Strong baby.
Perfect vitals. Thank God(dess)UniverseSourceBabyEnergySpiritMotherOneness.
Melting into the warmth of the birth tub as labor became more intense. Watching her eyes roll into the back of her head, her eyelids flutter, her mouth supple. Intoxicated with endorphins, moaning softly. The sex – the union – of labor, truly.
Her looking into my eyes with her dreamy eyes and breathlessly, methodically proclaiming “So this what all the pain is for. For this very moment, right now”. Thinking this knowledge has many, many beautiful meanings, past and present. (After her birth, I recalled this moment with her and she said “Yes, I remember that. I felt like I was high, like I was on ‘E’ or something!”)
Being there as her partner felt for baby and could touch his head, even feeling the pulse on top of his little head.
The way she trusted her primal instincts and would change positions often, swaying and circling her hips, moving to the rhythm of her breath.
The candles flickering.
Hearing her talk about all the pressure she felt and knowing she was moving baby down, down, down.
The beginning mumblings of wanting to be “DONE”. The way we corral around her and breathe with her. The run to the local drug store for a bottle of wine. Her sipping, sipping, sipping. Her head moving to the pillow.
Her resting in between the surges of labor, at one point even incoherently and quietly mumbling in her sleep. During this time, her partner and I both slept between as well, each of us holding her hand, and awakening with her as she got on her hands and knees and worked through the intensity.
(our hands as she slept)
Me preparing to boil shoe strings so that she could clamp and cut baby’s cord later.
Her body and mind moving into Transition, that overwhelming place of shadows. The pain beginning to overcome her. The worry, the self-doubt, the concern. All signs to me that baby was close, but remembering to know enough about supporting women to simply validate, validate, validate. Thinking “It will mean nothing to her in this moment if I tell her I “think” she’s getting close. She needs proof. Something I cannot give her. And so I prove to her that I care for her”.
Second guessing myself. Third guessing myself. Feeling like I’m in the grip of Transition, too.
About two hours later (nearly 16 hours after labor began) accepting and trusting that she was indeed “DONE” with whatever she needed to be done with. Her sobbing “They can cut the baby out of me, I don’t care!”. Rushing around the house to pack a bag quickly – one for her and one for her baby. Noticing as I close the front door how it looked like a homebirth had occurred in there; laughing at the towels and cups and straws and candles and a full birth tub and bits of food strewn about. A flashback to what our little studio apartment looked like the night we left Kaia’s homebirth behind and drove, under the shock of stars, to the hospital.
Following their car to the hospital; chanting “Shima Shima Shima” (From the Deva Premal song: “The word Shima, translated from the language of the Hopi tribe of North America, means “love”.)
Meeting her in L&D, as she is leaning forward slightly in a wheelchair, breathing deeply with sweat on her brow. The look on her flushed face was part confusion, part wildness, part fear, part primal knowing. “We are gonna move her straight to a room, as it looks like she’s really far along”.
Gratitude that the Triage bit will be skipped. Gratitude that she’d had a supportive OB who she saw during the last part of her pregnancy, who “thought” she was planning on birthing in the hospital. Gratitude that he will know no different today. Gratitude that we are assigned to a nurse who used to be a midwife in a birthing center.
Helping her onto the bed, as she moans “I want my C-section! I don’t care, I want it!”. Hearing her repeat this, after her doctor checks her and says slowly and respectfully “You are fully complete and baby’s head is RIGHT there”.
Gratitude as I realize she arrived exactly when she needed to. Gratitude that the staff isn’t rushing or angry for me bringing in a 10 cm client. Gratitude in their astonishment and excitement. Gratitude in the feeling of peace there in that bubble of a room in which thousands of babies have felt air for the first time.
His words don’t quite sink in for her yet. I have to hold her face in my palms and stare into her ocean eyes and proclaim firmly “You can do this! You are almost done. Trust me, please, I’ve done this too.”
Her, through shivers of hormones and adrenaline, whispering with a sudden smile “Are you crying?”.
“Yes, yes”, I tell her “Because I believe in you and I know what this is like and you are almost DONE! You are safe and we are all right here”. As I say it, I feel my body fully present, tense, and yet solidly ready to witness her transform right before our eyes. It is as if my roots were planted firmly there on the faux-wood vinyl floor of the hospital room.
Her OB says “He will be born in minutes” and I hold her hand, and she finally comes BACK. Back to us. Back to her body. Back to this precise moment of reckoning.
She rips off her bra in a moment of moxie, and an earring with it. I give her some sips of water.
“So I can push?”, she asks with eyebrows raised. And she begins to push. All of her own power. And the room is quiet, yet loud with anticipation. And her OB just sits and waits, smiling and affirming, barely touching her. And no one has poked her or prodded her or hooked her up to any machines.
And her baby begins to crown and her partner is crying and I am crying and out he tumbles as her hands reach down to grab him. All of this within about 15 minutes of arriving at the hospital.
Her grinning and snuggling her baby, fresh with vernix, between her breasts, and looking up at me to say “I did it!”.
Oh how I know the feeling. “Of course you did!”, I manage through tears.
Validation for her and for me knowing that when she was “DONE!” it was because she was indeed almost “Done”. Her baby was ready. Validation in her body, her ability, her moving mountains to birth the way she wanted despite a scar and a previous birth in which nobody trusted her.
Waves of healing over her body and psyche. Not just healing of a prior birth experience but of deep, deep memories and experiences and knowledge. Healing that is all her own, brought like a ball of heavy light to her palms and pushed into her heart.
My reminder, once again, that babies are born in spite of me. In spite of fear, or pain, or them, or us, or you. In spite of the web of gravity, tools, time, control, reality, truth, and lies. In spite of health and will and breath and divine intervention. In spite of how broken or healed or wrong or right we believe we are.
They are born.
And with them, we emerge.
Birth stories #48 – 60 coming as they formulate in my heart.