The stories of the births of our children are powerful, in that they mark the trail of our own becoming, our own birth into motherhood.
In my doula training, I was assigned the task of recording six birth stories. I decided to reflect on six of my own. But, spanning 11 births over 17 years leaves some gaps in what I remember.
What I have done - rather than walk through the timelines and mechanics of what was happening physiologically in my body, though I do recall some things - is to offer the impressions and reflections that kindle in my heart when I look back to each labour. I have just randomly chosen these births.
- Baby One:
My first birth, 17 years ago lasted about 12 hours. I laboured, excited and fearful, at home for most of those hours before proceeding to the hospital. As I laboured on the bed, my midwife encouraged me to have my waters broken. A torrent of water sprayed anyone in the fallout zone. I remember being surprised and embarrassed by the gush. I recall pushing so hard and not being sure how the pain would ever end… how much worse could it get? After a 3rd degree episiotomy that I wasn’t actively aware of, my little guy emerged with a purple and misshapen head, but no cries. I wasn’t aware of much, though it seemed he was needing a little extra attention as the midwife attended him… something about his cord around his neck. In the end, all was well and we held him, in awe. We left the hospital three hours later after excruciating stitches and my own face pocked with popped blood vessels from so much pushing. We drove home to find our landlord working on our plumbing in the middle of our mini-apartment - water spraying everywhere in our space - doing a job we’d asked him to do months ago. Wouldn’t you know this would be the day he decided to show up. I lay in my bedroom, half stunned, half in awe, completely in tears. I didn’t even know this little one and he was now completely dependant on me. Exploding pipes and tears baptized me into motherhood.
- Baby Two:
This little guy’s labour took about six hours from start to finish. He was my first planned home birth, but my water broke revealing meconium and so we took the bumpy road to the hospital. The ride over the potholes was excruciating to my contracting body. But, we made it to the hospital, where I laboured with my husband and midwife. His was a very straight-forward birth. His labour was smooth and he was born in time for supper on a snowy February evening. His eyes were huge and blue and aware. Little downy tufts of blond hair framed those eyes, and I loved him. After his birth, I was famished. The first thing we did upon leaving the hospital was go to Swiss Chalet and order ribs. His birth left me ever so hungry. It’s funny the things you remember.
- Baby Three:
This little woman decided to begin labour on her due date. We had planned a home birth and that is what we got. Ben and I spent a lot of time reading, breathing and resting through the night between contractions. My sister was visiting from out of town and looked after my two little guys upon waking in the morning, while I laboured in my bedroom. We called the midwives as things seemed to be getting closer to delivery. They were convinced that breaking my waters would be beneficial. I put this off for some time, but finally decided to go ahead. I stood in the shower as my waters were broken and the surge was upon me, “She’s coming!” Somehow, they managed to trundle me to my bed, whereupon our little girl was delivered within a few pushes. I lay on my back staring out at the rainy July day, I whispered her name, Ben nodding in agreement, “Sunny”. Somehow I new that beyond the rain the sun was shining, and that was the truth about our girl; how very right we were.
- Baby Four:
This boy decided to keep me up all night labouring, close to Christmas time. We planned a home birth again, and I had decorated my small yellow bedroom with the obligatory twinkle lights. It was a tight squeeze for the midwife, my husband and I. This little guy had been pushing me into false labour for a couple of weeks and I was exasperated and exhausted. I remember walking the freshly snowed-upon streets of our neighbourhood in the wee hours of the morning, calling this baby down. My body was deep into labour, but he was not moving well. Upon returning to my bed, I was writhing in a sort of delirious confusion as I just felt his head was stuck in my pelvis. I recall this as one of the most helpless times in my life. My pushes seemed to do little to ease him out. I remember seeing the clock shout 4:00 a.m. and all I wanted to do was sleep. The good news was that he did eventually emerge (with a true knot in his cord to boot). He was a big boy and it made sense that he was moving slowly. He was born on the anniversary of our engagement, in the midst of Christmas wonder, on a snowbound night. His birth initiated me into a new season of innovation and discovery as I dove deep into new learning and experiments in my mothering.
- Reflections written after the birth of Baby Ten:
Our little sweetheart was born May 26th at 2:40 a.m. into the hands of her Daddy before the midwife arrived. We named her Nova Chinook. She came out at 9 lbs. 10 oz., healthy and perfect. Nova means ‘new’ and ‘bright star’. Chinook means ‘a warm wind’. For us, she is symbol of God’s Spirit (wind) doing a ‘new’ thing in our midst. We are so excited about all the hope and freedom that we are experiencing these days, and she is a direct reflection of that for us. Right now, I am just lost in the slow motion of baby-bliss. I’m spending most of my time staring at her perfect face; wondering how this is all possible, how come life happens like this? How come everything perfect comes wrapped up in a baby? How come life comes at the cost of our own undoing, but I don't even mind?
- Baby Eleven:
Our newest little babe arrived nine months ago, just minutes before Valentine’s Day ended.
His arrival signalled a shift in me that I was unprepared for. Yet, looking back, I can see that his entire gestation was a season of enlightenment that was dawning in my heart, only to be accented by an entirely new birth experience.
Of our ten previous children, Ben had caught two speedy arrivals before the midwives came. I looked back on these as my favourite births. No strangers, no loud, careless conversations, no bright lights or medical junk… just Ben and I in our bedroom participating in the unfoldment of life together.
Leading up the birth of baby number 11, I skipped the ultrasound for the first time. (It’s unbelievable that I never thought to research the negative effects of ultrasounds before now, but there you have it – always growing.) Even though I had no idea regarding the date of my last period, I had a strong inner sense about when baby would arrive. The midwife thought otherwise, but I kept my opinion to myself.
During the last months of my pregnancy, I experienced a quiet sense of increasing anxiety. As I pressed in to explore it, I realized I was not afraid of potential pain, and I was confident in a peaceful outcome, but I was fearful of what I can only think to call: exposure.
It’s the part I have disliked about my labours – the intimacy of birthing violated by (well meaning) strangers (midwives) who sometimes talk too loud, who put their “practice” above my intuition, and often seemed to erase the spirit of my birth atmosphere with their presence, views and assumptions. (I did have one stellar midwife, but still felt awkward about opening myself up so intimately to anyone.)
Each of these women were incredibly competent and well-meaning in their service, but I felt as if their presence was blocking me from entering a more spiritual birthing experience.
I brought up the idea with Ben: would he consider aiding me in delivering the baby, only calling upon the midwife if we felt we needed her.
I strongly sensed God directing my inner process. I pondered a lot of questions about risk and power, wisdom and autonomy, until I came to the still space in my heart where I knew my course. Ben was a gentle and willing helper.
Not long later, birth day arrived.
Just when I sensed my belly had fully ripened, my body turned to labour, and the waves began. It was late, and our other children were all sleeping. Our room was darkened with the cheery glow of twinkle lights: a soft warmth lit our bedroom. Ben prepared the bed and lit candles. Then he went to sleep, as I desired to be alone in the presence of God in my labouring.
I mostly walked and sang and breathed, tucked into the bathroom off my room to meditate in the stillness of the dark night. A candle kept me company; I listened to a little music. I talked to baby and anticipated the wonder of this little life soon to be in my arms. I was so very happy – ecstatic almost – to be alone, yet not alone, with my Creator and my child.
Nearing the end of my labour, I joined Ben by the bed and he helped to prop me, so I could rest upright on my knees. Though the labour was smooth and relatively painless, there emerged a deep body pain in the end that drew me out into a hollow desert of desperation, as I began to sense the baby wasn’t ready to come out, though I knew it was time. For a couple of minutes, I was so parched, so bewildered, so overcome with pain I felt delirious with fear.
But then, in an instant, something cut through the weariness and I became fearless. I can only describe it as Infinite Love. All of a sudden, I had this wild grit at my disposal that knew this act of sacrifice in my body would change the world. I had no more fear of pain, no worry about a negative outcome, just an awareness that heaven was shaking down through me and I had but to surrender.
I remember a delicious sort of joy thrilled through me as I realized that I was participating in something ultimate, an act so profoundly free: free from trauma, medical entanglements, disharmonious opinions; and free towards intimacy, beauty, and power.
Baby was a wee bit tangled in the cord, which Ben worked to undo, and baby unfolded and was put into my arms.
In that moment, I only seemed to recall a video I’d seen about a mother elephant vigorously awakening her newborn to its first outside breath. She was so aggressive, it was shocking.
Baby was quiet on his entry, so I rubbed his little back, as he lay on my chest skin to skin, and welcomed him with warmth, vigour and hearty intention. He awoke to his new reality and his lungs brought forth sound!
Glory washed over me.
All was well.
I nursed, and bathed, and cuddled into bed with my new treasure: Keats Freeman. “Keats” is an old English word that means Shepherd. This boy in my arms is a Shepherd of Free Men.
Little did I know he would Shepherd me into new freedom as well.
The entire rest of the night was washed with a bliss I cannot explain. I had stepped through fear into a realm of joy that was completely new to me. Something shifted in the atmosphere, and I know looking back, that I was born anew through this experience.
This life, this free birth, was a defining moment in my journey to discovering the deep waters inside of me where love and power dwell.