I’ve never fully told the birth story of my first son, and the birth story of my second son is remarkably similar. So why don't I tell the stories together? In these stories I find myself embodying both the spacious, opening, gentle and fully nurturing sort of goddess and at the same time the fierce, ego-killing, hair-raising and bloody warrior kind of goddess as well. Perhaps not unlike Kali the goddess of birth and death, creation and destruction.
Both of my babies were born at home. Even though I am a doula and work with people birthing at hospitals, I have no interest in employing the medicalized version of birth for myself, and my years of yoga practice, meditation and trust in my body gave me the utmost confidence that homebirth was the only option for me. My midwife and her assistants were the most supportive and amazing birth goddesses that I know and I certainly owe much credit to their dedication to un-medicated, physiological and spiritual birth practices as I do to the trust in my own abilities. I have utmost respect for people who choose unassisted birth, but I knew that I wanted all of the support I could get because birth deserves support. (I also want to be clear that none of this is meant to be a judgment on the way anyone else chooses to or ends up laboring and birthing their babies. This is about my own personal experience.) It also seems to me that the people who are able to have un-medicated vaginal birth at a hospital are another sort of birth goddess: ones who can do all that needs to be done within the confines and distractions of the medical birth setting.
During both of my labors I had the pleasure of laboring overnight. That's a joke: labor is hard enough as it is, doing it with no sleep is sort of a cruel joke. But maybe that drew me into labor-land more deeply. With James, my first son, my water broke early in the morning which signaled that labor was imminent but there was little action during the day. With Ezra, my second, I got bloody show as a warning that birth was eminent but still could be days away. Yet with both of them labor picked up later that evening. Contractions started feeling real and I was told to lie down and rest. Ha! Rest while in labor. Well apparently we are capable of that. I labored through the night with contractions 6 to 10 minutes apart. In my first labor my husband gave me counter pressure through the night with each contraction. During my second labor I just breathed through them. I did discover with my second labor that I could ask for a period of rest and less intense contractions and my body complied. I was able to get a 45 minute nap before a very strong contraction woke me up at 4:45 AM. With daylight labor feels more real. I took a moment out in the quiet, cool, cloudy morning in our beautiful lush backyard to be with the Earth and center myself for the time to come. A hummingbird visited me twice that morning and I’ve seen it and it’s companion zooming around the yard ever since. I think of Ezra as my little hummingbird, reminding me to be joyful and to find beauty in all things.
During both of my labors I was fed delicious food throughout. During my first labor the house was quiet. I was attended by my midwife, Nancy Harman, and her assistant, Courtney Long, and my husband. They supported me quietly, calmly and peacefully. During my second labor we had a party at the house! I was attended again by my wonderful midwife Nancy Harman, and this time she had two assistants, Joanne Dahill and Johanna. We had a photographer, Katie Klein, and my mother-in-law came to watch our almost 5-year-old. And my husband seemed to coordinate and direct everyone to where they needed to be. Even with the full house everyone held space for me and gave me the space that I needed. I guess having an almost 5-year-old boy has taught me something about maintaining calm within chaos.
During my first labor I got to utilize the birth pool for several hours, sleeping in between contractions as I labored through the day. It was in the tub and nearing transition during that first labor that I experienced the thinning of the veil and the vision of my soon-to-be-born child. I saw an adult male, perhaps a little like my father, but with brown curly hair, much like my husband. During my second labor I waited for that experience of vision or some obvious indication of the reality beyond or behind what we can see and sense with our physical senses. But now, Source continues to say to me, you are powerful, you are connected and you have your own unique gifts that are not like those of the people around you. My wisdom and insight comes in the form of presence of mind, observation of direct experience and by asking for what I need and receiving it in the ways that are always best for me. I have to continuously tell myself that I am connected, that Source is responding to me every moment of every day. I didn’t have a distinct “ah ha” moment, or an experience of the walls melting or visions of my unborn child’s life-to-be. In fact, transition during my second labor came and went without much to-do. I thought I would be able to push him out where I had dreamed of: peacefully and quietly in the tub, like some birthing goddesses are able to do.
Uma Dinsmore Tuli likens birth to the Hindu Goddess Bhuvanesvari. She is the goddess whose body is the whole universe, the personification of Mother Nature. We could imagine our own wombs (or womb space) to be like the Golden Cosmic Womb that holds the space of (our own human) creation. She is goddess of unconditional love, expansiveness and creating and holding space physically and metaphorically for another life.
As much as I wanted to fully embody this, I concentrated a lot on just pushing. Pushing on hands and knees, pushing on my back, pushing while standing, pushing while squatting… In both of my labors I pushed for multiple hours!
As I said, birth is both profoundly physical and spiritual. I expected the spiritual aspect of this birth to lift a veil and my eyes would be opened to a new and magical world. What I actually experienced was that my physical body has imbalances, tightness and stored (little “t”) traumas that made the pushing phases long and difficult. However, my birth team also understood the dual nature of birth and allowed and supported me in moving in all the ways that I needed to. I was even “given permission” to nap after hours (I don’t know how long!) of pushing during my second labor. They commended me on my willingness to try everything they suggested, and it was because I was determined that I would birth my second child at home just like my first!
Since my second pregnancy offered me so much healing, I knew that the birth would also be profound. Strangely, the birth was so similar to my first that I was frustrated and confused as to why I had to experience the same long and physically challenging labor as I had in my first birth. They are the kind of experiences that reveal their lessons in layers over time.
So I pushed more. During my second labor we used the Spinning Babies’ technique of Lift and Tuck for many contractions. As I was later to learn in a Spinning Babies workshop that I attended, both of my babies were a bit stuck at the outlet. We worked hard to get his head behind my pubic bone so that he could come out.
If you haven’t noticed, in the story of my second labor my water hasn’t broken yet. I was getting frustrated that I was STILL pushing. I even remember hearing my mother-in-law’s phone ring (she must have been near-by) and I said out loud “No! The baby hasn’t come yet!” knowing that it was my father-in-law checking in. Funny how we can still be lucid to certain aspects of life in the midst of focus.
I also was proud of my ability to do this labor thing on my own. But eventually, like I said, I was getting frustrated and I was having sacral pain. I said to my doula, “my back just hurts so much!” So during the next contraction, I stood near my bed, doing the abdominal lift and tuck and she gave me counter-pressure on my sacrum. There was a loud POP and a splash of my water breaking all over the floor! That was the wall that I needed to hit and then break through.
There was also a shifting moment during my first labor. Again, after hours of pushing in all sorts of positions, my midwife suggested I go use the bathroom. I laughed to myself when she said “I’ll give you privacy to go by yourself.” I thought, “you’ve been looking at my bottom for hours, why would I need privacy now!?” For some women the need for privacy is really key to being able to relax and open up. For me being at home in my own space was all the privacy I needed. From there I could walk around naked, oozing fluid from various body parts and feel fine.
So I walked to the bathroom, and then it hit me. I didn’t even make it to the toilet! I stood at the sink, clenching the counter and the primal urge came stronger than it had it all of those hours. I yelled “the baby’s coming!” and the midwives scrambled to get to the tiny bathroom. From there, so much happened all at once! Reflexively I said “it’s a boy” (which I saw during transition but didn’t know until that moment). I felt the ring of fire and my midwife told me to slow down… impossible when your body has taken over! On the next push, I looked down to see the full head of brown hair and the little baby testicles as my midwife caught him and handed him to me. I could feel the umbilical cord as his connection to me as we walked back to the bedroom a few steps away, and we sat on the bed…
Baby #1 born standing at the bathroom sink!
I joke that my Birth Shaman (a reference from Spirit Babies, How to Communicate with the Child You're Mean to Have by Walter Makichen) must come down through the bathroom exhaust vent. As much as I had hoped for the second birth to be gentle and peaceful in the birth tub, I again found myself in the bathroom. I made it to the toilet this time, straddling the toilet which really allowed my glutes to relax! Again, with baby in the proper position, my uterus took over like nothing I do with my abdominals! The urge was so strong as I leaned over the sink once again. As James said later, “mommy, you screamed when little sprout’s head popped out!” I told him, “I’ve only made that sound twice in my life!” Funny how I was so focused that I didn’t realize he was crowning. One of the midwives said, “now you just have to push his shoulders out.” I said “Oh! His head is out!?” My body pushed again and he was out and in my arms! This time I got to sit back down on the toilet.
I lifted my head, feeling the sweat, tears and snot drip down my face to see my audience huddled around the bathroom door. I looked at the baby and joyfully, proudly announced “its another boy! His name is Ezra Ames...”
Both of my boys were born as I was standing at the bathroom sink! Gravity baby! And groundedness.
There is a certain kind of presence that is being fully aware and observant of the moments that were in. That is the kind of presence required for parenting. Dan Siegel calls this presence “receptive awareness.” There’s another kind of presence that requires such focus that there is almost no awareness until the experience is over. Only then can we make observations and learn from the experience. In this second kind of presence, if we try to analyze it in the moment, the experience is lost. This is what meditation teaches us and is what is required during birth. This is where I was as I pushed each of my babies out.
It is still hard to convey through my stories how profoundly physical and spiritual each of my births were. They were turning points in my life that literally changed me on a cellular level and they bookend specific times in my life. In fact, my first birth is what lead me to my work in the birth field.
I had always known that I wanted to have children. Not that I am the kind of person who gets all mushy over babies—babies and children and not my thing. MY babies are my thing, but also BIRTH is my thing. My births exposed me to a world of power and healing that I would like to bless upon all birthing people! And the time from my first birth through my second pregnancy and birth was a time of incubation, learning and growing into myself as healer. My dream and desire is to share what I have been given through these experiences to those who are receptive to the power of birth.
As I write this I am 3 months postpartum. Over the next few weeks I will be sharing with you more of the lessons I’ve learned and the philosophy I’ve generated about the various aspects of the sacred Feminine powers in our lives, including honoring our menstrual cycles, cultivating fertility, the work of pregnancy, the power of birth and the marathon of parenting.
I hope you will join me in my expressions of healing in any part of your journey. Blessings.