After we checked into the hospital, I walked to the birthing center, stopping along the way to have yet another contraction. We checked into the birthing center and waited in an examining room while everything was readied for our final destination, the birthing room. I foolishly thought that the baby was now ready for delivery and I would be able to start pushing soon. However, after the first evaluation I was informed that I was only 4 cm and needed to reach 10cm to start anything. I was infuriated and angry that I wasn’t any further along. I could not believe I would have to wait ever longer for this baby. I punched my husband in a vulnerable part of his body during the next contraction and our Doula had to hide her face not to laugh. Patience is not my fortitude.
We were eventually transferred to a birthing room where I worked with my husband and doula to manage the pain of active labor. Our birth plan called for a natural delivery without anesthesia and to use all the breathing and pain management techniques taught in the Lamaze classes. It is at this place that our Doula (or birthing coach) earned her keep. Out in the world, I use my voice to make a living and manage my emotions. I can articulate my needs and ideas, argue a brief and win, and get my husband to do anything I want with the right inflection and intonation of speech. This requires me to move from my gut upwards to meet my mind and project outwards. I was about to find out that this highly developed masculine capacity was to become the antitheses to what is required in birth. My concern (and my husband’s concern) was that I would resort to curse words and unintelligible phrases spoken in anger and frustration to push past the pain. Cursing the baby into existence did not make sense intuitively, so we brought an Icon of the Blessed Mother with Child as a focus point. This also served as a reminder of the scared space we were creating for this very permeable being inside me.
In order to manage the pain, labor became a process of prayer. During this space in time, I saw my own weaknesses and shortcomings more clearly than at any other point in my life. My weaknesses, shortcomings and vulnerabilities were pressed to the surface of my awareness. There is no hiding from the pain that permeates every cell of your being. More cathartic than any Confession I had taken, labor represented a process of redemption. Like a blacksmith melding a tool through fire, labor was the fire upon which my character could be melded and changed.
As I continued through my labor, I felt hot. The room was air-conditioned and everyone else was freezing cold. I was sweating, thirsty, shaking, crying and given to call for my mother. We were all aware that the possibility of anesthesia limited all foods and water intake. This, of course, did not keep my body’s demand for subsistence at bay. We tried sips of water, which resulted in me throwing up all over the nurse; the nurse decided water was not a good idea. I was given ice chips. I still felt thirst and hunger but realized the nature of spiritual fasting dissolves the body’s cravings and focus our attention beyond ourselves.
The sun was now setting and I knew that my Doula, my husband, my twilight child and myself would be fully participating, at least, in the onset of the day Atonement. I was still standing and there had not been a moment of separation between any of us since late morning and no one was leaving this moment. Night fell and the pain of the contractions sharpened and became closer together and longer in duration. In concert with this intensity, the vibration of my breathing, focus, and prayer increased with the pain of labor. I am not a person who likes any publicly displayed prayer or spirituality. It is a very private matter for me and will remain sacred and veiled from the world for the rest of my life. Yet, here I was praying in front of the nurse, midwife, Doula, husband and child to an Icon of the Mother of Light, and I did not care.
Just as no mother can describe the pain she feels during labor, neither can I. However, after 20 hours of experiencing ever-increasing levels of contractions, I became very aware of a few things. The first is that the pain of labor did not have the quality of suffering. There was no fear of emotional or physical loss or separation. Each wave of pain was new but had no malicious nature in its rise and fall. A purposeful and poignant intent was communicated at the onset of each contraction that woke every nerve ending in my body. Yet, it let me know that it was in service to what was to come. Anxiety only arose when I tried to fight against the moment. After 20 hours the mind stops fighting the heart and body’s desire to open to love. Still, let us be clear, it was the most intense pain of my life.
My focal point on the Icon intensified as well as my focus on my Doula’s voice, instruction, face and her heart. By shifting from the Icon to her eyes, I could feel love through her eyes for my child, my mother and what must be the feminine force of this world. My husband would then tell me that he loved me and I told him that he had to and to let me concentrate.
Time moved so slowly during this phase of atonement. Again, this was a test of my patience. I wanted to see the baby quickly and wanted to hold the baby. I was at the 22 hour mark and still no baby. I could see the second hand on the clock moving at a glacial pace. I could feel the tears moving down my face faster. I wept. I stopped looking at the clock and just focused on one contraction at a time. Just one breath, one moment, one thought, one prayer and one tear at a time. During my entire life, I had always lived for the next moment, the next achievement, the next accolade. This was the first time that I had to practice living completely in the present tense. I could not conceive of a past or think of a future. I could only be in the moment. This was the only way I could be with my pain.
Then, just before midnight, I felt the incredible urge to push. Until this moment I was laboring to open my body in a way that was a complete mystery. I felt a shift deep inside me, but it was so new that I did not know what to think. The midwife checked me and told me I was at 10cm and that it was time to push the baby out. I was so excited, thinking that my labor would soon be over and that I would meet my baby. Little did I realize that my body was about to teach me how to touch the deepest place in my being.
The midwife told me that it was time to push, but the question became, “Push where and what?” I tried to push from where the contractions started, but nothing happened. With every push, it appeared that my baby was ever more intent on staying inside of me. Perhaps she was still upset that I had sent her an eviction notice, but she barely moved after 40 minutes of constant and stressful pushing. I tried many different positions—standing up, squatting, hanging on a bar and would have twisted myself up into a pretzel position to push my baby out, but to no avail.
There was the undeniable fact that it has been over 24 hours since this process had started and 18 hours since I last had any food or rest. Before the time of Allopathic medicine, the protocol would be to rest, eat, drink some fluid and gather the strength to start pushing again. My husband’s thinking was that they have halftimes in football games, timeouts, second and third string team replacements for all sporting activities, but absolutely no breaks or replenishment for a laboring woman. The looming possibility of medical intervention impeded a natural desire to regroup and continue into the next phase. Instead, after exerting the effort of 3 back-to-back Ironman Triathlons, (and feeling that exhausted) we moved into second stage labor and pushed!!!!!