On the recommendation of my Doula and nurse, I developed a profound appreciation for the element of water. The tension in my body was increasing with the addition of pushing on top of the pain of the contractions. We all moved to the shower where I placed myself under the warm flow of water. It was the best pain relief and it assisted me in breathing. My body relaxed in between waves of pain. Every time I began to forget how to relax, we went back into the shower.
Between showers I found that I was so hot that I would take all my clothes off and remain a point of radiant heat in the room. I am a modest person and here I was stark naked in front of people I had never met—and I didn’t care. I just wanted the baby out. It was incredibly humbling to be so dependent and so exposed to other people.
It was not until the midwife intervened and told me to get onto the toilet and push as if I was having a bowel movement that my baby began to move through the cervix. I thought she was nuts. I was worried that the baby would fall into the toilet! She assured me that this was not happen and that the baby was nowhere near coming out at this point. So, I climbed onto the toilet, stark naked in front of everyone, and pushed as hard as I could. As I pushed, I began to understand what I needed to access in my body. I have no idea how any woman who receives an Epidural at the beginning of her labor ever finds that place within herself to push. After a sitting on the toilet and a second shower, the midwife checked me and stated that the baby had actually made some progress.
Being beyond exhaustion and sleeplessness, I moved back into the delivery room. I was now aware that my baby was moving ever so slowly and at times just as happy to be hanging out somewhere between birth and conception. The midwife checked me again and could feel that the baby’s head was transverse and she would try to turn it at the next contraction. She asked me to push as hard as I could. At the next contraction as the midwife tried to turn the baby’s head and I tried to push, I had my first outward scream and told the midwife I couldn’t take it and that she had to stop. The pain of her trying to turn the baby was worse than any of the contractions.
Before leaving the room, the midwife asked that I finally rest. She instructed me not to push even when I felt the urge to push. She hoped that without pushing, the baby would withdraw enough back into the canal to then put the baby’s head into the correct position for a final push. I waited another hour while I had the incredible urge to push and cried softly. I prayed. My husband held my hand and my Doula prayed with me during the ever-increasing waves of contractions.
After an hour, I started trying to push again, but still was too tired, dehydrated and weak to make any significant progress. After consulting the attending physician, the midwife then told me I had two options—I could receive Intravenous fluids and try an epidural to try to relax everything before pushing again or I could have a C-section. There was no way I was going to have a C-section after coming this far and with the baby in absolutely no distress. I opted for the epidural.
After I received the IV fluids I felt incredibly better. The midwife instructed me to rest for 30 minutes. It was once again sunrise and we were still in a state suspended time, waiting, praying and being in this moment. However for the hospital staff and our midwife, it was time for a shift change. The anesthesiologist came, administered the epidural, and left. Just a short time later, the rest, fluids and now anesthesia renewed my weakened body and my spirit sprang into full awareness that the time was short. Urgency had replaced endurance. The new midwife was fully aware of how long I had been laboring and said she wanted to see the baby’s head within the hour or heroic measures were to be taken. I told my baby that she had her final eviction notice and that she needed to come out now and meet her father, mother and guardian angel that had been so patiently holding her mother’s hand. As I looked at the icon of the Blessed Mother, I told myself that I am a mother and that I needed to bring my child into the world.
I started pushing again with no thought of myself, or even the next breath. The midwife instructed me to hold my breath for a 10-count increment and to push as hard as I could during each of these increments. By the end of each 10-count increment, I was on the verge of vomiting, my eyes were streaming tears and my body was throbbing with coursing blood. My husband counted from 1 to 10 when I felt the subtleness of each contraction numbed by the medication. The nurse and doula counted in silence with my husband, and the midwife began to smile ever so slightly after each subsequent contraction. I knew everyone was on my side.
Then it happened; I could see her head in the mirror. I could not believe it. My baby was almost here. Once again, renewed by the sight of my child, I push and watched my baby’s head appearing and then receding, blossoming then pausing—as if subtly teasing me to want her even more than the heavens want to be joined to the earth. I pushed again and again, undulating between ecstatic joy and frenetic excitement. Finally, I saw her head emerge from my body, then her shoulders, and then the rest of her body. Everyone in the room let out a collected cry of joy at seeing a new life born into the world. I heard her cry immediately, and I cried out with her. She was placed on my belly and chest and she looked into my eyes for a brief moment. She had arrived and we were at peace.
The path to motherhood starts with pregnancy and is marked by anticipation, excitement, baby showers, nursery decorating, and medical appointments. As the future mother travels down this path, she does not have full cognition of what awaits her in the birthing process. The transition to motherhood is intense, difficult, messy, bloody, painful, awesome, incredible, irrational, horrible, physical, and life affirming. A woman in labor experiences a Primal Uncertainty: an uncertainty about who she is, an uncertainly of whether she can bring the life into the world and even uncertainly that there is life after birth. At he same time, a woman in labor is strong and fearless. She does not need to be rescued but does require participation. She does not need a knight in shining armor, but she does blossom with the unwavering, steadfast presence of her spouse. All mothers can lie claim to the victory of life’s capacity to procreate itself in the mist of the unknown and unexpected. While a woman in labor feels weak, she is stronger in labor than she has been at any other moment in her life. A woman in labor must be allowed to rise up and meet the Primal Uncertainty in order to defeat it. This is what the midwives allowed me to do in the mist of a medical model that would not have allow me the space to blossom open in love and life. A woman who experiences natural childbirth claims her birthright as the most powerful person she will be within the realm of her human experience. While many women in the western world spend their entire lives seeking power in the professional sphere, it is in the birthing process that a woman realizes she is the power that she has always been seeking. After I gave birth to my first child I said to myself: “If I could do that, I can do anything!” A woman who experiences natural childbirth will carry the power of this life-affirming act with her for the rest of her life.