Birth: Entrance into This Crazy World of Light

A slow, uneventful early labor leaves me wondering whether he really is coming. I clean, burn sage, take a walk, make dinner, call my mom and tell her to come, help with bedtime (all between mild contractions). I roll into active labor at 7:25 pm with back to back contractions, dipping into the timeless realm of touch and go pain, blurred vision, doubling over, calling for help, shaking wondering and awe. I roll into the realm of surrendering control and I hear myself say how much I hate it. Modesty slowly goes out the window. The midwives have arrived and now I’m fully in the dance of dilation. Not “contracting” but rather expanding – and I try to meditate on the star-gazer lilies I’ve bought for this moment. “All you have to do is float…” says the midwife. “You don’t have to do anything…” But there is no floating, only the shaky handing over of myself to one moment and then the next. There is no floating, only the raw practice of trusting a process that is greater than myself.

I move to the tub for relief and finally feel the urge to push. Has it been one hour or five? I have no idea. I only know that I don’t want to be alone and I don’t care anymore about words. Chris tells me to “stay with it” and I hear myself say “I have no choice but to stay with it.” There is no getting out. No escaping. No distraction. “The only way out is in,” I hear my yoga teacher’s voice as a fuzzy line of background noise. The only way out is in.

It is one of those moments in life where the rawness of physical pain and discomfort serves as an edge upon which I serve myself up to a force greater than myself. I’m terrified of I know not what – except perhaps the searing truth that this passage of bringing new life is really happening and I’m responsible somehow for overcoming exhaustion and doubt and mustering the strength and wilfulness to push a baby down and out. Its true: “you don’t have to do anything…” All you have to do is trust that your body was made for this – AND: you can’t just ‘give up’ either. At the very least the moment requires presence. At the least, the moment requires a square confrontation with the reality of what is arising, particularly when the reality doesn’t match up with one’s preferences…

I’m so, so tired and its one wave of pressure after another. I have no idea where to go or how even to move with a head like a bowling ball two centimeters away from crowning. All I know is I have to get him out. I’m dripping sweat now and standing over my bed. I see stars and beg for rest, even though I know that the final moment of reckoning is upon me like a pressure cooker. This is when I have to dig deep and find a reservoir of strength that I’ve only tapped into twice before with my other births: A woman’s gritty wilfulness to make something happen that feels impossible. For me, this is no easy birth. It is raw, uncomfortable, painful. There is no bliss, no rest, no peaceful hypnobirthing place to relax into. For me, birth is a series of deep, wild screams of disbelief coupled with absolute, unfiltered awe in the face of great mystery. How the hell does all this work? How the hell do women do it? So normal, no big deal – and so literally transfiguring at the same time.

And then: he’s out – blue, sticky body on my chest, loud cries and the midwife comforts him by saying “You only have to do this part once…” And in that moment I feel again my own birth – squeezing into life through a narrow passage, “contracting” into form… And I simultaneously feel my death, which perhaps will take me into the opposite realm of expansion. And I feel back to the burst of my waters breaking earlier – a crackling preparation for baby’s entrance – and I wonder if somehow we come via darkness and water into this crazy world of light and go too from this world into a different light?

All this passes through me as we welcome my son – and really all that matters now is the skin touching skin, and the awe-filled reminder that being in this body is a blessing unlike any other. Sensation! Touch! Love! Pain and pleasure blur into one of the most glorious moments of Grace…

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40 Weeks Pregnant: A Thin Veil Between Worlds

After the birth of my first son, my midwife said to me, “Don’t you think ushering new life is going to bring you to your knees? It brings me to my knees every time…

We’d been talking about my struggle for several hours to push Rowan out into the world, and how the pain literally brought me to my knees, over and over again for four hours of pushing in the middle of the night. Those brutal hours from 1:30 to 5:30am were unlike any other: A threshold, a portal, an unmistakable glimpse into the vast power of the mystery that is life – beyond my control, vexing yet awe-inspiring, bringing me to my knees in a gesture of humility so all-consuming it took my breath away again and again. There was no way out but in. No turning away or back. The threshold had to be crossed.

And here I am again: standing at the gateway to Birth, which is akin to inhabiting a thin veil between worlds. The word ‘liminal’ comes to mind: Of or relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process, occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold. The space in between. I rest in this liminal realm where I’m called this time to lay down the desire to know what ultimately can’t be known. Already I’m being taken to my knees: reminded by the powers that be that there is nothing to do other than trust a process far greater than oneself. All I have to do is be available, surrender… And yet, here I am, spinning conjectures and betting odds on when and how baby will come…

It strikes me that instead of inhabiting the familiar world of intellectual odd-betting and grasping for what is “known,” being 40 plus weeks pregnant is a time to settle into the mystery of liminality. We can choose to hang in the spaces in between. We can swing freely in the balance of the inner and outer, the inside world and outside…much like the womb contrasted by the vast space of everything else. We can walk the thin lines between darkness and light, mystery and the known, fullness and release, contraction and expansion. Even if not pregnant with new life, perhaps there is a lesson here that we can all access, for the womb is our origin and we have all made this journey from breathing water to breathing air, most of us having hung upside down in our mothers even as the rest of the world was so-called “right side up.”

For this brief moment in time, a pregnant woman holds the sublime reminder of a passageway between worlds. She is the circle of yin and yang holding a small universe of life inside. Herein lies a blueprint for living: remember the mystery from which you sprang and to which you will return. Learn to bask in the not-knowing. Trust forces at work beyond your control and let yourself be humbled by what it can take to bring new life onto this Earth. Relinquish all desires to know and control. Only then, resting gracefully in the liminal realm of mystery, will you enter into the fertile plains of free-flowing unbridled creative synergy: that which truly does propel forth new life and make the world go ’round…

Journey to Motherhood

Rowan was born July 12, 2009

Day Before Labor:

Wanting to loose my mind for the sake of just being, to shed something for the sake of clarity and letting go.  There is nothing to struggle with, only layers to uncover and let go of so more light can permeate and more love can manifest.

I feel like a thunderbolt trapped in a heat storm yet to coalesce.  Agitation, irritation, emotional swings, exhaustion and restfulness all at once:  a swirling hormone cocktail akin to the impatience one feels while waiting for a storm to break, looking for release and relief that comes with rain after heat.  My inner world mirrors outer as the heat pulses outside and rain now eludes the dry mountain air.  Crackles of lightening impulse rest in my spine.  Waiting, waiting for a great opening – a great transformation.  This is my journey to motherhood.

Restless, mixed with gentleness;  Still seeing beauty, i try to wrap myself up in my own anxious compassion, yearning to be nurtured, ironed out, stretched, smoothed, held, altered – and not by my own force.  LIke a rock shaped by water, I wait for nature’s forces to break me open into something I can only distantly imagine.

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Disbelief the next morning when I woke up with cramps.  It was a sizzling hot Colorado day full of sunshine.  The cramps worsened throughout the day.  I ate, drank, prepared food, got ready.  I’d bought Stargazer Lilies the day before, knowing I wanted flowers present at the birth.  All afternoon there were contractions every 5-30 minutes, lasting 20-50 seconds.  At 5:30pm we walked in the foothills.  A storm was brewing now with wind and a grey sky.  I knew he was coming then;  The wind whipped the tall grasses and there were drops of rain.  I walked slowly, taking in the hills and sky, smelling sagebrush.

Contractions while eating dinner – we timed them as they were getting longer and closer together.  At 8pm they were two minutes apart and there were 10 in a row.  I had moved with Chris to the bathroom floor, laying on my red wool blanket.  By now I was 4cm dilated and beginning active labor.  It was just getting dark and I remember it was a quiet, windy night, with no moonlight yet coming through the windows.

Time passed differently now.  The midwives had arrived.  They were in and out, up and down the stairs, preparing.  I stayed with each contraction.  It became timeless. Some hours passed.  Chris pressed on my lower back.  I relaxed between each contraction.  Our midwife checked me again, I was 7 cm dilated and it was time to move into the birthing tub.  I was so sensitive to textures and colors, still aware of my yoga mat nearby, a reminder of practice and surrendering, letting go.  I just let my body open.  Water provided much relief.  I hung onto Chris as the contractions got more intense.  I remember grabbing his ribs, his hand.  I kept my voice deep, humming through the contractions, which were not so much registered as pain, but extreme intensity taking over my whole body, just wanting rest.

At 1:30am I was 10cm dilated and getting ready to push.  The intensity of the sensations was enormous.  I remember becoming scared and followed the impulse to move up and out of the water, simultaneously moving up and out of my capacity to just stay with the sensations.  My thinking mind took over as I resisted the feelings.  It took me hours then to feel again into my full strength and power.  I was still going along with each contraction, surrendering, but not yet stepping into working with them.  I wasn’t sure how to breathe anymore.  I began doubting myself and entering the realm of my thinking mind again and again;  For hours I had just been my body – nothing else, moving timelessly open.  Now I felt I could barely move him, even as I felt him moving downwards ever so slowly.

It was an indescribable heaviness in my pelvis, a pressure on my sacrum, a heaviness that made movement of any sort difficult.  The midwives kept checking his heartbeat, steady throughout, even as he was resting in the birth canal for so many hours.  I could feel his steadiness and his patient intelligence and silently I talked to him over and over again – asking him to help me in getting him out into this world.

Again, timelessness took over and there was so much effort with each contraction.  They brought me to my knees when I was standing and I screamed through many of them, still not knowing how to harness my strength to move him out.  The pushes were too gentle;  I needed to access my force of will, my fieriness and deep strength.  Hours went by.

The sweat was pouring off of me and I felt like a mad woman, a raging dakini with wild hair that wouldn’t leave my eyes, a panting animal, now finally facing my fears and self-doubt head on.  The pressure and heaviness in my pelvis and base of my body was so great.  Every time I pushed I could feel the midwives pulling me to open more – on my back, forcefully opening my legs and stretching my vagina, even as gently as possible, I felt like I was being ripped open.  They told me to keep my chin down.  My eyes were closed most of the time now and I was feeling inwards.  I began to press on my upper belly, trying to move him down.  I remembered the spiraling motion and began circling my torso.  I climbed up and down my stairs, two at a time, falling with each contraction.  They kept moving me over and over again, telling me “this is the dance of labor.”

I could feel his head, less than two inches from my opening.  For hours I could feel his head.  Marvelous, but those inches felt like a journey of a thousand miles.  My fears were flailing themselves wildly through my awareness.  I kept hearing “I can’t do this anymore, I can’t… I am tired… ” even though my deeper witness was there too, a stronger essence simply observing my cycle of negativity and discouragement.  They all cheered me on.  Each contraction telling me “Yes!  That’s it!”  At first I didn’t believe them.  Images of cesarian birth kept flashing, and hospital interventions – and all my worst nightmares coming before me and saying “You have a choice.  Hold on to me or let go.”

I got up.  I got more fierce.  I was angry at the cycle, frustrated with self-doubt and tired of feeling stuck.  I kept at it.  I stayed with my process.  I firmly resolved to push my baby out.  Over and over again, like a mantra:  “push my baby out, push my baby out.  Yes it is working, yes it is working.”  He was right there.  There was no turning back.  Again, on my back feeling ripped open.  Screaming at the top of my lungs and feeling the open window and breeze from outside.  I knew I was closer because I could hear Chris’s excitement and everyone said “see, see – there is the head!”  I could now feel the progress.  I had finally figured out how to push.

I felt the intense stretching and massaging me open, with his head coming and receding, coming and receding with each push.  Finally, “Deb, get up – get on the birthing stool.”  There was another contraction on the way there.  Eyes closed and intense heaviness.  They all started talking more loudly – “Deb, listen to me.  Your baby’s head is crowning.  Slow down, don’t push as hard now,,,”  I relished the stinging opening, panting gently and touched his head.  Relief.  I knew he was here, about to come into this world.  My confidence finally centered and I slowed down, a gentle push and I felt a fast rush of his head and body passing, knowing intimately his whole body was flying out.  I quickly looked dow to see him barely caught by the midwife.  I was on my toes, leaning forward slightly, hands gripping the stool as I felt I could barely sit up.  A few sobs and a great gush of relief.  There was barely a cry and I saw his whole body bathed in that early morning light.  It was 5:26am.  The blue-grey-white cord wrapped twice around his body:  once around his neck and another around his torso.  Quickly he was placed on me and I reached down right away, not believing how calmly he looked at me and then Chris, just like he knew all along that it would turn out just like this.

I fainted after he was born.  Chris quickly took his shirt off to hold him, and I crumpled, remembering all the blood gushing out of me – blood everywhere, even by my head as I fell.

So this was Birth, I thought.  Feet being held up, oxygen mask on my face.  Slowly regaining full body awareness and clarity:  A mixture of relief, contentment, sharp pains, aching muscles, sore jaw and forehead, stinging base of my body…I couldn’t believe how hard it was, the difficulty bleeding literally with the heart-wrenching love and gratitude, quiet moments of awe unfolding into a new life.