Inspiring Birth Stories
This past Tuesday, Choices in Childbirth hosted a very special evening of Inspiring Birth Stories at Congregation Habonim on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Our volunteer Program Committee members came together to find four fabulous women and couples to share their experiences giving birth. Listening to the stories, we heard the vast range of experiences, preparations, coping mechanisms, birth teams, struggles, and successes. While some made the choice to give birth at home with midwives and doulas, others made the choice to have their baby in the hospital with their doctors.
Ali Monahan, a Certified Nurse Midwife, and Marin Bach Antonson, a DONA certified labor support doula, were among the panel of speakers in case there were any questions regarding providers’ practices. Mary Esther Malloy, childbirth educator, doula, and amazing CiC volunteer, facilitated the evening, and with her insightful comments and questions, she sparked valuable discussion. Between Mary Esther, the story-tellers, and the adorable babies in the room, the evening was full of inspiration and laughter.
This evening was especially important for CiC because it was the first free workshop that we filmed! That’s right, we filmed Inspiring Birth Stories so that they can be shared with those who couldn’t make it that night or with those who are living across the globe! We will definitely let you know when they’re edited and ready to watch.
In the meantime, this week’s post is… A BIRTH STORY!
Thank you to Deborah McNamara for sharing her story with CiC and with all of you!
Journey to Motherhood: A Birth Story
It was the day before I went into labor with my first child. 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 July heat pulses outside and rain now eludes the dry mountain air. Waiting, waiting for a great opening – a great transformation. This is my journey to motherhood.
Restless, 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.
I was in disbelief the next morning when I woke up with cramps. It was a sizzling hot Colorado day full of sunshine. I ate, drank, prepared food, got ready. All afternoon there were contractions every 5-30 minutes, lasting 20-50 seconds. A storm was brewing with wind and a grey sky. I knew my son was coming then; the wind whipped the tall grasses and there were drops of rain.
At 8pm my contractions were two minutes apart and there were 10 in a row. I had moved with my husband Chris to my bathroom floor. 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. 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. 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. 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.
There 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 my son’s 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 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. 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 I had heard about in prenatal yoga classes and began circling my torso. I climbed up and down my stairs, two at a time, falling with each contraction. The midwives 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 (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. Finally, I got more fierce. I was frustrated with self-doubt and tired of feeling stuck. 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.
I felt the intense stretching of his head coming and receding, coming and receding with each push. “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 down to see him barely caught by the midwife. I was on my toes, squatting on a birthing stool, 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 glorious body bathed in that early morning light.
I fainted after he was born. I crumpled, just after I’d looked into my new son’s eyes. It was a moment I will never forget: wide open cobalt blue eyes looking calmly at me as I held his five pound frame with tender arms, my husband behind me.
So this was Birth, I thought. Feet being held up, oxygen mask on my face, slowly regaining full body awareness and clarity. There was 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.
Deborah McNamara is a writer, yoga teacher and mother in Boulder, Colorado, where her son Rowan was born at home with midwives. She also works for the Northwest Earth Institute, a non-profit promoting simple and sustainable lifestyle. You can read more of Deborah’s words on her blog at www.unraveledword.wordpress.com, where she muses on the intersection of motherhood and spiritual practice.