Updated: Oct 31, 2018
This account was written about one week following the birth of my fourth child, a son we named Rowan. I wrote his birth story in a journal dedicated solely to him, and I address him personally as I share the account.
This birth was effectively 95% pain free. I share below how I drifted in and out of pain throughout the final 1/2 hour of his delivery. He was born after about 6 hours of active labor and weighed 9 lbs, 1 oz...my smallest baby! All of my births have been profoundly spiritual experiences, but it was with Rowan's birth that I felt fully awake, alive, and empowered. His birth showed me how truly gentle, peaceful, and beautiful birth can be.
It's become a treasured tradition for me to start your fist journal off with recording your birth story. Though it's only been just over a week, it feels much longer. Lack of sleep contributes to that, but mostly we simply can't imagine life without you now that you're here.
Part of me must have sensed that you'd be coming the next morning because on the night before, we got the kids to bed and I decided to luxuriate in a hot bubble bath, shaved my legs, painted my toe nails, relaxed in front of a movie with Dad, and then hit my pillow around 11 pm. I remember having a soft conversation with you whilst soaking in the hot water, massaging my swollen belly, encouraging your arrival and expressing how excited I was to meet you. I fell asleep with the same thoughts running through my mind.
"That was a bit uncomfortable." I thought to myself, as I looked at the alarm clock. it was just after four--early enough I'd likely be able to fall back into my deep, delicious sleep. Contractions at any time of day or night were no stranger to me. I'd been having them sporadically for weeks. Another one came--equally uncomfortable. The clock read 4:20. Back to sleep...4:35. "Really?" I puzzled within myself. "These seem to be a little more regular. Hmm. Well, I'll try to get some sleep and see what happens. Nana isn't here yet so this probably isn't anything." And I did get some sleep, surprisingly! I'd wake up, or rather, be woken up, by that achy, crampy discomfort every little while but I'd just roll over, close my eyes and ignore it.
By 7:15 am, the sun was up in full glory and I knew sleep was out of the question. I also knew that the contractions had held a steady rhythm for the past few hours, coming every fifteen minutes, and that Nana was indeed still several hours away. She had planned to come up a day or two earlier but was waiting for another expecting mommy down there that was ten days past her due date. But what could I do? Once these things get started there's no slowing it down. So with some reservation but out of necessity, we called Nana. "Any baby born down there yet?" Dad asked her. "No, no baby yet." "Well, there might be a baby up here today!" ....pause... "I'm on my way!" She raced to get here, remembering how quickly Leif had come. When she was halfway here she called to check in and when neither Dad nor I answered our phones she was sure she had missed your birth, and that Dad was flying solo as baby catcher.
Dad, in actuality, had just been getting the birth tub set up and I was flitting around like a bird from the dishwasher, to the vacuum, to the laundry room--up and down the stairs. I'd pause when the contractions demanded it of me, but there was still some level of skepticism that this was actually labor. But the more laundry I folded and stairs I climbed the harder and faster the contractions came. What was I doing? If I wanted my midwife to be here I needed to slow down! It was a novel idea, one that seemed so contrary to all logic, but considering the circumstances was sound advice indeed. I went into the bedroom and locked the door so I wouldn't be disturbed. I laid down on the bed and took deep, slow breaths. It was just after 9 am. Nana needed at least another hour. And laying down seemed to do the trick. The contractions slowed back down to fifteen minute intervals and I dozed into sleep.
Sometime after 10 am Nana arrived. Hallelujah! No more holding back. she examined me and announced that I was 7 cm dilated and 80% effaced. Baby was definitely coming! All I could think was, wow, it's the real deal. The tub was inflated, Dad was filling it with warm water, and I was getting into the zone. I still felt the need to clean and fold laundry and preferred staying active as labor progressed. The contractions were getting stronger but they never came much closer together than ten minutes, and even though I was having to deep breathe and sway, they seemed very manageable. With each wave of pressure I'd find myself in meditation. One wave brought a vivid visual of a flower bud that was blooming at high-speed, like the still frame time-lapse footage in a nature film. Another time I saw myself standing at the edge of a lake, looking across and seeing you at the other end. Just like a modern, female Moses prophetess I willed the "waters to part" and you and I walked to the center and embraced. Then...back to the laundry. Another wave. This one brought the visual of holding you for the first time, as if I were glimpsing the future and seeing the moment of your birth. My senses were overloaded and I felt euphoric! I could smell your skin, I could touch your soft hair, I could kiss you on the eyes and on your nose. And then it passed. Time to feed the kids lunch! It was an other-worldly dance for me, in and out of this surreal, spiritual portal and then instantly back into the mundane, oxygen-breathing present moment.
It was 12:30 pm by this time. The kids were eating lunch. Grammy was almost here. The tub was filled and waiting. Should I get in? Are these contractions strong enough to warrant getting in? Because getting in the water, for me, is an admission that the contractions are becoming unbearable and I need a new coping mechanism. It's also a feeling of "once I'm in, there's no coming out until the baby's here." Was I ready for that commitment? The contractions had reached a level of intensity that required my 100% focus, but once given my focus, I felt like I could ride them like a wave. It didn't reach the point of "pain". So I hesitated. I remember that with Avery's labor I got into the water too soon and started to feel over-heated and claustrophobic by the end. I wanted to avoid that. But by 12:45 I was in the water, come what may.
I confess, I had wanted and imagined myself going into labor at night. The kids would be asleep in their beds, the neighborhood would be quiet, the moon would give off just enough light, there would be an expectant hush all over the world as MY BABY was born...but it was noon day, the kids were definitely awake, the neighbors were coming and going and the ambiance required a little creativity. But we made the best of it. We drew the curtains closed, Grammy did her best to distract the kids downstairs, and I put on a relaxing playlist. It still felt lovely.
So there I was, enveloped in the warm water, relishing the immediate relief. But I couldn't help noticing that the warm water also slowed the contractions down. It seemed like an awfully long wait in between each one. That was the first time I felt myself get anxious. Negative thoughts flooded into me: you're going to be here forever; this could take hours more; all this time has just been the warm up; you'll never make it through what's coming next! I contemplated getting out just so things would pick back up, but ultimately the water was too inviting, so there I stayed.
I don't recall being keenly aware of a dramatic change or "transition" as it's known by, but I experienced a noticeable change in how the visuals came and how I focused on them. They were much less...describable--more abstract and much more consuming. Instead of distinct objects or places or people, it was just color and light and energy. The most memorable part was the pulsing I felt. It was as if there was a conduit of electricity and light, and when I was within the conduit I felt in control of myself, though still at the mercy of this powerful energy. When I was outside looking in to the conduit, I felt, for the first time in my labor, actual pain. And with that pain came fear and panic. But then I was pulsing back in, feeling the force but feeling strong. Then I'd pulse out, and I'd be overcome again. This happened just a few times before I realized that I was wanting to push. This came as the most delightful news imaginable! Things WERE progressing! Nana examined me at this point and said I was completely ready and, in fact, you were just centimeters away form crowning. She said all of this in earnest, mind you, but I don't think I fully believed her, or rather, understood the implications of what she was saying. But when the next wave came, I took a huge breath and gave my first push.
Rowan, there it was, your soft tufted head emerged. I reached down and touched you for the first time. I was filled with euphoria! Nana quietly said, "You're almost there, Steph, give it another push and your baby will be born." She didn't have to tell me twice. Holding on to the hand rails, pulling my legs in to a tighter squat with my feet pushing against the side of the pool for resistance, I moaned and groaned and felt all at once that something big was coming out of me. Was I...you know...having a bowel movement?? Surely that's what was happening because I hadn't been pushing long enough or hard enough for it to be the baby! For about two seconds I contemplated holding back, not wanting to make Nana have to fetch the dreaded fish net, but who can hold back the tide? Out with it all! But I'll be damned, it was no bowel movement, and was truly the bonafide real deal. That's how natural and easy it felt! Rowan, you were born in that moment. Someone reached down, scooped you out of the water and brough you to my chest. You were breathing like a champ. You let out a few guffaws but settled into my arms almost instantly. I grabbed your leg, lifted it up for a peak and cried out "A boy! You trickster!" I found out in that moment that I had let myself think it was going to be a girl!* But I was ecstatic and it felt perfect, like it was exactly right, what else could you have been but a boy?
That moment. I can try to describe it--the thrill, the wash of adrenaline, the flood of emotion, the pride and elation--but nothing can come close to capturing its absolute bliss. It just has to be experienced. And, oh, how wonderful it was to meet you for the first time, while simultaneously feeling already deeply bonded to you.
Dad and Nana eventually helped me out of the tub while I held onto you and we made our way to the bed. Not long after the placenta was delivered and Nana showed us the sac, still attached to the placenta, with its little acorn-like appearance. How did you ever fit in there? That had been your home all these nine-plus months. No amount of scientific reading on the subject has ever pacified or sated my wonder at the whole process of conception and birth. I understand the facts of it all, but make no mistake, you are a miracle! Every baby is!
At this point, I felt as if I were sitting back on my sedan chair as everyone catered to the queen that I felt I was. I don't mean that in any pretentious way, but just matter of factly. How could I foster life in my womb, deliver you naturally, and not feel royal, or rich, or powerful? I gulped down beverage after beverage: Mexican hot cocoa, apple juice, water, Chinese tea, Emergen C--I couldn't get enough!
After Dad cut the cord (the first time he's ever done that, mind you) and after you suckled for some time (like a professional, I might add) we cleaned and dressed you and weighed and measured. Pictures and laughter and smiles came next. Then a gorgeous Cafe Rio salad was delivered on a silver platter (or was it just a disposable aluminum plate...who can say?). That was courtesy of our good friends who dropped off pizza to the kids and salads to the rest of us. BEST. LUNCH. EVER. I relished food with newfound delight!
And now, here we all are, over a week later, feeling as if ages has passed instead of days. Your siblings adore you and are quite helpful in their own way in taking care of you. You were the missing piece to our jigsaw puzzle, Rowan, and we can't imagine life without you.
I love you.
*We didn't find out the gender of any of our babies until the moment they were born
Thoughts on Rowan's birth 2 years later:
Every one of my birth experiences was beautiful, unique, and a critical aspect of my spiritual development as a mother. No one birth is "better" than any other, and they were all absolutely perfect. I see awe-inspiring connections between my children's personalities and their birth experiences. Saidie, who came slow but steady, who paced herself resolutely. Avery, who came with gentleness and softness. Leif, who wanted to come in his own rhythm, and who boldly charges ahead--but bringing his cave with him. And finally, Rowan, who eased himself down and out without hesitation or pause, allowing me to fully embrace my BODHI.
It was through this fourth and final birth experience that I understood what Bodhi Birth was all about. I didn't just want to help women "get through" their births, as I had done with my first few births...I wanted them to be TRANSFORMED by their births. Giving birth is as much to do with the making of a woman as it with the making of a baby. My Kundalini Shakti is awake and alive, and I owe it to my four beautiful children. (see An Awakened Birth, An Awakened Life to better understand birth as a transformational opportunity)