February 18, 2010

Brought to you by August’s afternoon nap.  A precursor to the birth story:

I never expected that childbirth would feel so much like death.  In spite of the healthy respect I have for women from my many hours spent in a labor room (always on the other side) caring for, encouraging, comforting, cheering on mothers and occasionally catching babies, I was not prepared.

I am now positive that no woman ever is.

I have never tried to convince anyone that I knew what childbirth felt like–physically, emotionally or otherwise.  I’ve seen the tears, heard the groans, wiped the sweat, took part in the dance of laboring a child into the world but never, ever had I uttered the words “I know”.   I’ve seen mothers push their bodies to the limits and I know that our bodies are a thing which can be trusted.  A mother’s body knows how to conceive, grow, nurture and bring forth a child.  I do not need to place blind faith in the ability of a woman’s body to birth.  I have seen it time and again and can testify.

Still, I did not realize that my own delivery would take me so close to feeling as if death were imminent.   It was so much harder than I ever expected, and so much richer.

I paced, I squatted, I cursed, I cried, I pulled at my hair and, near the end, made sure everyone around me knew that I was dying.  Goodbye, this is the end for me. I am dying.

Labor is excruciating.  Choosing not to receive medication takes the courage to say I know my body can do this and I am willing to stand by that no matter how hard it gets. And it gets harder than one who has not been to the depths of labor can imagine.  It is as if you are being pulled under by a wave of pulsating pain.  You are drowning and all you want to do is fight for your life (for surely you are dying) with flailing arms, explosive words and tensed muscles.  It is the fight of your life and the only way to win is to give in.  To allow that pain and fear to come and wash over you, through you and, eventually, past you.  And with each contraction your mind is telling you this is it, this time it will kill you. But it is in these terrifying moments when you must allow that still, small, quiet and peaceful voice in your heart to remind you, I was made for this.

I’ve now attended several births since my own and I still am in awe of the power of childbirth.  And as I am with these mothers while they go through that impossible point in labor when death seems imminent, I cannot help but hold their hand and quietly say I know. I know.  I know that going through the pain is possible.  That somehow, our bodies overcome.  I know how difficult it is to let go and allow that pain to come without fighting.  And, ultimately, I know that it is temporary; death does not win.  The moment following the most chaotic, awful, death-defying pain of your life, you will burst with tears of joy.  New life.  Your baby.

Motherhood is the most important relationship in the continuum of life.  Standing in the face of death is a small price to pay to get there.

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2 Responses to “”

  1. Beautiful!! The anticipation is building:)

  2. Erin said

    Hi Amber,

    I’ve come out of the wood work to comment! I wanted to say thank you. I’m 8 months pregnant with my third and with labor and delivery soon approaching, I find myself getting more and more nervous. My other two were born via c-section (standard in Namibia). I’ve been trying to rev myself up, but to be honest, I’m deathly afraid! I just recently watched a close friend deliver naturally (no pain med) and had to literally force myself to stay in the room because of how much pain she was in.
    Anyway, your comment ‘I was made for this,’ has settled my heart (possibly the calm before the storm?). It’s what I will hold onto mentally during this delivery. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

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