The Forgiveness Chronicles - Part VIII: Birth
Updated: Dec 31, 2020
The Forgiveness Chronicles, Continued
Part VIII – Birth
I stepped out of the car as the dust from the road swirled around me. It was dusk. The air was dry and warm, the scent of sagebrush tickled my nose with its heady, medicinal smell. There were few things that stirred my spirit more than the smell of deserts at sunset. Above me, the cloudless sky was fading to deep purple as the final rays of sun dipped below the mountaintops off to the west.
An elder approached me from a series of tent-like huts. “We have been waiting for you,” he said in a soft, but strong staccato voice. “Come.”
He smiled and gestured for me to follow him. A long gray braid trailed down his back, secured with a piece of leather and a cluster of feathers. He wore numerous strings of beads over his white T-shirt. His berry colored skin was creased with wrinkles, though it was impossible to guess his age. He moved with silent agility. The path was dirt, a long-worn trail through prickly pear and yucca and sage. Crickets and faint drumming carried on the breeze to my ears. We arrived at one of the huts and he pulled back a curtain made of a soft, heavy animal hide. I ducked slightly and went through. He gestured for me to sit.
I sat down on a beautifully woven blanket and slipped off my shoes, setting them below a low, wooden bench. I slipped off my bag, my jacket, my jewelry, until all that was left was me in my undershirt and skirt. The circular hut could seat only about five or six people comfortably on wooden benches covered with blankets that were placed around the inside walls. A small fire pit was in the middle of the hut and it was filled with large, smooth rocks. A cast iron pot hung above the small fire. The shaman sat down on the bench next to mine. His sharp eyes were the color of molten chocolate and seemed to see deep into the spirit.
“There is a great wound within you,” the shaman began. “To heal the wound, you must purge. Our great medicine, provided by the Earth Mother, can help you. At first, you will feel sick. You may need to empty the contents of your stomach. This purge is normal. A full cup cannot be filled,” he said, as he handed me a wide ceramic pot.
I took the pot and examined it. It was simple, but beautiful. Just smooth, orange clay made into a broad circular bowl. I sat it next to me.
“Once you have finished purging, you will begin to drift deeper into your consciousness. Doors will open. This reality will fade and you will begin to see other worlds. Do not be afraid. I will be here to guide you, to keep you safe. I will make sure you get enough water, and if you begin to feel too hot, we can sit outside,” he said.
“How long will it last?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Hard to say. Everyone is different. On average, maybe twelve hours.”
I nodded. I had been guided here. I had been through so many things before that moment, that little else scared me. “I am ready,” I said.
He smiled slightly. “Now, we breathe,” he said. “Breathe deeply of the Earth Mother, breathe deeply of Great Spirit. The deeper the breath, the more Spirit can open the portals within you.”
We spent several minutes breathing. I relaxed deeper and deeper into the heat and the sweat. He got out a small tray with a small pot in the middle and a round cup. He poured a dark liquid, like a tea, into the cup and handed it to me. It was peyote.
“It does not taste good, so best to drink quickly,” he chuckled. “When things get intense – and they will – remember to breathe. Nothing will harm you here. You are safe. Be as a warrior and confront the demons. The demons are not real; they exist only in our minds. Remember that no demon can survive the strength of Great Spirit’s love.”
I breathed deeply. A tear rolled down my cheek. “Thank you for sharing your sacred ceremony with me,” I said, hovering above the cup. The shaman smiled and nodded as I tilted the cup back.
The bitter liquid ran down my throat. My throat recoiled, but I held on. I resumed my breathing and closed my eyes. The nausea didn’t take long, and when it hit, it was like a tidal wave. My gut muscles clenched violently and I grabbed for the bowl. The waves of vomit rolled through me, one after another. The shaman sat peacefully watching, nodding his head occasionally, as if everything was going well, just as expected. Once the vomiting stopped, he quickly took the bowl and left, returning with a bottle of cool water. I pressed the bottle against my forehead and chest before taking big gulps and feeling the coolness of it coat the inside of my stomach. It was a relief.
By now, the shaman had gotten out a drum and a rattle and was softly chanting. The rhythmic sounds soothed me, and before long, I was no longer in the hut. I saw the huts below me in the desert, just tiny dots in a small desert valley surrounded by mountains. I continued to float upward and was soon surrounded by stars, then further, the galaxies looked like cells, and the groups of galactic cells looked like tissues, and on and on until the universe was but one big organism. That organism was but one of many, and this went on into infinity. The magnitude and the insignificance all at once was nothing short of awesome. I spent an unknown amount of time contemplating universes within universes, exploring how my own body was its own universe, made up of tiny galaxies all its own. How many worlds existed within us? Outside of us? The infiniteness of it all wasn’t overwhelming as much as it was expansive and humbling in its revelation.
Suddenly, that is when I saw my abusers. I was no longer floating among stars. I was back in the hut, but the shaman had been replaced by my childhood tormentors: the boy and his father who had abused me.
“Why?!?” I screamed. “Why did you do it?” I asked. I felt hot tears on my cheeks.
“It is part of your soul’s journey,” the man answered. “Ours, too.”
“What does that mean?” I asked through my tears.
“Everyone experiences being a victim, and everyone experiences being a victimizer,” the boy said. “My innocence was stolen, too. I had obstacles to overcome. We cannot fully understand or appreciate love without hate and rage. Light cannot exist without darkness,” he said softly in the little raspy voice I remembered him having.
“I knew love,” I said. “I feel lost now.”
The man shook his head. “You are not lost. You are finding deeper understanding. We are just souls here having experiences. You soul is not damaged. Your soul is richer,” he said. “Thank you for teaching us.”
I shook my head. “What did I teach you? I was only seven.”
The boy smiled. “You taught us that rage, deprivation, and darkness are not the answer. You taught us that no matter how badly we hurt, hurting others doesn’t help the pain go away. You taught us that control and domination are the opposite of love.”
I had a sudden feeling...my heart opening like a portal...of overwhelming love and gratitude, something I would never be able to fully explain. “Those are powerful lessons,” I said. “Thank you for helping me to understand the same things." As I reached out to hug the little boy, just as I was about to wrap my arms around him, he and his father evaporated.
By the time I reached my final trimester, my midwife was visiting me frequently. My liver wasn’t working efficiently because the baby was perched right on top of it. I switched my diet yet again to low fat foods like chicken breast and steamed vegetables with bland starches and fruits. I could only eat small portions throughout the day because there was no room left to digest anything. Stomach acid was constantly creeping up into my throat, burning everything as it went, which forced me to sleep sitting up. My ankles began to hurt. I was seeing my acupuncturist two or three times a week, begging for mercy.
“Is there any way to encourage the baby to be born?” I wailed in my final month. I could hear my midwife’s voice in the back of my mind, reminding me that the baby is the one who decides. I shoved the thought away.
My acupuncturist chuckled. “Not really. She will come when she is ready,” he would say. “But there are some things we can try to give you some relief.”
I sighed. That’s what everyone said. I would lay on my side, looking like a porcupine, staring into the dim, whispering to the baby.
“Are you sure you’re not ready to come on out and be cuddled?” I would ask. “Mommy’s tummy hurts!”
Silence. Not even so much as a flutter.
I would groan.
“You have to know that I am doing all this because I want to do what’s best for you, kiddo, but Mommy’s getting tired,” I would plead.
Not half as tired as you will be, my conscience warned me. Enjoy the silence you have now.
I sighed again. Maybe the little voice in there was right. Best not to rush it.
I put my little conversations with myself aside the following day and headed to the nail salon for a pedicure. A friend of mine told the story about how she had gotten a pedicure in the weeks prior to her due date and it had caused labor to start. The Vietnamese women eyed me with apprehension.
“How far along?” one asked, as she pointed at my belly.
“I’m due in two weeks,” I said. “I’d like a pedicure. The best one you have.”
“You sure you want foot rub? Sometimes foot rub make baby come,” she told me.
I nodded. “Yes! That’s what I want!”
Her eyes got wide. “No, you no have your baby here!” she protested.
By that time, I was dragging my favorite student along with me. “She won’t have her baby here,” my student said. “She’s a tough lady. She can make it home.”
“Home?!?” they looked at one another in shock. “No, you go to hospital!”
I replied by clamping my jaw shut and sticking my feet out to be rubbed. Despite the pedicures, my daughter continued to take her time, unpersuaded by anyone or anything. The days dragged on and I felt like the Goodyear Blimp. I began to grow anxious, wondering if she would ever be born. Once, I walked past the mirror and caught a glimpse of myself in a purple dress. I looked like the McDonald’s character, Grimace, or worse, Barney The Purple Dinosaur. After that, I tried wearing nothing but black…because it was supposedly a slimming color. Instead, I looked like Ursula from the Little Mermaid. I shook my head in disgust, impatient with trying to find a way to look human.
Every night I collapsed in a heap into bed, at first excited by the prospect of sleep, but then quickly growing frustrated by how often I had to get up to go to the bathroom. I began to wonder if all the trips to the toilet were conditioning for all the trips to tend to the baby in the middle of the night. If this was Nature’s way of conditioning mothers, it was brilliant. I would think of my midwife often and wonder what she would say. I knew she would give me a mysterious smile and agree that Mother Nature was indeed wiser than every person on the planet, combined.
The entire experience of using a midwife and never seeing a doctor, not once, was all about trust. The Wise Woman Herbalist had encouraged me to trust in miracles and the energy of magic. My midwife taught me to trust nature’s ability to give me a body that knew how to grow and birth a baby with little, if any, intervention. All I had to do was nourish my body with love, nutrients, rest, and hydration. I had given myself over to the process completely, enjoying the relief that came with relinquishing control and placing my faith in the hands of a wisdom so ancient we were foolish to try and trace it.
I slowly backed away from work. Pregnancy brain set in. I started scrambling words and transposing numbers, and to ensure I didn’t forget a single thing, my entire laptop was covered in post-its. My focus shifted to the huge transition I was about to undergo. Replacing fear and anxiety with confidence was a daily battle. I would worry incessantly about whether I had gotten all my motions submitted on time, by deadline; if I had remembered to make a certain argument; and if another revision would be required. I finally gave up on work the Thursday before my due date.
My midwife had told me that when the baby was ready to be born, I would feel her presence with greater frequency and intensity. I laid on the couch, propped up with pillows, listening to the winter wind howl outside, feeling the warmth radiating from the wood stove, smelling the rich broth of soup in the crock pot. I put my hands on my belly, trying to extend the sense of touch from my finger tips down into the womb, caressing the baby’s head. Was she there? Hello, little one…are you home? My thoughts probed the inky dark waters of my womb, but I could feel nothing. Two whole days were spent this way, laying in a restless, broken meditation, trying to discern my daughter’s spirit within me.
I drifted off to sleep with these philosophical meanderings cradling my soul…only to get up every half hour to use the bathroom. At four in the morning, I abruptly woke up to an urgent pressing upon my bladder. I wasn’t sure exactly how many times I had woken up to pee in the middle of the night…seven? Ten? Exhausted and reluctant to get out of my warm, soft bed yet again, I laid still a moment and made sure I really had to go. There was a tingling sensation, and I felt a small trickle of wet warmth between my thighs. I exhaled impatiently, as I scooted my butt towards the side of the bed and wiggled off, waddling into the bathroom, trying not to bump my big belly on a door frame or the counter. It was frustrating that only a few drops ever seemed to come out at once. I cleaned up and returned to bed. No sooner did I manage to shimmy back up into bed than I felt another small trickle of warm fluid. Dammit! I thought. I peed the freakin’ bed and I just went to the bathroom! I shoved the flannel sheets away and waddled back to the bathroom. This time I turned on the light and looked.
I texted my midwife at four-thirty in the morning, struggling to describe the strange fluid. Thick…watery, I thought, as I typed. An immediate reply came: my water had broken. Reality: it’s not that huge gush you see in movies! Apparently, movies are movies and the quintessential “big gush” is rare. My midwife assured me I could expect a slow leak to happen for a day or more until labor occurred. A day or more??? I quickly learned that labor did not always happen right after the water broke. Sometimes, it took hours – even days – before the contractions started. My midwife told me I should go back to bed and try to get some sleep and save my energy for labor and childbirth. Um, no, I thought.
Instead of taking her advice, I went to Chet’s side of the bed and shook his arm.
“My water broke,” I announced.
He rolled over and rubbed his eyes. “Okay, so….”
“My midwife said I should go back to sleep and get some rest.”
He sighed. “Okay, then, lay down and rest.”
“I can’t. I’ve got to vacuum, make soup, and get ready for the baby.”
“Do you need me right now?” he asked.
I paused. “No, you should probably sleep while you can.”
He smiled and immediately rolled back over and wasted no time drifting off.
Okay…so I need to make a cake, get the soup going in the crock pot, get the drinks out, do a load of laundry, vacuum, and change the sheets on the bed….the internal list began rattling off in my head and I distracted myself from wondering when the contractions would start and what they would feel like with a list of chores.
By nine in the morning, I had baked and frosted a birthday cake with a “0” candle placed on top for the baby’s arrival. Chicken noodle soup was slowly warming in the crock pot for Chet and the birthing team. I wasn’t so sure I would be hungry. The laundry was done and folded. Fresh sheets were on the bed. An assortment of juices and beverages were set out on the kitchen table, along with the “labor care kit” put together by my intern, which contained a cup with a straw, a headband, washcloths, lip balm, and other assorted goodies. I placed some candles around the house and lit them. I got a warm fire going in the wood stove and brought up the huge bouncy exercise ball from the basement. The living room floor was lined with fuzzy-backed plastic tablecloths and a stack of beach towels and old blankets were piled next to the couch. And that’s when the first contraction set in.
A jolt of electricity shot down my back, into my hips, and down my legs to my toes. I buckled and groaned, grabbing my belly. I lowered myself down onto my knees.
“Set up the birthing pool,” I instructed Chet through gritted teeth. He raised his eyebrows and went to the corner where a big plastic bag had been sitting for the last month and began unpacking the pool.
I crawled over to the computer keyboard and mouse pad, pulled up a contraction logging website and hit the button to record the duration of the contraction. “It starts,” I said through an exhale.
“Do we need to call the midwife?” Chet asked, as the air pump hummed in the background.
“Just text her. She isn’t going to rush over here until the contractions are a minute and a half apart,” I answered, sucking in a deep breath through my nose.
As quickly as the contraction came, it was gone. I hit the button on the mouse and the timer stopped, posting the first contraction on the log up on the television screen.
“That wasn’t so bad,” I told Chet. “Just like a bad cramp.”
“How long do you have before the next one?”
“No idea,” I said. Which means I had better get the last few things on my list done…NOW, I thought frantically. I changed into a bikini and a sarong and made the mistake of pausing in front of the floor length mirror in my closet. Good god, my belly is huge! I can’t see my thighs! My belly button is this huge flat circle! Look at that dark line…will that go away? I feel like a damn whale!
At just over five feet tall, there hadn’t been much room for the baby to begin with. As my belly grew, with all the oil I was constantly slathering on it, there were smears of oil on the walls, counters, fridge – anywhere I had been, there was probably an oil streak from where my belly had brushed up against something. Although the recommended amount of weight to gain during pregnancy averages around twenty-five pounds, I had put on fifty-five despite eating a healthy, organic diet and drinking an ungodly amount of herbal tea that was supposed to tone and support my uterus. My midwife was unconcerned with the weight gain, and chalked it up to water weight, but I felt all fifty-five pounds in my lower back. I wondered what was going to happen when the baby was born and all of a sudden, this big, taut stomach disappeared. Being a woman was full of surprises, and I was finding out that there were so many things that happened to women that even women never talked about.
Just as I left the mirror and rounded the corner of the kitchen, another contraction hit me. My knees wobbled weakly, but I slowly walked over to the mouse and hit the button to time it. From the first month I discovered I was pregnant, one of my best friends, Maria – a yoga instructor – had come to the house each week to give me prenatal yoga lessons. I had expected that the yoga lessons would keep me in shape during pregnancy, but instead, the lessons focused on breathing and relaxation. For months, I had been trying to learn how to huff and puff my way to calm, and here was the big exam. In through the nose, one…two…three…four…five…out through the mouth, AHHHHHHHH, soften, surrender, two, one…pause. Repeat.
“Seven minutes,” I announced. “Seven minutes in between.”
“Do I fill the pool now?” Chet asked, looking quizzically at me. I studied him carefully. He was exceptionally calm. I wondered if he was really that calm on the inside or if he was just exuding calmness to keep me from freaking out.
“Nope, not til five minutes apart,” I said.
At first, the contractions were manageable. They were no worse than a bad Charlie horse after a training run or the peak of PMS discomfort. If they are all like this, this won’t be so bad, I assured myself. I closed my eyes and sunk into the couch. My favorite dog, a chocolate lab pit bull mix that looked like a Holstein cow and fondly nicknamed “Moo,” jumped up next to me and laid her warm fuzzy head on my belly. I scratched behind her ear, wondering if she would get along with the new baby or if I would have to make the terrible decision of choosing the baby over my dog. In the past, Moo had shown an odd hostility to children, nipping them as though she was trying to scold them. After a couple incidents, we put her in a kennel whenever friends brought their children over. Within the next hour, my dad would be by to pick up the dogs and take them to their house during the birth. The cat was curled up by the wood stove, licking his paws. On the nights where the heartburn had been too obnoxious to sleep in bed and I was forced to sleep sitting propped up on the couch, my cat had curled up on top of my belly and had played with the baby. Every time she moved his paw would tap my stomach. He purred to the baby and she responded with a gentle press of the hand. I had marveled at the interplay between cat and baby, and found the interaction calming. I wondered if all my pets would be so welcoming upon her actual arrival. I pushed those concerns out of my mind and just tried to control my breath.
Soon, the contractions narrowed steeply from seven minutes apart to four minutes, and Chet dragged a lead-free hose from the bathroom to the living room and was filling the birthing pool with hot water. My midwife had told me that laughing helped open the pelvic floor, and my intern had left her copy of “Bridesmaids” for me to watch. I popped the movie in and slowly lowered myself into the hot water. My pain was instantly cut in half. I was laughing so hard by the time one of the bridesmaids had run out into the street and pooped herself that my contractions sped up exponentially. An hour into the movie, my contractions were ninety seconds apart and my midwife rushed over.
Unlike a doctor, my midwife never poked around in my pelvic area. I never once had to endure the awful clinical, metallic shame of stirrups. Yet, there was an odd apprehension in not knowing what was happening down there. The uncertainty didn’t grip me for long. I couldn’t focus on the movie anymore, and we switched to an all Beatles iTunes station. The Beatles were the only thing that came to mind that I felt like I could stand to listen to in that moment. On my hands and knees in the birthing pool, I let the pain wash over me in waves. Chet’s rough, hot, hands pushed on my back with each contraction, relieving the tension. The pain gradually became intense and blinding, a searing sensation of everything being expanded in multiple directions at once, radiating like ripples through my limbs. My midwife and her apprentice whispered gentle words of encouragement, but their words were lost in the ether. The music was lightly playing the background, but the house was eerily quiet. Occasionally, the wood stove would thud as the fire consumed the logs, disintegrating them into coals. The winter sun was pale and weak, filtering in through the translucent curtains and playing on the water in the birthing tub in hypnotic, dancing refractions. It reminded me of surfing: the water, the sun, the anxious momentum each wave brought, and the all-encompassing intensity that required total presence in the moment.
No one told me what to do, no one invaded my moment, and before long, I surfed the contractions with my breath, sinking deeply into each lull to savor the calm and then attempting to become one with the waves of pain when a new contraction reared up and barreled down. Time dissolved. Labor began to resemble a peyote trip. It was the only other time I could remember in my life where I was completely and totally immersed in the present moment for longer than an instant; there were no thoughts or concerns outside of the now. Everything around me faded away into a fuzzy abyss just beyond the reach of my awareness, and at its height, there was only me and the little baby, working together, finding our rhythm to bring her into the world to take her first breath. Until then, I breathed for both of us. During my labor, we became one, melded in a ritual of becoming. The oneness and connectedness of it all was so reminiscent of the trauma recovery work I had done with the shaman.
About two hours into the labor, my midwife whispered that I needed to get out of the pool for twenty minutes to allow my body to reset; otherwise, labor could slow down. I slowly stood up immediately after finishing a contraction and waddled to the toilet while the birthing pool was refreshed with hot water. The twenty minutes I was out of the pool were excruciating. The pain was blinding, sharp, and almost knocked the wind from my lungs. Nausea swept over me each time a new contraction began. Twenty minutes. That’s about twenty contractions. Nineteen…AHHHHHHHHHHH. Pause. Be grateful for the pause. Breathe. Eighteeeeeeen…AHHHHHHHHH. Imagine everything just opening up like a lotus flower blooming in the sun. Chet pressed my knees into my hips to relieve the pressure, but the pain was so intense, I fought to hang on to my focus. Fourteeeeeen….Become one with the pain. I am the pain. I willed myself to maintain my breath. Surrender to the pain…..niiiiiiiiine….
Twenty minutes felt like an eternity. Gratitude melted over me as I returned to the pool just in time for another contraction. I only had a moment to relish the warm, liquid embrace before my womb squeezed fiercely. After another two hours, the pain ratcheted up another notch. The doula who had come to the house for the birthing class a few months prior had demonstrated with a model of the human pelvis what happened to the pelvic opening when a woman laid on her back versus getting on all fours. When on the back, the pelvic opening narrowed by about two inches, while kneeling created more space and utilized gravity to assist in the process. I was on my hands and knees at this point, clutching the side of the pool so hard my knuckles had turned white beneath my skin, trying to create as much space as possible for the dreaded “ring of fire.” My midwife and her apprentice both warned me that when the baby’s head crowns, it will cause an intense burning sensation and that it is important to go slow to avoid tearing the delicate labial flesh. I couldn’t imagine the flesh so I pictured a pink rose petal instead. I was so focused on trying to maintain my breath that I could not speak. I could only make noises, unable to even connect with my surroundings. It was a primal moment, a rite of passage, the most instinctual I had ever allowed myself to be.
Despite all the repeated warnings about the dreaded “ring of fire,” I never felt it.
“Don’t push, you’ll tear,” I heard my midwife’s voice softly coaching, somewhere…I didn’t care where.
I had arrived at a surreal place in consciousness where pain was pain, and I almost welcomed the intensity. I took it as a sign that my body was opening this secret portal from some dimension beyond my senses into the present. It was the same portal I had seen on my vision quest in the desert. This new little being was preparing to make her entrance into a whole new realm of existence. In my mind, I watched this majestic opening, an oscillating expansion, and I could do nothing other than simply surrender to the process that enveloped me. I saw the spirits of my abusers, of deceased family members, and of souls I didn't recognize, all seemingly guarding this portal that was opening. I sensed a healing occurring, something sacred and beyond my understanding. I felt protected somehow.
In the absence of fear, there is little resistance and the pain became transcendent. I saw space, the infinite expanse of stars in the midst of a black abyss. A technicolor gyration forming a big, round vortex slowly yawned open like a psychedelic wormhole. I clung to Chet’s arms to reassure myself that there was something stable grounding me to the planet, that I wouldn’t just disappear into another universe. I trusted that my body, like the billions of other female bodies before mine, was designed for this very moment and knew exactly what to do…even if I did not. I saw more spirits, this time just women all around me: African women, Asian women, Indigenous women, all the Wise Women in spirit, lining this wormhole as though bearing witness to the safe passage of the baby’s soul. The goddess I had entrusted to present me with my purpose was the very same force that was there inside of me. In that moment I let go of the reigns and held strong to the conviction that divine feminine wisdom was moving through me, healing the trauma, wiping the slate clean for a new arrival. I was one with Creation itself. Awe swept over me in a flash as I gave gratitude for the process that created this little baby from just a spark love, grew the baby into a tiny human being, and now was delivering this baby through an opening that was agape with life. The technicolor vortex burst into a portal of pure, golden light that was so bright it was opalescent. I was blinded by both the light and the warmth of it. Suddenly, I felt the tiny little feet of my daughter shove off the roof of my uterus. At the same moment, the muscled ceiling of my womb slammed down like a fist pounding through a wooden board. I let out a groan and clung to to my husband's shoulders.
Then, there was silence. Everything went dark, as though the Big Bang happened and I was left floating in the quiet calm of deep, velvety black space, post-chaos, the fragments of afterbirth drifting past me. A gush of warm relief came over me as I collapsed over the side of the pool. I heard bustling around me, and somewhere in the hazy distance of my mind, I heard my midwife ask if the baby had been born. I looked down and saw that the water was opaque red, and then felt Chet’s hand on my shoulder steadying me. “Across the Universe” trickled in eerily from the stereo. I gave a wan smile. How fitting.
“Get the time,” someone said, though the voice sounded far away.
“Careful, don’t move,” Chet whispered into my ear. His breath was warm against my neck.
The water behind me swished.
“The cord is wrapped around the shoulder. Be still,” my midwife calmly instructed me.
I looked down. The amber tear drop pendant I had worn around my neck was dangling from the edge of the pool, the chain snapped in half. The amber must belong to my daughter, I thought. We are no longer tethered together.
The next thing I knew, I was sitting in the water and my midwife was placing a baby in my arms. The cord was short and when the baby had shot out in one push – which I later learned was a spontaneous ejection reflex, something that usually only happens in births without any medical intervention – it had tugged the placenta and caused a minor hemorrhage.
“What is it?” I stammered, even though I already knew. I lifted a leg. “Girl!” I announced.
I stared down at the little being, who wasn’t crying, her eyes still closed, looking more peaceful than I could have ever imagined a newborn looking. I was transported back in time to exactly two years prior, when I had experienced the most vivid dream of my life. I was sitting in bed, heavily pregnant, hands on my belly. I could feel the energy radiating from the little soul within me, the tiny undulations of life fluttering deep within my body. I had communed with the baby and could feel its soul connect with my own in a completely perfect union that words are inept to describe. A radiant warmth had wrapped itself around me and I had sunken into the embrace. I asked the baby to tell me her name, because the presence was decidedly female, and she had.
About nine months later, the dream still lingering in a dark crevice of my heart, I began researching midwives and the first one I met with happened to be the one, who agreed to meet with me despite the fact I was not yet pregnant. She told me she knew she would be attending my birth someday soon. I was perplexed by her certainty. She didn’t know me. She had just met me. How could she possibly be so sure? Nine months after sitting at my kitchen table discussing the possibility of motherhood over tea and cookies, I conceived.
On the day of my daughter’s birth, exactly two years after our introduction on some indescribable astral plane, I was overflowing with gratitude for my midwife, who had allowed my body to do its own thing, without interference, in its own time. Thirteen hours after the water broke, my daughter had arrived. I had only been in labor for a total of five hours.
I looked down at my baby and marveled. No one yanked her from my arms and rushed her off to a nursery. Instead, my midwife encouraged me to hold my baby close, skin to skin, her warmth and mine meshed together.
“She is used to your heartbeat,” my midwife said. “She still needs to be able to hear it.”
I felt her tiny breaths but was stunned that she still had not cried. She slept calmly in my arms. Her first moments in this life on earth were peaceful, safe, and loved.
Chet helped me out of the pool and onto the couch where soft blankets were thickly layered for the baby and I. I snuggled down into the blankets, baby on my chest, and closed my eyes. I was enraptured by a fuzzy warmth that wound its way through my veins. I reveled in it.
Suddenly, a strange tingling began in my head and spread like rapid wildfire through my neck, torso, arms, and legs. I felt Chet gently pluck our baby from my arms as I began to convulse violently and uncontrollably, as though a massive earthquake had its epicenter in the pit of my being. I could feel my midwife put a cool hand on my shin, whispering softly that this was normal and to just relax and allow it to run its course. This was oxytocin and other hormones that flood the blood stream immediately after natural childbirth and it helps the milk come in.
When the shaking subsided, I was in a state much like the haze that comes with being in a euphoric, drug induced high. Everything tingled, almost like the tail end of an orgasm, and I closed my eyes and tried to remember to breathe. I felt Chet return our baby to my chest and cover her and I with a soft flannel blanket. She cooed her approval and my heart liquified into molten goo. My midwife lifted the bottom of the blanket to my knees and pressed on my belly, asking me to give a final push. I felt one last tiny pop of relief and a warm flood of substance. My placenta was out.
I watched as my midwife spread the purplish blob out on a large plastic sheet with gloved hands. Her head lamp was on. She slowly unfolded each piece, studying it carefully. It looked like a massive organ, its different moist parts glittering in the light. The umbilical cord was still connected to it, tethered to the baby’s belly. By now, the cord was a turning white.
“We’ve let all the blood we can drain from the cord into the baby,” my midwife explained. “It is now safe to cut the cord.”
She handed a pair of medical scissors to Chet, who took them and gently snipped where he had been told. She put a tiny band around the end of the baby’s side of the cord and some salve over the belly button.
“It will fall out within a week,” she told me. “Just keep it clean, and everything else will take care of itself.”
She turned her attention back to the blob on the floor. “Placentas are such amazing things,” she commented. “It’s incredible how each one is different, and how they sustain a baby.” She gently placed the placenta into a sterilized box and handed it to her apprentice. “We’ll have your capsules for you within 24 hours,” she informed me. Chet raised an eyebrow but said nothing. My midwife and I had talked about this already. Taking the placenta three times a day in capsule form, she had explained, could ward off post-partum depression and help me heal more rapidly. I had agreed to try it. She had been right about everything else, so I trusted her without reservation.
By this point, I was desperate for a shower. My midwife had put one stitch inside my vaginal wall and had told me that other than a tiny internal tear, I had not sustained any damage as a result of the birth, which was surprising, considering how quickly crowning had occurred. Though I couldn’t see anything down there, it felt like my entire bottom would fall out. Slowly, the cloud of hormones that suspended the pain were wearing off and sensation was returning to my body. The afterbirth pain was a dull, unsettling, teetering that made me think my insides were about to drop out onto the floor. I just wanted to wash the adrenaline off. The apprentice accompanied me to the shower, worried that I would be prone to slipping and falling because of weakness after the ordeal of birth. I was determined. I got on my hands and knees in the shower as she stood guard on the other side of the curtain. Chet and my midwife were in the bedroom weighing the baby and cleaning her up for her first swaddle. I washed myself gently, scared to feel around too much. I put on the special undergarments my midwife had asked me to buy, and my flannel pajamas that were two sizes too big, and shuffled gingerly to the bedroom.
I cuddled up in my fresh flannel sheets with our new daughter and my husband and enjoyed birthday cake in bed with the birthing team by our side. We sang Happy Birthday to the baby, and I drank the fluids everyone nagged me to drink. It was a blissful snapshot in time that could never be repeated; the strange pains and odd discomforts seem distant in comparison.
As I looked down at the baby in my arms, I marveled at how the universe worked. She had paid me a visit in my dreams, her little soul conducting its own reconnaissance mission to see if we were the right people to help her carry out her karmic purpose. When I had surrendered to my destiny that night by the lake, with a snap of cosmic fingers, a doorway had opened and my daughter’s soul had walked through.
All the good things in life – surfing, vision quests, moonlight magic, finding a soulmate, conception, pregnancy, labor, and childbirth – had all come through the process of surrender. Healing came from surrender. But that just left one thing to reconcile: how could I surrender into motherhood while at the same time having a career?
I had only received one piece of advice from a lawyer who had been mentoring me before I had the baby. I had finally worked up the courage to ask her how she managed it all. She had laughed and looked directly into my eyes and replied dryly, “you can have it all, just not at the same time.”