This is the first piece of writing I ever posted online, back in fall of 2006. When I started my first blog, Nourished Mother, in 2008 it was the first thing to go up on that site. I'm happy to resurrect it here on Mythic Medicine, and amazed at what my idealistic, dewy-eyed 25-year-old self did on that hot summer day that now seems so long ago... (You can read the story of my 2016 home birth here)
I became interested in (and, at times, slightly obsessed with) homebirth about three years before my daughter was born. Like most Americans, my conception of birth had been based on what I had absorbed from the mainstream media: scenes of screaming women lying flat on their backs in brightly lit rooms with strangers coming in and out and the heroic (male) doctor finally "delivering" the baby. But then, in the space of one week in March 2003, I happened to come across two stories of homebirth, one in a magazine and one in a book, that described a completely different experience. The women in these stories were allowed to move around according to the needs of their bodies, were surrounded by loving people who believed in the safety and the sacredness of birth, and were given the time and space to let their births unfold as they were meant to. In short, they were empowered. I cried during each reading.
In November of 2005 I "met someone". We bound ourselves to one another in a handfasting ceremony three days later and, two weeks after that, conceived a child in a coastal redwood forest while making love for the first time. With the deepening of winter in December came the realization that I was pregnant, and with it an onslaught of questions about how and where we would go through the pregnancy, birth, and parenthood (we were wandering vagabonds at the time). But one thing we knew for certain: we would have the baby at home, wherever that was.
He had not delved into the world of childbirth as thoroughly as I had (though he had perused Ina May Gaskin's Spiritual Midwifery!), but his own background had led him to draw the same conclusions about the security and sanctity of every manifestation of Life, including birth. He was a natural foods chef and had spent the year previous to our meeting working on an organic farm. He has a deep reverence for the earth that I had experienced only on an intellectual level before meeting him. I'll never forget the moment during the first conversation we ever had, at a Fall Equinox party on a small urban farm, when he had me bend down and put my hand deep into the soil of a bed of buckwheat.
This was only the beginning of my ventures out of my conceptual mind and into the realm of actually experiencing and participating in the natural world, an exploration that would find its greatest expression in the act of giving birth. Throughout the pregnancy he introduced me to a variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, and grains that I had never tried before, and I began to know, through sensuous connection with my body, the miraculous vitality that expresses itself through Mother Nature so that she can feed and sustain all of creation.
The idea of having a freebirth, with no midwife or other professional attendant present, had intrigued us even before we discovered that there was a little sprout in my belly. But we decided to take the safe route and hire a midwife this time around, figuring that, if nothing went wrong, we would birth unassisted with subsequent children.
Then at our five month appointment, as I lay back on the table watching the midwife examine my belly with her hands, I had the overwhelming feeling that I did not want this woman, or anyone other than my partner, at my birth. More specifically, I didn't need anyone else at my birth. Thinking of it in terms of "if nothing went wrong" had seemed itself to be very wrong to me throughout the pregnancy, and I became cognizant of the fact that the act of trusting was in and of itself the most important factor in creating an optimal birthing experience. This moment on the midwife's table was the strongest flash of intuition I had ever received, and I look back on it as the beginning of my awareness of my inherent mothering intuition (which, of course, also plays a significant roll in the unfolding of a peaceful and fulfilling birthing experience).
We spent the next month doing a lot of research online (we had no idea that so many other people were choosing unassisted birth) and a lot of soul-searching. Finally, I got up the courage to call our midwife and inform her of our decision. We decided to meet one more time, and at this final appointment she gave us big hugs, a list of supplies she would keep on hand (not one of which we actually ended up using), and total support and encouragement. We were on our own.
We decided not to tell anyone of our decision, in order to keep negative and fearful energy at bay. I continued to eat a nutritious diet, drink herbal teas that support pregnancy and birth, and practice a mild form of yoga everyday. A couple of months before the birth, my mom, who I talk to almost daily, figured out our plan to birth unassisted. She was worried at first, but when we presented her with all of our research and the relevant facts and statistics, and assured her of our total trust in the process, she became more trusting as well.
We decided to tell my grandma and sister, since we're kind of a foursome and it seemed odd to have a secret between just two of us. They all wanted to be at the birth, but especially my mom and grandma, both of whom had birthed all of their children naturally in hospital settings. I am especially in awe of my grandma for this because she defied the hospital staff in an era when most women were having "twilight births" (a practice, most common immediately following World War II, wherein laboring women were drugged to the point of unconsciousness and awoke to find that their baby had been born). In the matriarchal society of elephants, women relatives attend one another's births, and since elephants are amongst my favorite animals, I delightfully considered the idea of inviting mom and grandma to attend. But in the end I decided that the remnants of their worrisome energy might interfere too much with the smooth unfolding I wanted for my birth, so we did not invite them.
So when my water broke at 8:30pm on Sunday, August 13th, as we ran around filling up the birthing tub and brewing anti-hemorrage herbal teas and charging the camera, we also made sure to remember to turn our cell phones off. We set up a makeshift altar next to the tub, the centerpiece of which was the Tarot card "Trust", depicting a person free falling/flying through empty sky, which I had pulled from the Zen Osho deck three times during the previous week. I labored through the night, switching between the birthing tub (which we had rented from the midwife), the shower, and sitting on the toilet. Every time that I had sat on the toilet during my last month of pregnancy I thought to myself that it was the ideal birth-giving position for me. Still, I wanted a water birth and spent most of my labor in the tub.
It was in this tub, during the later part of the morning of the 14th, that I started to periodically slip away from the assured, focused state of mind I had been in all night and began retreating into strange, dream-like states of consciousness between contractions. I was exhausted. The baby's head was centimeters away from coming out, we could feel and see her, and I would give my all with every push, sure that with this one she would be coming out. But for what seemed like an eternity, she didn't. We had my medical papers stacked by the door, and knew the route to the nearby hospital. Still, we knew without having to verbally communicate it that everything was all right, that our full thoughts and spirits were still in it, and that a beautiful baby would be born that day.
At about one o'clock in the afternoon we heard a tap on our front window. We were surprised and angry. Not now! Didn't they see the sign on the door? We ignored the knock. Then a few minutes later we heard rustling sounds in the back room, and shortly after that my mom and grandma entered the front room where we sat in the birthing tub. I will never forget the moment they walked in. They seemed angelic, the afternoon sunlight dancing off the fabric of their clothes. They looked into my eyes so deeply and lovingly, and my spirit lifted and expanded. We were both renewed by their presence and the shift in energy that it brought. My grandma was crying because she had heard the sounds I was making and, as she put it, "I can't stand to see you in pain." I explained to her that it really wasn't pain so much as just a very, very intense sensation that I needed to vocalize in order to move through it.
After we caught them up on what had been happening we decided that I should get out of the tub. With the help of all three of them I made it to the bathroom, where I found relief on the toilet. The relief was short lived however because within minutes I realized that this baby was coming now! The already-intense sensations became even more so, and I could feel her head crowning. Her father, who was kneeling in front of me, said "Stand up!" and I did, bending over him and supporting myself by putting my hands on the wall there. It seemed that I was far away, projected into space; out of my body, but at the same time in it like never before.
She made sweet little sounds as her newly-emerged head hung from my body, almost like a kitten mewing. Then, according to her dad, her right shoulder and then her whole right arm came out, and then the rest of her body quickly slipped into his hands. I sat back down, in awe, in shock, hand on my newly shrunken belly. "It's a girl!" said my mom, confirming the intuition that we had had all along (we always referred to the baby as "she").
We did it. It was done. Those months of anticipation, of researching and learning and discussing, of asking ourselves "are we doing the right thing?", had all culminated in this divine moment, in this unbelievably vibrant, perfect being.
For me, I see two factors that contributed to this joyous outcome. The first is trust. It was absolutely necessary. Observing and interacting with the natural world had instilled in me a deep trust of Life's processes and energies, and I knew that my body was a part of that. And birth, as the ultimate act of creation, is strongly, deeply interlinked with that sacred Life force. The second is the connection I felt with my ancestors (including those of the fungi, plant, and animal kingdoms as well). As I stood up to push my daughter out, I was very aware of my mom and grandma standing in the room with me. As I envisioned the woman who had birthed me and and woman who had birthed her, I could see the thousands of generations of birthing women stretching back into prehistory, and I knew undoubtedly that my body was made to do this (despite years of gynecologists commenting on how "small" I was). My elephants had been there after all.
Through this process I came to realize that we exist because the earth exists, and that the earth exists because the universe exists. We are all literally made up of remnants of starlight, and so are inextricably entwined with all of the cosmos. The Life force does not worry over the future, it does not fret about its next act of creation. There is nothing but trust, interconnection, and love. Every birthing woman (no matter where she gives birth) can call upon these forces and embody their power in order to ensure that her baby blossoms forth from her body in its own perfect time, in its own miraculous way.
Post Script: I took the idea of Matrilineal Love many, many MANY generations farther back in a blog I posted on my birthday this year entitled Deep Ancestry. If that sort of thing whets your whistle, then do check it out).