That’s when I dropped my pants.
Funny how few circumstances there are when going bottom-less in front of other human beings is totally appropriate, but childbirth is one of them. I was ready to get in the tub. So I settled into the warm water, my husband held my hand, and Cherise knelt beside us and started pouring water over my belly. A few moments later, Mary came and stood at the foot of the tub. She must have known somehow that I was still feeling guilty about giving birth on Christmas, and she knew I needed a way to let that guilt go. The words she said to me… oh those words… those beautiful, beautiful words. Perhaps I’m not quoting her exactly right, but she looked straight into my eyes and said words very similar to this:
There is no greater gift to God’s service than what we’re doing right here right now.
As soon as her message penetrated my heart, it was as though the guilt instantly released its grip on me, and I began to cry. It was a massive, monumental, beautiful release. I sobbed, “Thank you…” and Mary didn’t skip a beat before responding, “Thank YOU.” Cherise and Mary both encouraged me to cry and let it out. This was the first time I had ever cried in labor, and it felt good. Releasing those trapped negative emotions allowed my body to move forward, and the contractions became even stronger.
As Cherise poured water over my belly, she would periodically say positive words, such as, “Opening. Releasing.” I’m not sure if it was her words that reminded me, but as I lay in the water, I remembered a story I had read a day or two prior in Ina May’s Birth Matters. She told of a woman whose cervix had opened a significant amount (while Ina May was doing a vaginal exam in labor) simply because the woman had declared, “I just want to open up and have this baby!” Ina May explained: “When I told her what I was feeling, her joy at hearing this enabled her to open even more” (p. 29).
In this birth more than any of my previous four births I saw how intimately intertwined our bodies and minds are, especially during childbirth. After remembering Ina May’s story, I started thinking to myself, “I am opening. I am opening.” Almost without fail when I would say those words to myself, I would have a contraction. Whenever the labor seemed to be slowing down, I simply had to say to myself, “I am opening,” and inevitably things would pick back up again. I really felt like I was in control, like the pace of the labor was up to me, and that things could go as gently or quickly as I wished.
As things moved along, it was as though I would come to an emotional roadblock, and as I came to each roadblock, the right words would be spoken to me, usually by Cherise. My birth attendants were so exquisitely attuned to my process and my needs. It was incredible to hear exactly what I needed without even having to tell them what I was feeling. They just knew. I didn’t say a word of what was going on in my heart, but they knew. Each time this happened, their words would bring me to tears, and I would release the emotion that had been holding me back, and the labor would pick up and progress again. And then I would cry even more out of gratitude to them for the gift of those words.
As I soaked in the tub, I remember thinking that it felt like we had been there all day… that hours and hours and hours had passed. Time passes strangely when you’re in laborland. I asked my husband what time it was, and I remember being surprised that it was still morning. Some time after 10:00 a.m. It was around this time that they started pumping me full of herbal labor tea and coconut water. From this point on, someone was always putting a cup with a bendy straw in front of my face, saying, “Drink some more.”
Eventually I started feeling restless, so I announced that I wanted to get out of the tub. They wrapped me in towels and helped me climb out. I remember at that moment, Kelly started to say something like, “Do you want to sit on the toilet?” But Mary quickly stopped her and said, “Just do whatever your body tells you to do.” I did need to pee, and the toilet was close-by, so I sat right down. Getting my body upright and sitting on the toilet led to some pretty intense contractions, so I stayed put for awhile, moaning and gripping tightly to my husband when the intense waves rolled through me.
It was soon after this that my daughter came into the room, like my angel in Gethsemane, to give me strength for the finish. She asked me, “Are you OK, Mom?” And I quickly told her, “Yes.” Feeling her loving touches and her tender empathic energy was so beautiful. I was completely surrounded by love and support. I had never felt so protected, respected, and free in labor before. Once again I was in tears. Gratitude and pain mingled together and dripped down my cheeks as I sobbed and moaned through a few contractions. And Mary wiped my tears with a warm washcloth.
After a bit, I started to feel restless again, like I needed to do something different. I stood up. Mary said, “Yes, just do whatever you feel you want to do.” But I sort of looked around undecidedly, feeling a bit confused, and said, “I don’t know what I want…” Once again, she looked me right in the eyes and said, “Oh, but I think you do.” Instantly, she gave my power back to me. It was exactly the right thing to say. I went from feeling confused and frazzled one moment to feeling strong and courageous the next. I walked determinedly into the bedroom. I wanted darkness and privacy again.
After a few contractions standing and swaying, I lay on the bed, facing my husband. Cherise came in again and rubbed my feet. Things slowed down again for a bit, which was fine with me. At this point, I was so exhausted. Part of me felt like it was never going to end. But I said to my husband, “This won’t last forever, right?” He said, “Nope. It won’t.” I told him, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” I can’t remember what he said in response, but I think it was something excellent like, “You’re doing so great. I’m so proud of you.” At some point as we lay there in the dark, I heard Cherise pulling something out of my birth bag, and just moments later I felt her drape something over my body. Oh, my dear Cherise, I thought… You remembered. It was my white scarf, and I had forgotten about it. As I lay there, feeling like I couldn’t do it any more, she knew exactly what I needed. Under His wings you will find refuge. It was a tangible reminder that I was safe and supported and that everything would be fine.
Mary encouraged me to eat. She said that sometimes the body just needs to refuel so it can produce those strong end-of-labor contractions. I told her I was actually feeling pretty nauseous (which told me I was probably moving into transition), but I ate a date and some crackers, and Mary made a smoothie with oatmeal, dates, and powdered greens (sounds gross, but it actually tasted pretty good). After drinking and eating, I needed to use the bathroom again, so back to the toilet we went. Then I tried the birth sling for a bit. Then I stood up. Then I got that sickening feeling no one likes to feel, promptly turned around, and heaved the contents of my stomach into the toilet… over and over and over. Wow. Never done that in labor before. So much for refueling, I guess.
Cherise told me that it was around this point that Mary asked if she had any peppermint oil, so she grabbed some as well as some Ylang Ylang, and rubbed it on my arms. She says I inhaled deeply and seemed to take comfort in the scent. I sat back down on the toilet, and they helped me wipe the vomit off my face, asking if I wanted some water to wash out my mouth. But I was so out-of-it that I just shook my head.
At this point I think I started crying again. But this time it was because I was so incredibly tired and didn’t want to feel the pain anymore. Mary was kneeling on the floor in front of me, and I told her, “I just want to be done.” But even as I said the words, there was still a part of me holding back, still a part of me that was afraid to let my baby out of my body, worried about what the future would hold.
My eyes were closed as I leaned on my husband, but I heard Cherise’s voice next to me:
Remember… you’re under His wings. Right now, two hours from now, two days from now, two months from now, two years from now.
The right words. The perfect words.
And the tears erupted again, and I released the fear.
I was ready.
I stood up, and I got in the sling.
Once I told my body I was ready, I knew she would come. And she did.
I wailed as I felt Hope descend deeper and deeper, opening me wider and wider. It hurt so bad, but I was so ready for it to be over that the pain just made me push harder. Mary said the amniotic sack was hanging down between my legs. Then it burst, and I felt her head stretching me, crowning. I start breathing through pursed lips, little breaths, easing through the ring of fire. And then her head was out, and her slippery body followed. And I felt like I had never been so relieved before in my life.
She didn’t make a sound. Not even a tiny cry. She just started breathing, calm as can be. It was 11:54 a.m.
Our Hope was here. Our first Christmas gift of the year, and our best Christmas gift of all time.