Warrior Girl is 2 years and 3 months old now, and as I prepare for her sister’s upcoming birth, (did I mention we’re having a GIRL?!?) memories of Warrior Girl’s birth are fresh on my mind. It was one of the most incredible days of my life, because it was the day I met my daughter and the day I became a mother.
But in addition to that, part of what was incredible was the actual process of giving birth.
Reader beware: the story below contains talk of cervix, dilation, etc. Oh, and one F-bomb. Because birth is messy, people. Turn back now if you don’t want the details.
My water broke at 11:30 pm on August 4th. It was the full-on gush that happens frequently in movies and much less frequently in real life. I was suddenly confronted with many of my fears about giving birth and remember vividly thinking What have I gotten myself into?
I laid in bed that night analyzing every cramp and twinge, waiting for labor to start. Was that a contraction? What the hell does a contraction even feel like? I got a bit of sleep, but mostly googled scary stuff on my phone about what happens when your water breaks and labor doesn’t start and became increasingly anxious.
J and I went to my scheduled prenatal appointment the next morning with hospital bags in tow. When I informed my midwife, Julie, that my water had broken nearly 10 hours ago, she looked a bit alarmed. She checked me, and reported my cervix was not dilated… at all. Now I was even more scared, because the cramping I’d been experiencing was painful and uncomfortable, and I wasn’t even having contractions!
We were sent immediately to the hospital to be induced. I was scared of induction because I had heard Pitocin makes contractions more painful and I had been planning an unmedicated birth. Fortunately, I remembered what I had read about naturally inducing labor in Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. In a brief moment alone, I remembered some of the tricks of the trade and started my own labor just before the nurse returned to induce me!
I spent a few hours with J, walking the hospital grounds and enjoying early labor. My fear was gone and I was excited.
My attitude at that time, having never given birth, was that whatever it was going to be like, I wanted to experience it. Even if it was painful, this was my chance to have the experience of bringing new life into the world and I wanted to be fully present for every pain and every breath. Good or bad, pleasure or pain, I wanted to go through it.
I lost all concept of time very soon after my contractions began in earnest. By around 5 pm that evening, things began to pick up and my midwife met us back at my room.
I sat on a birthing ball and rolled with the rushes. Each “contraction” felt like nothing more than raw energy, rather than pain or anything else. One rush rolled through that was distinctly pleasurable, and to my surprise, I did not like it. I wanted to experience the energy in it’s raw power, without any form or qualities, such as pleasure or pain.
The rushes immediately went back to pure, raw energy and the subjective experience of pleasure was gone.
I soon got into the bathtub and found myself promptly nearly bowled over with such strong energy I felt I was climbing the walls. I vomited multiple times, then looked up at my husband who gave me a sweet, confident smile. When he smiled, I knew everything was fine, and just felt thrilled to be on this wild, wild ride.
From the bathtub, I immediately found myself kneeling on the floor, leaning against the side of the bed. The energy was moving strongly downward. I told my midwife pushing was happening as I rocked back and forth with each wave.
I had no awareness of a personal self, no awareness of time, no fear, no pain, no pleasure. Only this overwhelming energy which at times felt like more than a human being could possibly integrate. Again and again, I let the energy in, then let the energy out, which was an incredible challenge and required complete focus.
Each rush increased in intensity. The only way to go was onward. The energy pushed downward again; I felt the downward movement, my vocalizations got louder. There was no room for thought, no room for a personal self, there was only the movement, the energy, the sounds, the birth birthing. There was no thought of trying to push or trying not to push. There was no pushing; the energy just kept moving downward in small, brief thrusts.
Now the intensity increased beyond what I would have thought a human body could endure. It was then, if not before, that I seemed to briefly embody the Hindu goddess Mata Kali, or a lioness, or… something. I felt fierce, and strong, and brimming with power.
With the next downward thrust, I threw back my head and roared. I could feel my baby low, low, in my pelvis, and so I knelt on one knee, and opened the other leg out to the side, making as much room as possible.
I was gripped in the fury. Sometimes, at the start of a contraction, I cried out, “Oh no, oh no!” before surrendering into it, but even as I did so, I knew it was not real. I was not scared. I was Kali. (Is that sacrilegious?) The feeling of my little girl descending was incredible, and indescribable. The power was overwhelming. Several times, in between thrusts, I asked, “Is she almost here? Is she almost here?”
Julie kept assuring me that she was almost here. Finally, one contraction, one downward thrust was so hard and powerful, that I felt the “ring of fire” for all of a second or so. I immediately took that as feedback to let the energy slow down a bit, and that was the only time I felt any actual “pain” in the whole labor and delivery.
“Is she coming!?” I cried. On the next push, I roared fiercely as my baby made her descent.
“Reach down and feel her head,” said Julie. I reached down, but could feel nothing. Then, gripped in the energy, I let out a scream at the top of my lungs.
“FUUUUUCK!!!!” I shrieked.
Now I could feel the head, right in my hand.
“Pull your baby out,” said Julie.
I do not remember doing this, but I pulled her out right to my chest. Then I just held her tightly against my breast, and knelt in complete shock and wonder.
Julie came behind me to check on the baby, while I just stared at that little being. It was so amazing, it was beyond what I could comprehend, conceptualize, or even integrate.
They helped me into the bed then, and toweled off her backside while I kept holding her. They covered her with warm blankets, and I laid there and stared at her until my neck hurt from craning. J came over and she held his little finger in her tiny, perfect fist. She did not seem the least bit distressed to have just been born. Instead, she simply looked around with wizened eyes, as though she were quite prepared for, and accepting of, a lifetime on this earth.
I feel very fortunate to have had such a wonderful birth with Warrior Girl, and that everything went so smoothly. Later, though, trying to process what happened was…challenging.
Shortly after Warrior Girl was born, my body began to shake, especially my legs. This continued at an uncomfortable level for several days. Weeks later, I would sometimes lie down to go to sleep and suddenly flash back to pushing. Any time I thought about the birth or flashed back to pushing, I would begin to shake again.
In the days and couple of weeks following, I got hardly any sleep, due to the difficulty Warrior Girl and I were having breastfeeding. This was fine, however, because I was filled with adrenaline and energy still. I was not very tired considering how sleep deprived I was. The high lasted perhaps a week or more.
I really had no way to conceptualize what had happened to me… Since then, though, I have come up with a number of different “stories” that could be told about my birthing experience.
1.) The Yogic Philosophy: The energy I experienced was “kundalini,” the primal life-force energy which lies mostly dormant within us all like a sleeping snake until/unless it is awakened. When this energy is awakened, it can lead lead to spiritual experiences and/or awakenings. Kundalini is not just a concept, it is a real and literal energy of incomprehensible power. It is frequently activated during childbirth.
2.) The Shamanic Perspective: What occurred was the shamanic experience of shepherding a spirit between the seen and unseen worlds, a process requiring temporary suspension of the thinking mind, the personal self, and the material world’s conception of time in order to cross from the physical to the non-physical world and back again.
3.) Classical Science/Reductionistic Perspective: What I experienced was an altered state of consciousness, produced by the body’s release of catecholmines, oxytocin, beta-endorphins, prolactin, etc. Such experiences are nothing more than a chemical reaction in the brain and body, just as one might experience immediately before death or during times of extreme pain. After all, there are even machines that can stimulate the brain to cause “spiritual experiences.” This is, of course, the most publicly accepted paradigm in the western world currently.
4.) Hybrid Perspective: The physical body is a human spirit’s instrument of perception, and therefore real spiritual experiences are perceived via brain and hormonal changes. Physical changes therefore occur simultaneously with real spiritual experiences. What is perceived is real, and the brain/hormonal changes allow this perception, rather than being the cause/explanation in and of themselves.
No doubt there are countless other ways to explain my mystical birthing experience as well….
Being that we cannot disprove the existence of the spiritual through reducing everything down to physical/material explanations, and we cannot prove spiritual beliefs to be true… which story do you prefer?
What do you think is the best story? Through what lens do you conceptualize such experiences? Share in the comments below!