My second son came into the world two months ago after a long, hard labor, dropping into my midwife’s hands as I knelt on my bed at home.
This birth was a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) and I have, in essence, been planning it for seven years, shortly after my first son came into the world after 54 hours with the help of a surgeon’s scalpel, much to my surprise and my devastation.
My path here wasn’t straightforward, however, by any means. The prior years resulted in two miscarriages (you can read about them here and here) and a move across the country that left me without known care providers shortly before becoming pregnant.
In fact, even though I had planned a home birth with both prior pregnancies that ended in loss, I spent much of this last pregnancy uncertain, confused and afraid, unsure whether this birth would, in fact, be better suited for a hospital. To aid me in my confusion, a psychic told me home birth was not to be due to complications and another mother told me a horror story about her own stillbirth VBAC, practically begging me to give birth in a hospital.
And yet, my heart! Underneath all my uncertainty, I could feel the strong beat of my heart, clearly communicating my longing to bring this child into the world at home and telling me I could trust myself to follow that desire.
Within all of this, I spent a lot of time exploring my resistance to birth in general and to my desires for this birth, specifically. At some point - I think it was in the context of a therapy session - I had the profound realization that I already had everything I needed for this birth. Which isn’t to say that things couldn’t go awry, but rather that I had changed in the years since my first son’s birth, when I felt so unprepared, so unsupported, so blown out of the water. I had not only gathered the outer resources but I had the inner resources, too, no matter what transpired.
I moved forward with my desire to birth at home and as I neared my due date, I made more and more preparations for the experience, including creating this wall of affirmations.
Truthfully, affirmations can be tricky. They can be like sweet icing on a bitter cake, an effort to mask painful beliefs that lie beneath what you are hoping to affirm. And, of course, they can also serve as an invitation to a new way of being and even a reflection of beliefs you want to keep front and center. I knew that my own creation was a blend of all of this - that these affirmations reflected deep, deep work that I’ve done but that I also wasn’t entirely done with some of these old beliefs, the ones that have been (problematically) protecting me for years and years.
These are the specific affirmations / reminders / invitations I chose to put on my wall for labor and I want to say a few things about them.
First of all, you get a lovely peek into the messiness of my psyche if you consider the reverse of these. For example, I’ve spent a lot of my life believing that being powerful means losing connection with those I love. Sometimes, it’s been true. Unfortunately, I started applying that belief to all aspects of my life somewhere along the way and didn’t challenge it, didn’t even SEE it until I was getting closer to my son’s due date. Beautifully, this belief didn’t come up at all during labor. In fact, I felt connection the whole way through and it was actually through a deep connection with my husband that I found the power I needed to push for three hours and I could see reflected in his face that I was wholly accepted.
You can also glimpse my concerns about safety and trust in the larger experience. I thought for a long time that only a certain kind of birth could be perfect, which both negates the powerful medicine that was my first son’s birth but also creates a VERY limited playground in which I can enjoy my life and trust in Life. For this birth, even if I was being wheeled out of the house on a stretcher, I wanted to be reminded that all was well in the larger, cosmic sense.
And there are two messages here that I couldn’t hold onto while I labored. I often felt that I actually couldn’t do this, no matter the fact that I WAS doing it. In fact, I screamed as much to everyone around a handful of times. It also did not feel safe to me to feel big sensations in my pelvic bowl. In fact, it was excruciating and I am committed to seeking more healing here, knowing that the level of unsafety I experienced is an invitation to do more work. So this affirmation turned out to be aspirational - something I desire but could not hold onto under pressure.
But more than anything I want to bring you back to the main message on my wall: I have everything I need.
While I was laboring, there were times when I wanted to do anything and everything to get out of the birthing experience. I was in tremendous pain and dilation was slow and I screamed and cried and repeatedly suggested that someone please bring me to the hospital because this was just too hard and I could’t do it anymore. (No one took me seriously, I am glad to report.)
It turns out this home birth was a healthy choice for me and my baby (and it was AMAZING), and if you take that into account - that there was no medical reason to transfer to a hospital - here’s why I got what I wanted even when, while under duress, I decided I didn’t want it anymore: old Jen took care of future Jen. I did my very best to prepare my body and my mind and my environment to be able to receive this gift. I intentionally created an outer reality that would give me the best chance of fulfilling my internal desires that were clear and pure. This way, when things got really, really, really hard and I didn’t want to go on, I had what I needed to go on anyway. I had it inside (someday I will write to you about the deep fierceness I found) and - and this is essential - I had it outside in the form of my husband and my midwives and a 10 mile distance between me and the hospital that would take away my pain.
Living in a body is a strange thing. I confess that I am not entirely reconciled to it with its pain and messiness and confusing realities. This birthing experience made clear to me that I would have traded in all my deep desires for just a little bit of relief if the Jen who existed before labor began hadn’t been looking out for the Jen in labor, if pain relief had been just a little bit more convenient and didn’t require getting into a car while contractions were non-stop. If she hadn’t done so much work to ensure I had everything I needed, I would have gladly tapped out.
So thanks, Jen, for knowing me so well. Thanks for going to therapy every single week and for getting bodywork done and for doing ritual. Thanks for years and years of attention to your body mechanics, for untucking your pelvis and for climbing trees and for sitting in the dirt. Thanks for listening to your heart, even when you were afraid. Thanks for choosing the right midwives and the right husband and the right childbirth educator and for paying attention to your needs even when the culture told you not to.
This birth was medicine unlike any other I have experienced and every day I bow with gratitude to the Giver of Life and to my husband and to my first son and my newborn son and to the many, many people who walked with me to this threshold. And I bow to me.