My labor came on strong and fast. For the first hour one contraction would roll right into the next, and I was convinced the Mexican food I had earlier that evening was wrecking havoc on my intestines. Sure that I needed some kind of medical support I woke my husband and told him to grab The Bag, but also assured him I wasn’t in labor, I probably just had food poisoning.
I was in limbo for the first thirty minutes at the hospital, unsure if I was in labor or about to have diarrhea. Waves of energy reverberated from my uterus, causing tremors in my legs. The sensations were so far beyond pain they didn’t even register as uncomfortable. Because there was no room left for me amid the shaking, I floated above myself.
When a nurse confirmed that it was my uterus, not my bowels, causing all the commotion, a flip switched and I allowed myself to fully check out of my body and into an ethereal space. As the birthing woman was wheeled to her labor and delivery room, I floated behind her, noticing the silent sounds of the time warp she was traveling through – leaving one world behind, and pushing into another.
I had spent months listening to guided meditation recordings that had me floating with unicorns and angels on rainbow-colored clouds of cotton candy. The scene my mind dropped me into during childbirth was much different. I found myself being sucked up into a behemoth wave as the surge of each contraction flowed through me, and I would reach the peak of the wall of water just as my body reached the peak of the surge. As the surge subsided I would slide down the back of the wave. Roughly thirty seconds would lapse before the next wave would draw me up.
During one particularly strong surge I felt like I had reached a tipping point between pain and pleasure. I felt the urge to moan, and as I did an orgasm rolled through me. A real, live orgasm! I couldn’t believe it. I surrendered to waves of pleasure that continued until the contraction subsided. I didn’t have another orgasm, but the trust in my body, and awe of the power of birth, that orgasm produced stayed with me through the rest of birth. It gave me the grace and courage I needed to finish the journey.
Another phenomenon I found fascinating was that time ceased during labor. Each surge was encapsulated in its own Twilight Zone. To allow this timeless state to persist, we closed the blinds, preventing the pervasive messages of the rising sun to intrude. Time did not cease for my doctor, however, who decided it was time to break my water. “It would speed things along.”
This memory is like a shape-shifting dream that changes its story each time I try to remember it. Someone must have given consent for the intervention. Surely it wasn’t me, but maybe it was. Maybe my doctor asked me while I was experiencing the peak of a surge. Maybe I so desperately wanted to meet my baby that I no longer cared how it happened. Maybe the doc just did it. I don’t know, but I do know what it felt like as the amniotic fluid poured out.
I felt emptiness. I felt like I was losing my padding. That liquid was the first product of labor to escape me, and its loss had impact. I could feel the (totally valid) possibility of my baby being born in-caul (and maybe becoming the next Dalai Lama) draining out of me. (Did you know Tibetan Buddhists seek Caulbearers to bring up to become potential Dalai Lamas?) I also felt relief that my baby might be coming sooner than expected – my labor was now hard.
And then I began to shift into the final phase of labor. I breathed through my nose, visualized my waves, and asked for an epidural. Have you ever been in a rainstorm where you think, “Wow, it’s raining really hard! It can’t possibly rain any harder,” and then it begins to rain harder? That’s how my transition into the last act of labor was: really hard rain that was made of intense sensations and endorphins. I wasn’t given the epidural. I was too far along (almost nine centimeters dilated), and by the time I was pulled into another surge I forgot I had asked for it. Childbirth without an epidural was not easy, worth every fierce moment, and gave me an insider’s understanding of the reason some women choose to birth with drugs, and some without; they are all amazing.
With each surge and purposeful breath, I was intent on giving my body the time it needed to gingerly ease my baby out. My doctor did not share my intent. I had visions of birth balls, squatting positions, and hip swirling to support my baby through emergence. My doctor did not share my visions. I received the classic hospital treatment: flat on my back, legs up in stirrups.
I was then instructed to “push!” for two hours. I now possess a cellular knowledge of the wall(s) that marathoners push through on the last leg of their journey – begging their body not to crumble, yet sure their mind (and spirit!) will carry them through. My eyes, unlike my perineum, remained closed during this final phase of labor, as animalistic grunts began erupting from somewhere in the room. (“Is that me?!”)
Next time around, I’ll be gently breathing my baby down while floating in a warm pool of fairy water, as my birthing tribe hums sweet somethings into my ear — but I now realize that birth always has the potential to be incredible, regardless of the booby traps that may be wedged into the path (a.k.a. “a hospital bed with metal stirrups”).
With a mighty (and surprisingly unpainful) push, my son’s head materialized and my new life began. We did it! I did it! He did it! My doctor slipped the remainder of his body out of my flummoxed womb and handed me a wailing piece of heaven. Euphoric warmth flooded me – an epic brand of love that spouted from my heart and poured into my core.
The birth of my son was far from what I expected and exactly what I needed – an experience forged from a powerful alchemy of lioness-like strength, raw vulnerability, and unavoidable surrender. Up until the moment I first held my son I had secretly doubted my ability to do anything great in life, hiding my doubt behind a chipper face and a “sure thing!” attitude. But all doubts dissolved as the vulnerability, and the accompanying strength and surrender that were birthed with my baby, played in the light of my new life.
Bailey Gaddis is a mother, author, childbirth preparation educator, birth doula, hypnotherapist and contributor to Working Mother, Pregnancy and Newborn, Disney’s Babble, The Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Expectful, Elephant Journal, Scary Mommy, and other publications that are into her style of weaving words. She continuously finds inspiration for her writing via the stream of consciousness flowing out of her son’s mouth, and the insane shenanigans she witnesses during births (and at the park before nap time).
Her work as a birth professional, and past egg donor and surrogacy coordinator, allows her to support, and be inspired by, rockstar pregnant women and their gorgeous offspring every day. She’s fairly certain “new baby smell” is the most enticing aroma on Earth.
Bailey lives every day in complete awe of the creation, birth, and nurturing of new life, and considers the mother-baby bond the pinnacle of magic, which is why she’s thinking about beginning to think about Baby Number Two.
For a list of Bailey’s online courses, visit BaileyGaddis.com.
Inspire others and birth forward the wisdom you’ve gained.