Present At My Baby’s Birth
Arwen Kuttner with her newborn baby, Naomi, on December 6, 2006.
HAPPY 5th BIRTHDAY NAOMI!!
My mother’s story of my birth was a sad story that included one chapter on countless fertility treatments, and another on being heavily sedated during the birthing process and forgetting that she was in labor. She tells me the nuns in the hospital where I was born put me on her stomach for a moment but held her arms back so she wouldn’t “contaminate” me. Later my father went to view me through the nursery window where a nurse picked me up and spanked me once but hard to make me show what a powerful cry I had. I was never breastfed because no one helped my mother learn how.
This definitely was no guide for helping me decide how I wanted to orchestrate my own daughter’s birth. My only role model was my sister-in-law who had had a water birth in Eugene, Oregon many years before. The photos she and my half-brother showed me of my niece’s birth displayed them both naked and utilizing a claw foot bathtub in their backyard. (Thank goodness it was August.) But that vision, too, seemed fairly extreme and didn’t fit the personalities of my husband and I.
I’ve always been a very deeply emotional and/or spiritual person. Sometimes, to a fault, I make decisions guided by where my heart and feelings take me. I knew I wanted to approach the birthing process in a natural way that allowed me to be present for the process. I didn’t want to fear this one-time introduction to bringing my baby into the world. I didn’t want to conquer the experience. I wanted to thoroughly experience whatever could be there in the most mindful way possible. I also wanted to prove that I could do it despite the warnings I’d been given about being forced to “suffer” through this amazing life passage.
There was a sense of entering a completely different state of mind, one I rarely have reached even through deep meditation.
So I started pulling together my resources. Books I read from cover to cover included Birthing From Within and The Jewish Pregnancy Book. When my husband and I attended a birth class, I was surprised to find myself crying from the awe I felt while watching a video of women giving birth. I learned a toolbox of techniques, such as how to stand and push, to let the baby out. I hired a doulato be present with me, to help me make smart decisions throughout, and to guide me when I wasn’t sure how to proceed.
I over-prepared as perfectly as I knew how and it filled me with an anxiety of getting it all right, of covering all my bases, of knowing everything there was to know. (Much of this anxiety was prevalent during my daughter’s first year of life as well, but I accept it too, now, as part of my natural process for anything in life!)
When the birth itself came, I let go of all I knew and just went inside myself.
What I found there was a wealth of personal power that I knew I had, but that I’d never experienced so fully all at once. I surrendered to it completely, barely remembered the music I had planned to play, how I thought I’d move, or what was going to happen.
To my surprise, I abandoned many of the nuts and bolts of what I’d learned. I barely moved at all because my body told me it needed to lie in bed. My doula lay beside me and waited for the contractions, then coached me to moan in a low tone rather than high to help my muscles relax.
Beyond the pain of the contractions, there was a sense of entering a completely different state of mind, one I rarely have reached even through deep meditation. I found that during the bulk of the birthing process, I was barely verbal, completely uninterested in using more than a word or two at a time to ask for help and give direction. In fact, in my particular situation, I wasn’t sure when it was time to push, and only began to do so after I was told it was time. In retrospect I realized that, at the time this physical shift took place, I began to want to use words again to communicate.
People approaching childbirth use the word “pain” to describe the incredibly powerful and difficult sensations that accompany the process. As hard as it was, this word does not fit for me.
Yes, it’s the most challenging thing my body has ever done in a single day, sometimes it felt almost intolerable. But I knew that it was less something to cringe from and medicate, and more like something I had to ride like a wave or a horse, or maybe a dragon.
When my daughter finally emerged, I was punchy at first. When I was told to look down I was at first confused and then realized I was now the mother of a healthy child that was right in front of me. Like my own mother’s experience, my head was unclear when that change happened, but it was a result of being immersed in the strength and challenge of my own body and in the altered state I’d experienced naturally without the intrusion of drugs. I felt exhausted, joyful and absolutely empowered. I had gotten to that place to be with her, with all of me entirely there.
Editor’s Note: Arwen Kuttner studied creative writing at Oberlin College. She maintains a blog at http://brainsite.blogspot.com/