I can’t get Kelly’s post, Years That Ask and Years That Answer. Stories, Ends, Beginnings, Fire, Moon out of my head. I cannot get her voice out of my head, the images and tropes that are some of my own most favorite (years that ask questions, Bertha, Eve, seasons, cycles). I keep hearing, over and over again, this phrase: the flesh poetry of experience.
A secret language traded between intimates of the violence of birth and glory of delivery. The wrenching of asunder and the joy of embrace. A story beaten in the pulse of mundane responsibility and cosmic love. Goddesses and bitches and sisters and women. We know this story. It is the story of generation.
This paragraph makes me think of the births of my two babies. Of the violence and glory of their deliveries. Two of my most cherished life experiences. I still struggle to put into words what those nights were like. They were not just moments of my life that I recall with stunning, crystalline detail. They were also passages from one world to another, and somehow in the passage I was able to glimpse through the seam of this reality to something bigger and more breathtaking. What I saw and sensed changed me forever.
Even seeing the photograph above brings tears to my eyes. It is almost impossible to remember being swollen like that with life, to remember the feeling of feet in my ribs and of seeing the spine as a glowing string of pearls on a flickering ultrasound screen. I look at the picture as tangible proof, but when I search for the correlated sense memories they are weak.
What is more miraculous than the female body’s ability to create and bear life? Seriously, what? We take it for granted, in many ways, and perhaps we have to because otherwise the blinding truth of it would be too much to bear.
Grace’s birth was the story of resistance. It was about my gritting my teeth and stubbornly laying in for the stay. Part of the resistance was that she was posterior, but it was also about my own fears, anxieties, and utter lack of preparation to be a mother. I was in battle against myself, I know that now: I was holding on, not ready to embrace a new life (mine, not hers) and identity. I was not ready to face the end of a phase of my life, the multiple deaths that are contained in birth. The inexorable force of a baby descending the birth canal went to war against my own quite powerful subconscious, and I was in labor for over 36 hours, at 9+ centimeters for 3 hours.
I cried and I screamed and I begged to be put out of my misery: I distinctly recall telling my midwife, completely seriously, that I’d like her to put a bullet in my head and just cut the baby out. The pain was both incendiary and incandescent. It was a crucible through which I had to pass, the heat so extreme that I was rendered molten. It was an animal experience, a raw, passionate, and terrifying introduction to a ferocity I had never imagined I possessed.
I delivered Grace myself. At my midwife’s instruction, I reached down and put my thumbs under her armpits when she was half born and pulled her onto my own chest. I am more grateful than I can express for photographs of this moment. Little did I know I had months of darkness ahead of me before the grace that I had just brought into my life would be made manifest.
Whit’s birth was the story of acceptance and surrender. It was as I imagined birth would be. I labored alone for an hour or two at home, reading Ina May and swaying back and forth with the contractions. It was late at night, Grace slept in her new bedroom next door, and Matt was at work. I labored alone and felt undeniably in the presence of something much larger than myself. I felt a surpassing peace that somehow did not surprise me in the least. I was not afraid of what I imagined was another 24 hours of labor.
After 3 short hours of labor Matt insisted that we go to the hospital. I fought him tooth and nail but finally, after running to crouch on the dining room floor to muffle my screams in the rug (so as not to scare Grace, who was being picked up by my mother), I conceded. Whit was born 40 minutes after I walked in the doors of the hospital. The experience of pushing Whit out was nothing short of transformational. In the moment I was afraid of the intensity and the searing pain, but in retrospect I can see that my entire body reformed itself in those minutes, making itself into a channel for him to come through, a passageway between a murky and unknown place and this brightly-lit world.
The truth is, I don’t often feel an overwhelming sense of this-is-what-I-am-here-for about mothering. But during my two labors there was a keen and irrefutable drumbeat of certainty: this – delivering – is what my body was made to do. There’s no question in my mind that a barn burned down while I labored with Grace. Sometimes I think of the depression that swamped me almost immediately after her arrival as the time it took for me to sort through the ashes, to make sense of this new landscape. And yes, from here I can see that even in those dark days there was a clear moon, that truths were washed clean by icy white light.
This post is in honor of my friend whose due date with her first baby approaches. This is a magical moment. You are poised on the threshold of something so enormous and so dazzling that there are no words to describe it. No matter how you end up making the passage to motherhood, you will be irrevocably changed on the other side. You will have given birth. You will be expanded, empowered, enlarged, altered in ways that will reveal themselves gradually to you over time. I can’t wait to share the experience with you.