I tell my birth stories a lot, mostly because women are both fascinated and horrified that I had both my kids with no painkillers and not much medical intervention. It is as if we as women have been stripped of the confidence that our bodies know what to do. So I consider myself a little mission of one, spreading the word that it can, in fact, be done. I like to remind women that we shouldn’t let doctors scare us into thinking that we should be doped up and numb and passive for one of the most significant moments we’ll ever experience.
What’s delighted me is how much my own kids like to hear the stories of the day they were born. The tales are well-worn now – my daughter’s excruciatingly long labor with her stubborn head facing back instead of front, the way my son came in such a hurry that his father missed it because, true to form, he was off getting coffee for everyone. They’ve heard them so much they can tell them now, and correct me when I miss a detail. It is a part of their lore.
What’s awesome too is what I’ve learned from telling the stories. My daughter’s birth, my first, was a snapshot of how I face the world – resistant, afraid, trying to pretend change isn’t happening until it’s too late to deny it, then stepping up and realizing I’ve had the strength all along. My son’s birth, my second, was a lesson in how well things can go with acceptance and self-confidence. With her I cried and tried to slow down my contractions. With him I meditated and took a beautiful walk in the dark of night, then went to sleep through the contractions. Both of these are me. The more I think about it, the whole journey of my life has been to move from resistance and the desire to control to acceptance and belief that everything will turn out okay. And my two kids taught me that on the very first days I met them.
Throughout the long hours while I waited for my daughter to make her appearance, I was scared and terrified of the pain and my body’s seeming insurrection. Luckily, I was accompanied by a wonderful doula. This miracle worker of a birth assistant, Vicki, sat with me for hours, reminding me to keep it positive and feel brave. Throughout the night, she was magic. (My husband, god love him, mostly looked ghostly pale and afraid and coped by trying to sneak a peek of the Superbowl whenever he could. He’s made up for it by being a great dad, if a lousy birth assistant).
Afterwards, Vicki gave me a book called On The Day You Were Born. It is lyrical and sweet, a children’s book about the whole world rejoicing on the day a child is born. I read it to my daughter and, later, my son throughout their infancy and I rarely could get through it without choking up. Today it sits in my living room, a reminder of what a miracle it is to welcome a new human into this world. This morning I saw it and thumbed through it:
While you waited in darkness
tiny knees curled to chin,
the Earth and her creatures
with the Sun and the Moon
all moved in their places,
each ready to greet you
the very first moment
of the very first day you arrived.
After reading that passage, I reminded them to take out the garbage and pack their soccer uniforms, and any celebration of the preciousness of their arrival was obscured by the banality of the day. It is hard to hold that sense of wonder, sometimes, when there is Social Studies homework to check and dinner to get on the table. And, yet, what could be more wonderful, not just the people that they are, but also how they’ve forged and raised me? They’ll grow up and go away soon, inching toward the door as they already are, but they will leave deep and permanent etches in the grain of me. And it all began on the day they were born.