I decided early on in my pregnancy that the only family I wanted in the delivery room was my husband.
I wanted to focus on what was happening in the moment and have no interruptions while listening to the medical team that would assist my labor. The first few hours at the hospital were a breeze, after I had my epidural, I slept and laughed with my husband. I shot off labor-status texts to my girlfriends and family. I lovingly watched my husband fill out the “birth story” portion of my son's baby book, writing things down as they happened. I was shockingly relaxed and at ease with my decision to have just my husband and I in attendance for my son's grand entrance (along with medical professionals).
When I received the epidural I quickly discovered that I had to stay laying on my left side or I started to black out and my heart rate would drop. Even with these minor set-backs I was still smiling and joking with my husband and our nurse. I had a male midwife who was very logical in all of his medical inquiries: Do you want an epidural? Do you want us to break your water? He was a friendly man, but not extremely social (given the busy day in the labor unit, I can understand why). With his cool, professional demeanor, I looked to my female nurse with her bubbly laughter and warm touch to reassure me of my decisions concerning my labor.
I was feeling pretty confident until the pushing began. As the numbing of the epidural began to lose its effect, my laughter changed to terse smiles.
I began to see the female nurse beside me as my life-line. I looked to her for guidance, when she said “push” I grit my teeth and pushed. I began to wonder why I didn't have my mother in the room, why I didn't have one of my girlfriends there who had been through this before. I closed my eyes and began to picture them filing through my brain--all of the courageous women I knew who had birthed before me. I chanted their names and pictured them like a slide show inside my head: My mother, my friends, my sister-in-law, even both of my grandmothers who passed away years ago. Like a mantra, I repeated the list over and over again while I pushed. I imagined my mother's cool hand on my forehead, even though she wasn't at the hospital. I could picture her sitting on my couch rocking back and forth with nervous energy, sending me her love and prayers. I pictured my girlfriends nervously cleaning and going through their daily routines while checking their phones every few minutes for the the latest update from me.
I could feel all of their love and concern transcend the miles between us. The recital of mothers I knew felt magical and necessary, as if there was a goddess in the room leading this amazing ritual, reminding me of the beauty and natural event of childbirth. Between contractions I imagined what my girlfriends would say to ease the moment, how they would encourage me that I could do the herculean task of discharging a human from my body. Everything that happens during labor is extremely feminine. I'm not talking pink sheets and flowery wall paper, I'm talking about a woman's strength, and the female body doing incredible things to deliver a baby. I'm speaking of a woman's pain that belongs only to women. The ripping, contracting, lactating, female body. There is a primal sequence to birth that you inherently understand when you are in the thick of labor. I knew that even though I was uncomfortable that it was natural, and it would be over soon.
I remember feeling in control until my son's head crowned and then I screamed a raw agonizing scream. I didn't understand how they expected me to continue pushing through the pain. I cried, “Help me, I don't know what to do!” and the nurse replied with conviction, “PUSH! YOU HAVE TO PUSH!” I can still picture her face when she said it, in a moment of sheer panic and pain for me, she had this smile on her face, a mixture of excitement and concentration. She knew with that next, final push, the greatest gift of my life would slide forth from my body. Her voice that had coached me through my entire labor didn't fail me once, and I trusted her at the pinnacle of pain. I begrudgingly pushed.
My son was delivered without incident after that final push. My nurse stayed by my side, while I was stitched up (I had some second degree tearing). I will never forget the gentle hands and encouragement I received throughout my labor. I didn't know a perfect stranger (my delivery nurse) would have a lasting impression on me. I still remember her sparkling grin as she looked at my baby and I cuddled on the bed together. I never expected how much I would need the strength and reassurance from the memories of the women in my life.
I am glad that it was just my husband and I in the delivery room and that we had those precious hours of parenthood alone together. I also know that we were never truly without family. The incredibly strong women in my life (past and present) made their presence known. Mother to daughter, sister to sister, generations of female relatives were whispering encouragement into my ear while my nurse held my hand.
I learned a valuable secret that I would like to share with you:
Women are never alone during labor; the female bond is woven into the ancient act of birthing.
Who was in the room with you when you gave birth? Share with me your birthing story in the comments!
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