Selena’s Birth Story
This was baby #2. Birth #2. Frankly, I missed the bliss of the well-educated ignorance I enjoyed with birth #1. This time I knew what was coming. For exactly 40 weeks and nine days I knew what was coming: I had to push this baby out. But first, I would have to “cope” while my cervix thinned and widened enough to allow an actual human head to pass through it. I had been studying the physiology of childbirth in my pursuit to work as a doula for English-speaking foreigners while we were living in Tokyo. The more I studied, the more it seemed ridiculous; nearly impossible, really. The physics of it didn’t seem to make sense and with all of that cell replication and all of the opportunities for transcriptional error, it seemed like a wonder that any of us could be born properly formed.
I felt blissful certainty while pregnant with my first baby. Not even a doubt had I, that my baby would be perfect; physically, genetically, intellectually perfect. Then she was born, and she was. In fact, she was even more perfect than I had imagined. As we watched her develop, she wowed her very discriminating parents. That baby had all seven forms of intelligence and she far outpaced the developmental guidelines.
That bar was set pretty high and now I was even more educated and knew for sure, and in more detail, the impossibility that we could produce that kind of perfection a second time. And more, I knew what it was to push one of those things out of my body. I knew what it felt like; that women often have difficulty describing the pain of labor was not due to our “forgetting” it, it was due to the absolute lack of comparable physical experience and appropriate vocabulary to describe it with any accuracy.
It is blow-your-mind-intense. It is every sensation that the human body can feel all at the same time and that doesn’t speak to the concurrent head trip involved.
I was in a bit of a hurry. And I had a head-cold. I was anxious to get to the pushing part. I started pushing a bit early and progress was slow because my amniotic sac was still intact. The midwives were happy because this protects and cushions the baby; they thought this was ideal. I wanted speed. After a variety of positions I ended up in the living room sort of slow dancing with my husband. I was actually begging him to let me lie down (I already knew relief in that position was a fantasy but I wanted to pretend there was an escape). I was pleading. I feel sick. I’m so tired. Please. Just for a little while? I felt a contraction starting and I responded by pushing…then I felt and heard a loud pop. I screamed; that popping sound scared the hell out of me. For a second I thought I had popped, but the gush of water had me realize that it was the amniotic sac.
Oh, here we go. We walked me to the bedroom. This was what I had been waiting for and dreading. I stood facing our high, king-sized bed and leaned on the mattress to ground my hands. My feet were grounded on the floor and I made some mini-efforts to push. Like, kind of a little. Testing: 1-2-3. Yeah, maybe I could break this down into tiny, little motions that would be entirely manageable. My midwife caught on. They don’t miss a thing. They so quietly hold a pad to your ass and sit, crouched by your feet between your legs but they catch every sound, smell, skin change. Then she called me out and moved my universe: “Selena, don’t be afraid. You must go through the pain. Not around it.” That statement planted itself all the way down in the dark, mostly unexplored place where we all go to push those babies out.
Eight years later it reverberates. Recently, in my mind, I hear her say it often. I pick it up and turn it over. I know it is still real and true for me. In this last year I have felt a different kind of pain than childbirth. I have been working so hard to grieve in little, tiny, manageable, pieces. My vocabulary doesn’t know how to describe this pain with words either, but I do know that I can go through the pain, even if I really wish I could just go around it.