I begin the slow return to embracing my animal nature with the birthing process of my children. Still living in Philadelphia area, it’s the early 1960’s now. There are no natural childbirth classes yet, but there is talk of breastfeeding. When I ask the husband of my pregnant friend, Shelley, if she is going to nurse their baby, he, an educated, decent man, looks horrified. “Are you kidding? I refuse to have a cow for a wife.”
Too timid and confused about what I want, I can’t assert myself with this first pregnancy. I choose the standard route for delivery -the right obstetrician, the right suburban, spanky clean hospital, doing it the modern, woman-divorced-from-her-body way, though I do insist on a spinal so I can be awake when it happens. Always wanting to be prepared, I have been reading books about labor and delivery. Intellectually I know about the different stages of the process.
Contractions begin in the late afternoon. By late evening, they’re close and regular so we head out the door. Sleet and icy roads make my husband drive ever so carefully to the hospital. They say it’s false labor since contractions have stopped by the time we arrive. They put me in a room on the maternity ward, suggest I spend the night, and send my husband home. The staff thinks I am not in labor, so I’m left alone to sleep. But the contractions resume, and early in the wee hours of morning, I buzz the nurse after one particularly intense pushing type contraction. Clearly annoyed at being awakened from her nap, she steams into my room.
“I think I’m about to deliver,” I say.
She says, “You can’t be. You would have been screaming for hours if that were so.”
Screaming? I could have screamed?? Wow, that hadn’t even occurred to me.
“Please, will you look at me down there, please.”
“’Hon,’ there’s gonna be nothing to see. Go back to sleep.”
Something about my delivery of that last PLEASE makes her throw aside the covers with an I’m-not-happy-about-this expression.
She looks. She gasps. She yells. “Oh my God, the baby’s crowning.”
Such sweet vindication!
I’ll continue this story tomorrow. In the meantime, remember some of the times in your own life when your body knew the score before the officials did. I’d love to hear them.
First true animal response was being a father for the first time. My daughter somehow managed to get down a flight of cement stairs near the road, where a school bus had stopped to let children off. A car, ignoring the STOP indications on the school bus picked up speed and roared around the school bus. Suddenly, that action became a very personal act against my child, all children. And just a suddenly I became a creature I later called the emergence of my She-Bear. I ran down the busy street after the car, totally crazed and growling and yelling, until I realized that I was in the middle of a street and the school bus driver hadn’t moved while watching me. A bit dazed, I turned around mid street, and looked at her. She got a huge grin on her face and applauded. So, I went to my daughter, who had stayed safely off the street, and got to wondering what authentic capacities we have as human beings.
As for women’s bodies at birth: my younger daughter asked me to be her massage therapist and coach during labor and deliver (of her son, now five and a half years old). I had my hands all over her naked back, working on her breathing, muscle tone and relaxation. Because of that visceral connection, I felt everything going on in her body. She was trying not to make too much noise, and I sayd, “That’s your birth song. Sing it out!” And suddenly, huge yowling vocalizations erupted. And just then I felt a shift in her lower back. The nurse came in, having heard her loud voice and asked her how she was doing. And I sayd, “The baby has dropped and is ready to come.” She asked my daughter, do you feel like pushing. “Uh, huh!” They got her up in a birthing position on the table, and the nurse asked me to support one of her knees. Her sister was supporting her other knee. Shortly thereafter, I got to see my grandson born.
Short after-story: It wasn’t until several months later that my daughter and I reflected on that time, and we realized how rare it was for a father to be that intimately connected to his daughter’s birthing work. The thing is, I will never give birth to a child, and never truly know how it is for a woman, but it has been one of the more blessed and rare experiences of my life to feel the process happening under my hands and to know, from a sort of kinesthetic “listening,” the shifting prowess and wildness of birth as relayed through skin to skin contact. -Jaems
thanks Jaems for your awesome reply. Thank you for showing other fathers a nurturing, paternal way of being with daughters. Thank you for modeling the raging protective paternal way of being. And enormous gratitude for showing us the way to the birth song. I remember being with one of my daughters as she gave birth for the first time and a guttural, primal howl erupted from her. The sound startled her. She was maybe embarrassed at the time. But it came out of her and I recognized it to be the sound that connects all of us female human mammals to the endless generations before us. Thank you for naming it.
I refused to take hormones at that time of ‘change’ in my life. Thirteen years later my doctor tells me I have a blood clotting disorder. I said it was a good thing I was not taking hormones and he said yes you would have most likely clotted out.
“Clotted out.” That’s a vivid term, Cinda, and I am so glad you decided as you did, too. Our bodies know so much more than we typically give them credit for. I heard a story yesterday about a young woman with cancer. She’s a yoga teacher, has lived a pretty “clean” life, eats well, all that and so when they gave her Chemo her otherwise healthy body went into anaphylatic shock. They tried a different chemo and the same thing happened.
So important for each of us to listen deeply to the wisdom within.