Nothing prepares you for childbirth. It is a phenomenon that occurs at the intersection of life and death, where life is chosen. What could possibly prepare you for that?
My mother’s words didn’t prepare me for my first birthing experience. Her birth story of falling peacefully asleep in between contractions while the medical residents at the birth center watched in, only gave me the false assurance that a natural birth was something I could handle.
I approached giving birth for the first time like ‘stand back, I got this.’ As is customary with childbirth, I was mentally and physically unprepared for the reality of the situation,. Once it happenend, I was shocked to my bones at how difficult it actually was and how much I felt like I couldn’t handle the pain.
The second time around , I had a healthy fear of the pains of birthing . While I couldn’t quite drum up the physical sensations of it, I could clearly remember that desperate feeling in the moment of transition between the hours of contractions and the separation of myself and my new child, where I felt to my core ‘I can’t handle this. I can’t do this.’
‘Just remember to breath' my mother told me when I expressed my fears around my upcoming 2nd birth. ‘Let me tell you a story about your grandmother.
In her day, it was the custom in the small northwestern town she lived in, that a woman in labor would be given twilight sleep. Twilight sleep was an injection of morphine and scopalomine which made woman lose consciousness while they birthed, causing them to have no memory of the pains of childbirth.
Maybe I should consider a Twilight Sleep birth, I thought to myself. Only half serious, I knew my midwives wouldn’t go for it. My mother went on…’Her obstetrician was a kind young man who had delivered many babies, but never once to a conscious woman.
Well your grandmother, she was tough. She felt herself strong and capable of birthing naturally without the use of narcotics, nor anything or anyone else for that matter.’ My mother said.
My grandmother is a tough woman. Strongest woman I know, in fact. ‘She told that doctor she wouldn’t have it. She was the first woman in his practice to birth in consciousness , just the way she wanted it. ‘ My mother went on. Grandma’s story impressed the hell out of me. But I still had fear of the pains of childbirth.
Towards the end of my second trimester , my sister was in town for a visit. On a sharply sweet autumn evening, we watched a formation of thousands of geese flying high in the starry dark sky. Peacefully, and beautifully they flew.
Watching this, I felt transported……….my body flying free in formation, surrendering to the process, letting go of the fear and trusting my wings to carry me.
I wanted to feel that free in birth, to channel my inner wild woman, wild animal, wild goose, I knew that in order to be that free, I would need to fully surrender. This would be my birth mantra. Surrender.
‘Mom, were you really sleeping in between contractions? ‘ I asked, shortly before giving birth to Selah Sparrow Honey Wilder. ‘No,’ she said. ‘Not really sleeping. I was breathing……… and visualizing.’
‘What were you visualizing?’ I asked her. I was surrendering the will of my mind to let my body take over and do the work of birthing. My mind went to my safe and peaceful place, to a formation of wild geese flying in the night sky.’
My second birth was faster, more intense. I labored on my knees on the living room floor, wearing kneepads that my perceptive and loving partner Jonny had kindly noticed might make me a little more comfortable, bless him.
I breathed through contractions, surrendering my will and my body to the force of life. I thought of my grandmother laboring alone, confident in her body's ability to birth. I though of my mother, breathing serenely as she labored, trusting her body.
When the time came to transition from contracting and dilating to pushing Selah onto this planet a free being, I closed myself in our tiny bathroom, safe and alone. Pain became merely sensation as I heard myself say ‘you got this’ I closed my eyes and flew into the night sky, arriving in formation beside the woman who birthed me, and the woman who birthed her, sharing a peaceful place with the wild geese. I felt my body take over control and I breathed Selah into this life.
My daughters are 4 and 8 now, and delighted to be alive. They are practically bursting with life, love, and curiousity. In the fall, we watch the wild geese fly together at the lake near our house. I watch them and remember the stories of my mother and her mother, and my own birth story, one of surrendering to the wild, which I will pass on to my daughters.
Side note, and moral : I am no longer afraid of the reality of my spirit animal actually being a goose and not something totally fierce and badass like a panther.