The Eye of the Needle

This week I had the honor of attending another birth.

What made this birth so different from the last 130 that I’ve been a doula at, was that now I have given birth myself.  For my first six years of being a doula, I was not a mother yet.  I have always stood in awe of birth, and of women and their power to give birth.  In the past, when a woman would hit that wall, the “I can’t do this!  This is crazy” kind of wall, I would speak to her with all the passion, dedication, sweetness, and encouragement I could muster.  I would tell her that this was the moment, the eye of the needle, and that although it felt impossible, she could do it.  She would do it, and she would meet her baby.  I would speak firmly and calmly telling her that although every part of her felt like it would break open, that indeed she would be made stronger by her birth, and by facing this moment of impossibility.

That was before I had felt it myself.

This time, as I looked into this woman’s eyes, as she entered “transition” as the childbirth classes call it, everything was different.  Here she was, in the middle of the strongest surges of her labor, clutching her husband’s hand, seeking a comfortable position (which is impossible to find at that time, by the way) and looking to me, “the expert”, for words of wisdom.   “This is horrible,” she said to me, matter of factly.   My voice went silent.  Instead of speaking to her with phrases like “You are a goddess” and “you can do this,” or “every contraction brings you closer to your baby,”  all I could find in my heart to say,  was… quietly “I know.”  This was a phrase I always avoided as a doula before I was a mom, myself.  I would say many other things, but I reserved that one, because truthfully I didn’t know.  Perhaps I was worried if I used that phrase,  a client would yell back “What do you know?  Nothing!”  I understood, I empathized, I had seen much of it before, I knew all about it from a witnessing perspective.  But I didn’t know.  Until now.

Now I know.

Looking at her, I was transported to my own birth, to that moment, that moment of impossibility.  The moment you realize the only way out of all these crazy “sensations” is to go into that place that hurts the most and have a baby, and that the last thing you want to do is to go into that place that hurts the most and have a baby.  It’s like you’re on the top of the craziest amusement park ride you’ve ever seen, and suddenly they’ve locked the gate behind you, and the only way out is down the ride.  And although the voices around you, your partner, your midwife, are lifelines for sure, and their hands are trying to reach out to help you, you are the only one on the ride.  Actually, you are the ride.  The ride is happening in your uterus.  And no matter where you go, the ride is coming with you.  And what seemed originally like a really great idea, now seems like a trap, closing tighter and tighter around you.

Back in real time, my client shifted her breathing, and dropped into the intensity.  I awoke from my dream, and tried to remember the things that helped me in that moment.  One of my midwive’s words came to me, “As big as this is going to get, Katie, you’re going to get bigger.  So let it get as big as it’s going to get.”  I tried to think what else I would have wanted to hear in that moment.  My voice began to return. Not with any grand claims to the power of women, and rites of passage, and It’s all worth it, but simply, truthfully.  Gently I reassured her that,

“Yes, this part sucks, but it’s temporary.”

Less than an hour later, my client, with the strength of a lion, went through the eye of the needle, and pushed her baby out into the world.  The sweetest, tiniest, most perfect little baby boy lay close on his mother’s chest, while daddy and grandma wept, and we welcomed one more impossibly perfect human into the world.

“My tailbone hurts,” she said.

“I know.” I said.