A Second Son, and the Ways of Womanhood
The most remarkable thing to me about my second son’s birth, was how perfectly well things work when you’re able to simply let a process unfold. The first thing his father tells people was how awesome it was, and that the birth record states, “Managed by: Valerie.”
It is incredibly hard to surrender. But this is what birth, and motherhood, teach. It’s not always easy, and it’s not pain-free. It doesn’t mean you don’t have to work, because you do. Surrender isn’t a passive experience. It is active and willful and intentional. It’s about embracing what’s in front of you, giving it your all, and meeting it head on (birth pun intended).
The concept of feminine surrender has been bastardized, but once truly understood with a deeper, older, and spiritual meaning, it is clearly the most powerful thing a woman can do. It is no less than the power of creation. I suppose that is why a woman’s power to receive and surrender—the essence of sexuality and birth--has been curtailed, commodified and stigmatized in so many ways. When we see power, we fear it. We have been trained to think it must control or be controlled. We have accepted that “absolute power corrupts, absolutely,” and this belief is reinforced constantly by headlines and anecdotes. Perhaps, though, this is true only when the power is obtained, rather than original—when it is power OVER, rather than power WITH.
My new son helped me learn these lessons. Home birth and midwifery care allowed me the space to allow the transformation into motherhood-twice-over unfold into my life more fully. I believe pregnancy is an initiation, no matter how many children a woman is raising. I didn’t completely understand these thoughts or instincts with my first son, but I was surprised to find I held them strongly. With my second son’s pregnancy, the meaning of motherhood and of being female in this day and age, continued to unfold its mystery to me.
I was truly convinced my second son was a girl, in utero. So was my mother, and almost everyone else that offered an unsolicited guess. I had a name picked out, dictated by a dream vision. I spoke to her, assuring her my love wouldn’t diminish if she was a he. This second pregnancy coincided with the urge and opportunity to delve into study of sacred feminine spirituality. I believed I would be passing my growing understanding on to a daughter.
When my second son was born, his father asked: “are you disappointed he isn’t a girl?” I answered quickly, honestly, “No. Just surprised!” I looked at him in my arms in the dim light of dawn, holding him closely to my heart, “You tricked us all you little stinker!”
But I’ve skipped ahead to the end. One of the reasons is, my pregnancy and labor were unremarkable. Or, if they were remarkable, it was only in the sense that they were medically unremarkable—nothing medical happened, no physical condition needed management beyond my attention to, nurture of, and aware self-care of my body and baby.
When people asked how my pregnancy was, I would answer: Great! The silence would hang in the air after. There seems to be an expectation of complaints or complications. I had just about none. Entering my second pregnancy I was the healthiest I’d been in years. As with my first, I had a healthy pregnancy and worked to keep it that way. Only, second time around I had the experience of the first birth to know where I need to work to improve my chances for a good healthy birth.
Much of my work in pregnancy was mental. My first son’s birth at home was very painful, in more ways than one. From start to finish it was twenty-five hours of contractions, where I learned what it means to have “back labor.” It truly sucks. My partner remarked after that active labor—the part where he saw the baby emerge--must have been so painful. I honestly told him I would have done that for 25 hours instead of enduring the relentless pain at the base of my spine while our first son couldn’t make it around the cervical lip that wouldn’t resolve. Birth was a relief! I am so thankful to have labored at home—I have no doubt my second son’s birth would be a VBAC story otherwise.
My midwife for my first son’s birth happened to be trained by Karen, though I didn’t know the birth community at the time. I was simply happy to find a competent and compassionate provider I could relate to. She and her apprentice were long gone from the area at the time of my second pregnancy, having moved to states that actively recognize and protect the practice of midwifery. There was no question about who I would ask to midwife my second home birth. I’m so grateful Karen was available and willing.
At the end of my pregnancy I chose to get tested for GBS, and the test was positive. I was immediately supported and provided with information so I could make a decision about what would happen next in my prenatal care and in labor. I was scared. My pregnancy until this point was perfectly healthy. Pre-programed warnings sounded through my head: You must go to a hospital! You must have antibiotics! You must be monitored constantly! What if…….!
I chose to calm the heck down and view the news objectively. I talked through my concerns with Karen. I knew a little about GBS, but I now delved in. I looked at the news as a challenge for growth, and the shift in perspective helped. This was a flag, not a failure. It was a challenge, not end game for a home birth. I simply had to keep doing what I was doing—actively work to create a healthy body, and keep my monkey mind from letting fear stop me from providing my new child with as peaceful a birth as I can. I chose to proceed with home birth. I weighed the risks and benefits of the potential interventions, chose none of them, and was completely supported by Karen. The result was maximum health for me and my baby, physically and mentally.
My son chose to exit the womb at thirty-seven weeks. Since he is healthy there are no complaints here! I had Braxton Hicks contractions from the middle of my pregnancy. The evening his birth started I remember texting Karen about my emotional state-I was highly irritable and wanted to be alone. I sat in a tub, watching heat lightning pounce through the clouds. My water broke later that night as the family was sleeping, and I was texting Karen in the middle of the night, weeks earlier than expected. There were contractions, but they but subsided by Saturday morning. I went to breakfast at a local favorite and sat on a towel while I ate a huge meal. I didn’t think anyone would think twice because I was massively pregnant and the chairs there are really uncomfortable anyway. Karen provided herbs to try to get the contractions started again. This was my second birth, and it was the complete opposite from the first. I simply tried to stay calm, open, and love-centered mentally, and clean physically since my water had broken with a slow leak.
I was able to go to bed Saturday night, but woke up intermittently, actually cranky that labor was impending—I wanted more sleep! What a world of difference birth number two is. By 2:30 in the morning I was pacing and watching a hail storm. It was time, and I let Karen know. My instinct told me we had until dawn, and that turned out to be true. As I labored I embraced the pain. I shifted my mental perspective to know that each painful contraction was a positive experience getting me closer to meeting my new little one. My first son awoke around 4 am. The brother-to-be checked out what was happening and alternated between hanging out, watching, and playing in another room. I called my friend who was on-call to be there with him. My toddler would occasionally come by to offer words of encouragement—It’s okay mommy! Take your time mommy! At one point I did get loud and he rushed to tell his father (who had stepped out to appease the cats incessantly mewing for breakfast) that I sounded like a dinosaur. This is home birth.
I let my body move as it needed to. I tried different positions. Karen arrived, assessed, and receded, letting me do what I needed to do. She was a safety net. So I allowed myself to labor as if she wasn’t there, with the confidence from knowing that she was. I listened to the wind and thought about simply letting go and flowing with it, to allow the natural forces to take me where they may, trusting the process and my body to bring forth a new life. I admitted that it was simply really really painful, and accepted that. As the baby descended I was determined to not lose any ground. I simply stayed with the pushing, knowing the bone-splitting pain was progress, and focused on having a baby in my arms. When the baby crowned I felt his head and I knew he was a boy. As he entered this world I guided him to the floor and picked him up. I remember saying “What kind of baby are you?” and confirming with my eyes what I felt when I touched him with my hand for the first time. His father and Karen helped me to sit up and hold him immediately to my chest. He cried and then latched for milk. When the placenta was birthed my oldest son watched and shouted “That was awesome!” And it was. The whole thing.
I don’t have to tell you, if you’re still reading this long story, that none of this experience would have been possible in a hospital. Heck, I don’t even think it would have been possible in a birth center. There’s a need for settings like that, but it wasn’t for a pregnancy and birth like this one. People always react one of two ways when they learn I’m a home birth mom, and both come from fear—“Is it safe?” and “Gee, you’re brave.” I’d have to say exactly the same thing to each and every one of them when it comes to birthing anywhere but home, when you’re a healthy mom (and the vast majority of us are).
People are constantly commenting on how “zen” our new little one is. They tell me in awe that I’m lucky because he is so mellow, sleeps so much, and is growing so well. I won’t discount luck, but I also believe we have created our own. My second son was born at home, completely without interventions through pregnancy and delivery. I had no ultrasounds, took no medications. He is uncircumcised and unvaccinated. He latched within minutes of birth and breast feeding has been a blessed relationship. He sleeps in our bed and sleeps “through the night” because he eats on demand and wakes only to protest the interruption of a diaper change. It is so perfect, I feel compelled to apologize for how amazing it is. It’s supposed to be hard! He’s supposed to be colicky! I’m supposed to have sore nipples! I feel afraid to mention this joy, because I’ve been trained to think I’ll jinx it, or “the other shoe will drop.” I feel like I’m expected to be more humble for my “good fortune.” But if I’ve learned anything through this second pregnancy, it is that fearing the joy I have in my life is pretty silly.