My Empowerment Through Birth
© by Lori V. Stillwagon, 1996
After the long and very medicalized birth of my first baby – a daughter – I couldn’t understand why anyone would purposely get pregnant – knowing about all the pain and healing to be done. Then I fell in love with Victoria and couldn’t understand why everyone didn’t want ten babies, or more!! But there had to be a better way to have them.
When I was pregnant with my second – also a daughter (Julia) – I took classes, again, but again got the medicalized birth, in a military hospital this time. Another flop for me and very frustrating – how could I have these beautiful babies and have such a crummy time birthing them? It seemed cruel, harsh – all the medical practices – I almost felt like this was the only way I’d ever be able to birth. Maybe I couldn’t do it naturally, maybe I really did need all “their” technology, maybe they were right.
Powerless, down-trodden, feeling backward – I hadn’t yet found my way, but I did find an outlet in La Leche League, where I met with others who felt like I did – wanting “it all” but desperately fighting society to get it. At my first meeting, I casually said I’d have my next baby at home not even having the slightest idea of the power of my words. I began to read the right books, talk to the right people, find the supportive birthing and parenting options.
Part of me wanted another baby to prove that my womanhood existed, part of me wanted to fall in love so deeply again. . . and lo and behold, I was pregnant again. I ran the gamut of care providers, laying to waste anyone who even dared to scoff at my desires – I found great pleasure in asserting my power in my newly discovered role of consumer! I was on a mission to find the perfect birth, the perfect care provider. There was only one midwife who would take our insurance – seemingly a crummy way to choose, but she would attend our homebirth and it wouldn’t cost us an arm and a leg. I would’ve sacrificed everything for this birth, but my husband wasn’t willing to. He was of the mind set that if the insurance would pay for the hospital, that is where we should birth. So we were able to find some sort of happy medium. I would finally get the chance to prove myself in birth!
After resigning myself to pregnancy forever, my day arrived. . . I had been experiencing strong contractions for a month – constantly reminding me of my body’s knowledge; part of me wanted it to end and part of me wanted it to last. After a long day of taking the kids to the neighborhood pool, washing the cars (was I trying to wear myself out??) and eating a very large dinner, I sat down with my mother to play a relaxing game of Scrabble. After a few minutes, I realized there was no hope of forming even the simplest word – no brain waves were there. . . My focus was lower! I went upstairs to lie down – I doubted I was really going to start labor when my water started gushing down my legs. . . the first time it ever broke on its own – a triumph early in the game! Mostly I remember how bad I felt because I was wearing my girlfriend’s maternity leggings and I thought they were ruined! Then, a contraction!! Wow, I didn’t remember this incredible power so early in labor, but I was determined to deal with it – I knew I could. I called my friends who were to be there with me – they were excited and encouraging – they’d be right over! I then called the midwife – she was annoyed, yelled at me and told me to call back when I was really in labor. Oh well, I was laboring anyway, I certainly didn’t need her to “allow” me to do my birthing – at that point I dismissed her mentally. [She was called at least twice more during the labor but she still chose to remain at her home telling me things like "you don't even know what you're doing" and "you can't make so much noise and have a baby at the same time." She did show up approximately 1/2 hour after the birth, but her practices were extremely questionable and we later reported her to the nursing board in our state.]
Labor was powerful and awesome – I was finally able to really feel and experience it – I wasn’t afraid like before. . . It was a time of learning, a time of caring, a time of self-knowing, self-realization. I was meant to do this, like no woman before and like every woman before. I became part of what it was truly about. I needed gentle reminders to let go, let it happen – after years of programming about how to act in labor, how to breathe, how to look. But as I labored, I learned what I needed: tender touching, loving words, encouragement and acceptance to groan and moan and position myself the way that felt best – I was able to find comfort in my pain, understanding in my isolation. In a way birthing, like being born or dying, must be done alone even if you are surrounded by people – only you can do it. And I did it! But no one except those who truly understand this “overcoming” can relate to it, it is glorious and euphoric like no other feeling in life.
After only 3 1/2 short hours, my baby was born gently and perfectly into this world – handed to me by my friend. My body, my mind, my heart took flight – I had fulfilled my purpose, my existence! I had birthed my own child with no one and nothing but my own strength and my own body and the grace of God. It felt so wonderful, it was something I was meant to have, to do. These precious gifts: my third daughter, Jeanne and my first real birth!