Ripe with Baby
by Jana Kutarna
I gave birth to my first baby on the bedroom floor in my apartment in downtown Regina. It was just me and my husband, and then it was us plus our little girl, screaming with surprise at what had just happened to her. I think our upstairs neighbour was also home, but he has been known to put on his headphones and sing along to his favorite CDs, so I don’t think he heard me making my primal sounds.
It was late at night. There was a candle burning in the room, and I was squatting over her where she had landed on the blanket soaked with amniotic fluid and my blood. I was struck with her beauty, her perfection, all her tiny parts, her facial features, her black hair. I rushed to answer her cries for the first time of many times that were to come, telling her it was okay, picking her up, trying to soothe her. I knew she was experiencing everything for the very first time, and it was amazing to me.
My labour had moved quickly. I sat on my heels and rose up with my back straight, digging my fists into my thighs during a contraction. My husband sat in front of me on the bed and was a perfect combination of receptive and encouraging, bless him. I experienced the awesome power of a contraction descending on me and taking charge of my body, roaring in my ears, then backing off, leaving me collapsed and panting on my husband’s lap.
I had to learn to get energy from those needed rests, rather than waste them anticipating the intensity of the next contraction. My deliberative, rational self was completely overwhelmed and had to take emergency measures and simply live in the present moment, or else lose it. My whole being was opening to let life come through, and it was going to open whether I let it or not. I have never felt so awed, so big and so small at the same time. All I remember is this wordless Knowledge of where we come from, the real meaning of life right before me, me BEING the meaning.
It was a calling from about my 7th month of pregnancy to give birth alone, encouraged by some incredible and very normal birth stories I read on the internet. I came to understand childbirth as very private and sacred, the most important thing I would ever do in my life, and I had only to educate myself as best I could and relax. I feel it is very important to share with other women what birthing unassisted gave to me.
1. Power. Control. First of all, I couldn’t lie to myself about who does the job of birthing a baby. Midwives and doctors don’t deliver babies, and women get into a lot of trouble if they believe this. The fact that I gave birth on my own, which I would have done no matter who was there with me, is the most empowering thing I have ever experienced, and I have no memory of anyone else taking control or getting attention during labour.
2. Add to this that I was the only person to touch my baby. Any mother will understand what this can mean. Nobody *gave* her to me, as in “Here is your baby, ma’am.” We nursed, we stared at each other and wondered. The most important thing that needed to happen for my baby’s first moments of life was uninterrupted time, and I don’t mean watching for the cord to stop pulsating. She needed ownership: YOU are MY baby. This ownership has continued to the present day. I feel like a possessive, wild animal, and I love it.
I felt a mystic gate swing open for the first few days of my daughter’s life: I felt open, or opened, rather, and sensitive to everything that was happening around me. I cried so much, I thought so much, I really couldn’t believe the transformation from being Virgin to being Mother, to use the terms of Goddess religion. I’m so glad that I didn’t miss anything because my baby needed to be weighed or examined. Those few moments of life were like precious gems dropped into the memory of my soul… they can never be replaced.
3. My husband had a role to play in the birth, his rightful role of supporting me. He was the one who made me repeat out loud, “I am powerful” and “I am strong” during those times when I didn’t believe it. He gave me the emotional support that I needed, and there was a dialogue and a play that had a chance to occur just between the two of us.
4. During my last few weeks of pregnancy, I was able to relax completely, and enjoy being ripe with baby. I didn’t worry about when she would be born. I didn’t know how much weight I gained, what my blood pressure was. Sitting in a doctor’s office had turned me into a ball of stress, so I eventually figured it out: this is the stress that causes problems, and I should learn to pay attention to my body and she will tell me if something isn’t right. I ate so well when I was at peace like that. I smiled to myself.
Having said all that, I am really disappointed in the “official health practitioner” people I tried to contact after my baby was born, when I needed help with nursing and with looking after myself. Perhaps because they feared legal consequences should my baby suddenly die (or something), they would have nothing to do with me, and that made me feel so hurt and angry and panicky. I have spent years feeling shafted by “the system,” so maybe I just needed more proof that trying to operate inside it doesn’t really work.
You have to understand that I never held a baby before. I knew very little about how to nurse, how to sleep with my baby. I had no friends who did these things, and books were helpful only to a point. So I am really grateful for the help I received from a mother I had met when I was pregnant. I think she is what we would call a lay midwife. I phoned her and she gave me what I needed, she came to see me, offering her experience, help with breastfeeding, a hug, a chance for me to describe to someone what I was feeling. And no judgment about whether I was being irresponsible or not by not having any attendants there.
As women gain control of their birthing experiences, I believe many will choose to give birth with only loved ones around them, no experts present. I do sincerely hope that midwifery continues in a pure form, where we are able to call upon other women with experience when we need them, without their requiring certification, without a nod of approval from obstetricians. These things will happen anyway, no matter what sort of legislation exists. I feel like living proof of that.