Dane Stanley Andreasen was born on Wednesday June 19th 2013 at 10:12am. He weighed in at a surprising 8lbs 9oz and 50cm long.
His birth story was nothing I had spent the previous nine months envisioning. Yet, as though like magic, there was a divine wisdom orchestrating the perfection of his arrival. My ability to surrender and allow his story to unfold in a way that was uniquely his own (and yet coloured by my participation) was in continuum with the surrender required of pregnancy herself, and also a right of passage into the motherhood club.
I had spent nearly 9 months wading through hormones and hyperemesis. I had workshopped insecurities and doubts. The Ina May Gaskin books had become my bible. While my mind was still wrapping itself around how I could possibly push a person out into the world, something at my core kept whispering that I was built to do this. That I would do this. However, as often is the case, how our dreams manifest into reality, isn’t always the way we had envisioned.
On Monday June 10th, John and I waited in the ugly mustard vinyl seats of a sterile hospital hall at Victoria General. I was 37.5 weeks pregnant. This environment was a chilling contrast to the inviting and comfortable midwifery clinic we had become accustomed to all these months. The week prior, our midwife Jill, hadn’t been able to confirm that our babies head was ‘engaged’ (aka down). Though on previous visits, his head had always been positioned downwards, due to her uncertainty on this visit, she recommended that we have an ultrasound to confirm his position. I had been surprised and scared at the absence of her normally infectious confidence. A confidence which had always rubbed off on me casting away any doubts I had about my ability to give birth. John, true to form, was unwavering and maintained a steady confidence that our baby was engaged to dive out head first. But, as we waited for confirmation, my brain started spinning – I had never once felt kicks up under my ribs like most women report.
Our number was called, and it was only a matter of minutes before the ultrasound tech cooly and quickly announced that yes, in fact, our baby was ‘complete breech’ and we would need to see a specialist to create a plan. Tears started streaming down my cheeks as I lay belly up in the dark hospital room. Though there were maneuvers and homeopathic possibilities, I knew instantly what this news meant for me and our baby’s birth. I felt scared and weak and yet deep down beneath it all, an innate inner calm of which I wasn’t yet aware, prevailed.
Both my sister and I were caesarean babies and the more I travelled down the natural birth highway, the more judgement I gradually attached to our births. Had my mom been pressured into unnecessary medical intervention? Was I going to get swept along the current of a clinical birth? I had begun to view a ‘natural’ childbirth as the only way for me to step fully into the power of being a woman. I had begun to look at natural birth not only in terms of my own empowerment, but as the first women in my immediate family to birth ‘naturally’, the empowerment for the women of my family! (Talk about putting un-necessary pressure on yourself!)
What I didn’t realize at the time, was that every birth story is unique and every birth story invites the opportunity for empowerment and positivity. It’s how you choose to view your birth that colours it’s experience. And this lesson was to be my final straw of surrender.
I knew going into pregnancy, that attachment to one outcome was only a prerequisite for pain and I had been adamant the entire 9 months, that I didn’t want a birth plan. I didn’t want to be attached to any one particular outcome and believed that the best course of action was to ‘go with the flow’ (see What I Found At The Bottom Of The Toilet Bowl). It seemed that, while there was wisdom at the heart of my logic, somewhere along the way, I had in fact become rather attached to a certain birth vision. I became increasingly ‘natural’ birth focused, and in doing so, had made the medical system out to be the ‘bad guy’. My attachment and my judgement became my biggest teachers in my path to freedom.
Not many have the strange luxury of knowing their babies birthday ahead of time. I had ten days to embrace a caesarian birth for both me and my baby. Much like the cycle of grief, I floated through a flurry of emotions, mourning my ‘natural’ birth. Anger, disappointment, fear, sadness, relief, guilt and ultimately longing and anticipation. Don’t get me wrong, I was still nervous. After all – I wasn’t getting my ears pierced – this was major surgery!
I felt a sense of excitement coursing through my veins as John and I treated ourselves to our ‘last supper’ at the fanciest shmansiest resto in town. With bellies full of braised beef (and in my case also a baby), we headed to the hospital where I was admitted as my birth was scheduled for early the next morning. My sleep was fitfull, due to the anticipation and the bulbousness of my blooming belly. The next morning, on an empty stomach, I was hooked up to an IV to boost my fluids pre-surgery. In hindsight, this was probably the most uncomfortable part of the whole process (aside from the nervousness cartwheeling around in my brain). My midwife Julia arrived and we headed down to the OR. John said I looked pale and quiet as we headed down the hall but all I remember is focusing on my breath and trying to exude calm with each exhale.
The surgeon was delayed due to an emergency on an adjoining ward, so I had to sit in the OR with the nurses who arrived one by one. This turned out to be the best thing for my nerves. Instead of rushing through the event, I was able to take in the room (which wasn’t nearly as dark and dramatic as the Grey’s Anatomy counterpart I had envisioned). The nurses were all so cool, bubbly and calm which did heaps to settle my nerves. We spent a good 20mins pre-surgery ‘shooting-the-shit’ as poor John waited outside in the hall alone absorbing the stress as I was letting go.
Once all the team had assembled, it was go-time. The spinal (which I had been most nervous about) was done in a flash. It was such an intimate and connected moment to have my midwife forehead to forehead with me whispering reassuring yogic mantras as the spinal was administered. (I later found out, it was John who had told her to remind me to breathe and say all those sweet things!) From there it was game on – my toes began to tingle as I somehow transitioned to lying down. I remember the calm of surrender washing over me as soon as the spinal was completed – the last straw in letting go.
A catheter was administered and the anesthesiologist checked that everything was numbing as normal (it was). I had a few waves of extreme nausea as a reaction to the medication and threw up a couple times as they adjusted my drugs. Luckily I was a pro at puking at this point in my pregnancy (always a silver lining!) In sanskrit this would be finding the sukkah (sweetness) in the dukkha (suffering)!
John was right next to my face as soon as the ‘curtain’ was set up. (Which, might I add, is more like the size of a napkin than a curtain. Poor John, who is already weak in the knee’s when it comes to blood and guts, happened to ‘see-too-much’ and then his head was between his knee’s as the midwife snapped up the camera to catch baby’s first breath on camera.)
I had been forewarned to expect tugging. No pain, but a lot of tugging – not unlike a trip to the dentist, just on a way bigger scale. I expected tugging but this was WAY more tugging than I anticipated. Go figure, they were pulling an almost 9lb baby from a small incision in my abdomen.
Tug tug tug. Tug tug tug. And then it happened – weightlessness. It was as though the bowling ball that was pressing down on my abdomen all this time, was lifted. And then I heard him – a tiny newborn cry. Soft and innocent. Likely inquiring – “what the heck just happened?!” And then we saw him as he was passed to the pediatrician to our right. As she turned him to face us for the first time, he opened his eyes straight away and as if knowingly, looked directly at us.
Our eyes flooded with awe. Everyone says you’re going to fall in love at first sight, but I disagree. The first few days with Dane, I was in AWE. Absolute awe. Awe and how perfect he was. Awe of the divine intelligence at work outside of my brain (which took no part in his creation) to create such perfection. He was so much more perfect than I ever, ever could have imagined. And looking back 6.5 weeks later, I can say with confidence that my love for him grows out of that awe more and more each day. You really can’t grasp the miracle of childbirth until you meet your child. And you really can’t understand the profound love your parents feel about you, until you have a child of your own.
The phrase I remember hearing most often throughout pregnancy was “Oh it’ll all be worth it in the end when you have that beautiful baby in your arms.” The trouble is, when it’s your first baby, you really can’t fathom just how ‘worth it’ it will be until you are staring into the face of your precious bub. Birth is all about learning to trust, with every fiber of your being. Trust that there is something divine orchestrating the whole process. Trust the invisible power of the Universe and allow her to cradle you in her arms throughout your journey – be it pregnancy, birth or life. Trust that both you and your babe will arrive out the other side of the pregnancy-birth tunnel. Trust, especially when you don’t understand how, that you will be alright. And trust, that “whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” (Max Ehrmann – exerpt from Desiderata 1929)
And so even though it went down in a way I initially hoped it hadn’t, it was perfect. The Caesarian Club really ain’t a bad club to be a part of after all! I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.