I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before.
Transition in birth… those of you who’ve been through it, close your eyes and bring yourself back. What did it feel like?
Those of you who’ve read countless birth stories and watched countless videos in preparation for your own upcoming birth, what have you learned to expect?
I didn’t experience this stage in labour with Jackson’s birth, because of the epidural. I had AROM at 3cm but was disappointing everyone by becoming “stalled” at 6cm. With my baby’s heart rate indicating distress (you and me both, kid), I was being pressured to accept Pitocin, told I was quickly becoming a candidate for c-section, and that I was putting my baby at risk. After protesting as long as I could, I knew I had to start choosing concessions. There was no way I could cope with the Pitocin as I was, confined to the hospital bed by the fetal heart monitoring machine, with no way to cope naturally with the pain – which already felt severe. So, I asked for the epidural first, which I am actually grateful for, all things considered, because this allowed me to relax a little and dilate to 10cm fast enough that I was able to escape surgery. The rest is a bit of a mystery… all I know is that at one point the nurses assured me I was ready to push, and then they assured me that I was pushing, and then a baby came out, with a little help from a vacuum stuck to his head.
(Before anyone critiques the language I use here – yes, I know. It is intentional. I was passive, the fetus eviction-and-extraction process was being performed on me, and no amount of self-empowering language will change that.)
I went into labour and gave birth to my second child at home (you can read Ocean’s birth story here). My husband was home but preoccupied with other matters, including our 2 year old, and I went through the stages of labour solo, moving in between my bedroom and the adjacent bathroom. It was late December and we were in the midst of a power outage. Both of my birthing rooms were dark, lit softly only by a few faintly sweet-smelling beeswax candles. As the sensations washed over me with regularity, I laid in the bed, got up, sat on the toilet, got back up, laid in bed. Alternating like this between the two spaces throughout the night and into the early morning, my body calmly and gradually readied for birth while my mind drifted off to la la land. I was in my primal brain; the only thoughts going through my head were literally “Thank you! I am so grateful and fortunate to have this comfortable space, this roof over my head. Come on baby, you can do it”. No pain, no fear. Compared to my hospital birth, this was a revelation.
Until transition. Everything was fine and dandy until my body entered into this stage of INTENSE bearing down coupled with loud uncontrollable groaning and a hot as hell burning sensation. What in the… oh yes. This must be that transition phase I’ve heard so much about! When things suddenly entered into this phase, I felt an inkling of fear. And discernible just beyond the edges of that fear was panic, and an awareness of the terrifying vast depths of the unknown. I felt the presence of this fear, this panic, and I told myself: “It’s okay. You’re okay.” Repeatedly, out loud. Then I had a baby, and she was perfect 🙂 What I can’t believe I never thought of before is how much all major transition in life is like this moment in birth.
It’s hard to admit this. I’ve been going through a separation from my husband, the father of my children, since early December. It is something that has been brewing for three years, simmering for two years, and boiling over everywhere, burning everything and everyone for the past year. It has been a sad, stressful, horrible experience (I know there is someone, somewhere reading this who can relate).
What my friends, and neighbours and family keep saying to me during it all is “You’re doing so well”. And it’s true… I have been, for the most part, dealing with an insane amount of constant stress with absolute focus and calm. This isn’t because I have it figured out, or I’m numb, or I don’t care. This is because I have the acute awareness that panic is just within arm’s reach. It’s something I could easily stumble in to, but if I did, I would be swallowed up and would never make it out in one piece. It is not an option. I must stay strong, stay clear, stay focused, breathe.
This is transition. In life, and in birth, it is a time of being stretched beyond what is known, what is comfortable, and what is “safe”. It is a time when the fires of pain and blind panic may lick at our heels, and if you should have the good fortune to experience it, it is the most powerful you will ever be in your whole entire life. When you find yourself being pulled into the intensity of transition, and you give yourself to it, and you let yourself open up to the very limits of physical, emotional, spiritual possibility… you emerge on the other side with an understanding of your own unsinkability that will help keep you fearless and afloat for the rest of your life.
I don’t know what the outcome is going to be from this part of my life, but I know enough that I can acknowledge the presence of fear without giving in to it. My incredible female body taught me that.