This birth was mine.
My first birth had been my education. I had trained as a doula but had no concept of birth outside of the knowledge in my head.
My second birth was for the education of the other women in the room. I attended my second doula training alongside fellow aspiring black doulas, under the leadership of the black student midwife hired to attend my second pregnancy and birth.
My 3rd birth was for the women I served. Though I stayed committed to natural birth and to having a black midwife, I birthed in a hospital partly to better understand how to support black women birthing in that setting.
My 4th birth was for my husband to finally support me unassisted—as he had always wanted, and for me to learn my birthing self without the crutch of outside professionals hand-holding me.
My 5th birth was for my audience and my extended family. I documented the last stages of pregnancy and birth and shared my experience moment by moment to encourage and inspire, and I dug my heels deep into the earth and took one last tug at pulling support and celebration out from my family and sucking it into me.
But this birth, the 6th and most recent, was solely and completely for my baby, for my children, for my husband, and for me.
This birth I knew from the beginning I was alone. I had no illusions of support from anyone in my family of origin and no imagination or desire for midwives or birth centers or OBGYNs.
I knew I’d be birthing in my in-law’s house in rural Mississippi and that most of the amenities I’d expected before would largely be unavailable to me.
I knew I wouldn’t be filming or that I would no longer sacrifice the peace of privacy for anyone else’s needs from my birth, or their thoughts and feelings around it.
I wouldn’t try to control it, hurry it along or slow it down; I wouldn’t even plan it too hard or worry about how things might unfold or anticipate how the day would go.
All I committed to was my body and listening to what it was telling me to do, or not do, to meet its needs. I slept when I was sleepy, rested when I was tired, got up when I felt rested, ate when I felt hungry, and so on and so forth.
My husband attended to me as much as he could but as I knew would be the case, most of his time and energy went into attending to our other children, their needs, and the responsibilities around the house; including running errands for the birth and setting up for the event to come.
For this birth, I finally felt 100% in control and felt absolutely no pressure to, in any way, perform. I felt affirmed in the fact that I am worth taking time off from everyday work to labor in confidence, in presence, and in peace. When contractions came I timed them, then closed my eyes and blacked out everything else. I encouraged myself to smile through some and to thank Jesus through all.
These contractions weren’t painless like the ones from my 5th labor, but they were so manageable that their intensity was no indicator of labor progression. I had to pay close attention to where I was feeling the sensation in my body: the fire in my hips as they spread or the pressure in my bottom as pushing got close.
To counter the discomfort, I either squat and opened my legs wide, or I positioned myself onto my knees and pushed my back into an arch. I breathed and intentionally relaxed as many of my muscles as I could. Towards the end, I even encouraged my baby to come.
While I welcomed the descent of my baby I dreaded pushing them out; as I always do. Pushing is always the most intense and most unpleasant part for me. No matter how calm the rest of the process, pushing is the part where I always scream, feel like I’m falling apart, and that I’m completely losing control over my senses and over myself. It’s the part where my body usually takes over and breathing through contractions becomes impossible.
This time, though, it all felt different. I didn’t feel the usual mechanized drive to push and the pressure I did feel as pushing got closer was more subtle as if it was waiting on me to tell it what to do. My body didn’t push without me, and for a few minutes, I stalled. I sat on my knees leaning forward on the couch with my head in my hands. “I’m dreading this part,” I admitted to my husband. He reminded me that I couldn’t effectively do anything I was dreading and he encouraged me that I could do it because I was already doing a great job.
I took a breath and finally agreed that it was time. I knew I needed to just stand and that once I did, the head would start to make its way out. Here we go, I thought. I stood up and awaited the next contraction. I know it sounds dramatic, but because this part was such a giant for me, I must have felt the way any soldier feels on the front lines of a battle knowing certain combat is near. And still, I pressed on.
I stood with my right arm around my husband’s neck and shoulders and threw a tiny tantrum before finally accepting my task ahead. The next contraction came and I bore down to push without my body prompting me to do so. Some disrespectful poop proceeded and fell onto the incontinence pad under me. I dropped into a squat, my husband lowered himself to clean me up, and soon I felt the crowning of the head pressing down towards the exit of my vagina. I propped my right leg onto my right foot and kept my left leg bent.
“Oh we have some crowning happening here,” my husband noticed.
“Yeah,” I grunted.
The head sat there for a moment so I pushed until I felt it move out a bit more. In my temptation to over-extend myself and rush the process, I remembered to slow down and stay gentle with myself. I paused and took a break leaving my vagina stretched with my baby’s head sitting uncomfortably in tow. It felt like his head had been sitting there forever and like it would never just come out. I pushed again and felt the head move out more. That’s it, I was convinced, the head is completely out! We are just waiting on the rest of the body.
“Can you pull it at all,” I asked my husband?”
“No the head isn’t even out yet,” he responded.
“What?!” I couldn’t believe it. “Okay,” I sighed and looked for the next contraction to push. When it came I pushed until I for sure knew the head was out. My husband was championing me but I don’t remember exactly what he was saying. I had to push one more time for the shoulders then I felt that anticipated feeling of the rest of the body sliding into the air. I was so relieved.
“Is it a girl??”