TO BIRTH, TO BEHOLD, TO BELONG - By Cassandra Pero
I had prepared for an intense emotional experience in labor, and – as an artist whose muse has always been the piercing beauty in life’s pain – I expected birth to bring forth a new melody for me to write about. You see, I’d lost my song, my hope, my faith…my words had run from my soul. For years, I’d stopped writing. My entire belief system was like a tree uprooted. Expecting fruits from all my toil, I only found dead leaves and dead ends. Expecting treasure in the roots of my years planted in solitude and service, I only found dried out dirt crumbling to the ground. I was shattered, angry, lost. But I prepared for labor to be so transformative, the pain and beauty to be so powerful, and the music so loud that I’d be jolted into the art of words once again.
But what I remember most, what touched me most, was the silence...
My waters started to leak at the start of a hike at 11am the morning before my son was born. We turned right around and called the midwife. When we got home, I tested the waters with a swab from our birth kit to see if it was amniotic fluid or not, and sure enough, it was. This was it! We knew what to do, and now it was time to do it. It wasn’t until about 2pm that I felt any sign of a contraction, and the first few were so mild I wasn’t even sure I felt anything. But within another hour, we could tell things were progressing and I was able to feel the start, rise, and fall of each surge. After eating and prepping the last of our to-dos, we decided to try and sleep a little bit, as had been suggested. I laid down with my husband, however, and within a few minutes was hit with the worst contraction yet. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to sleep at that point as things began to get more intense.
For about three or four hours, I labored through surges, breathing as I’d learned in hypnobirthing class. My husband wrote down the time and duration of each wave. I think it made him feel useful for the time being. As the contractions grew closer together and more powerful, I got in the shower and put the hot water across my belly to soothe the pain. We then decided it was time to call the doula. She listened to me for a few minutes while I went through another surge. This way she could tell if it really was time to come or not. She must have decided it was, because she said she would be here in about 90 minutes. After about 40 more minutes, I texted our midwives to come too because we thought we might need someone sooner than later. They said they were on their way within a few minutes.
I was relieved knowing someone was coming now to help. All three of them – our midwife and her assistant and our doula – arrived at the same time. All of them jumped right into action. All I remember was my doula, stroking my forehead and helping me unclench and breathe through the surges. Her presence was so calming and nurturing and she knew exactly what to do. My husband and I are both so grateful she was there. She helped us both get through labor.
I remember saying two or three times that I wanted pain medicine and I wanted to go to the hospital. But, of course, I knew that wasn’t happening and everyone simply told me, “You can do this, mama. One contraction at a time. That’s all it takes. Relax your forehead, breathe. You got this.”
I had planned on having a water birth, and right when things were getting pretty unbearable, they told me the tub was ready. I was so relieved. When I got in, I felt surprisingly soothed and comforted. I laid sideways against the edge of the tub and draped my arms across the top.
Jordan was there with me the whole time.
Nausea struck me hard at this point, and the peppermint oil they had been giving me to smell was not enough now. I had been shaking violently for awhile and the intensity of the shaking and the contractions made me throw up a little bit. I got on my knees into a child’s pose and leaned over the edge which helped my contractions along even more since things hadn’t progressed as much as I’d hoped (or felt like) they had. I suddenly felt way too hot, so I turned over and put my back against the tub and draped my arms over the edge so that I was outside the water more.
The contractions somewhat subsided then for a little bit. I was focused on managing the pain and resting, and God graciously gave me something like 5-10 minutes between contractions in order to rest for the next phase I was about to enter. I was confused because I thought this part of labor was when things would get much more intense and the contractions would be coming constantly, but instead God knew I would need the rest and he gave me this wonderful calm before the storm.
They checked me then and said I had gone from 5 to 10 centimeters in an hour!
So, I was laying there resting in between surges and then suddenly as the next one came and I found myself saying, "I feel like I need to…” — and then screaming —
Everyone jumped up and ran over to me. I began shaking badly and I threw up a little again. I just remember I was in the tub pushing and feeling so hot and miserable. The pushing did not feel good like I had read from others. The pushing was not the easy part like I thought it would be for me. My muscles were too tight and things were not progressing in the tub. They said I needed to get out and try another position.
So, I got out and went to our bed again. I have no idea how long I was there or what happened before I said I wanted to be on the toilet instead, which was surprising since that’s where things are usually most intense. But our bodies are familiar with “letting go” there, and that’s where I felt the most comfortable at the time. After a while, my midwife said, “Okay, you can have this baby here, but you’ll have to stand up when he comes out, or we can go back to the bed.”
I chose the bed.
Jordan sat behind me and I leaned up against him and our amazing midwife continued her assisted pushing, basically helping my body understand where this baby needed to come out of since I was struggling to move him down. They kept asking me if I wanted to touch his head once they could see it, but I didn’t want to. I couldn’t. I was so focused on not breaking my management of the pain that I couldn’t do it. All of a sudden, though, I saw him in the mirror and they were showing me the top of his head. I could see so much hair. It was all hair, actually: this black ball coming out of me. I finally reached down and touched him, and it must have given me some strength because I started to get him out more after that. I had lost it a few times and screamed through contractions.
I had been crying out “I can’t do this! I can’t!” I felt like he was never going to come out. The “ring of fire” feeling was intense. My hamstrings, hips, glutes and calves were all cramping and shaking so badly I could barely stand it. Every time I’d bear down to push I’d reach a point where I couldn’t get any farther because it would send my lower body into terrible muscle cramps. Everyone had to work together to hold and push my legs up towards my chest with each contraction. They told me how to bear down and touch my chin to my neck and hold my breath now and focus all my energy and breath down through my pelvis. I kept trying and trying and each time he would come out a little more and then I’d have to stop.
I can’t do this! I can’t get him out!
And there we were in the thick of it. My baby, my body, and myself. My husband and my birthing team were pivotal, yes, but I knew that it was still my race to run. They couldn’t take over for me, I had to dig deep. I felt as if it would never stop. As if I wasn’t going to be able to push him out. I couldn’t get past this one point in the pushing, every time. The pain of the muscle cramps on top of the pain of labor was nearly unbearable. I would get to a point and my body would lose air, lose strength, and say, “No more, or we’re going into a full cramp attack!”
Suddenly, I was back at that barren tree, and I realized that my womb was full.
Was this it – the fruit, the life, I had not found on the tree? It’s within me instead?
I cried out to God, “Jesus I need you! I need you to get me through this. I can’t do this without you. Help me!” And I took a deep breath and I pushed and pushed and then another breath and more pushing and suddenly, from deep inside I decided this was it: this next contraction I was going to push him out. I breathed in, bore down, and committed to pushing past my breath, past the pain, past the lower body cramping, and in that moment I pushed past my limits – and my son’s head emerged through the point I could not seem to get past. Everyone was cheering me on and telling me, “Come on, he’s almost there, come on, you got this!” And then when his head burst though there were sounds of joy and relief and encouragement, and I took one more big breath and Jaxson was pushed right out. I felt a big woosh of liquid as his shoulders and body came out with the rest of the amniotic fluid and lots of blood.
Before I knew it, he was on my chest and Jordan was behind me crying and telling me I did it. And everyone was telling Jaxson he could do it, take a breath, and he did and he coughed and started crying. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen and I’m not even sure how much of it I saw. I was so out of it and unaware of all that was happening from the moment he was placed on my chest. All I saw was his beautiful face. I was fixated on him. I have never had a moment like that before: where time stood still, where everything else disappeared, where my past and future and all my thoughts faded away…and I completely and fully beheld the moment, the person, the miracle in front of me.
Right before he cried, he was silent on my chest and he looked up at me with big, silvery eyes and all that dark hair. His skin was absolutely perfect, as was he. I saw all the fear and wonder in his eyes as his little brain struggled to understand what was happening, what had just happened, and what he was experiencing now. This was the first moment he ever saw, and he saw ME and my husband. He and I were the first things our son saw in this world.
And I beheld him.
His eyes, full of something I cannot describe, are forever emblazoned into my mind. Full of innocence and full of beauty and full of God. That moment of silence before the cry is a moment I’ll never forget. A feeling I’ll never forget. If I forget everything else, may I never forget that moment. That moment, that face, those eyes, that…perfection – is quite possibly the greatest gift I can imagine. Just for a moment I saw pure, untouched holiness. It was almost as if, for just one moment in time, God set me in his shoes and I beheld his perfect creation: my son, our son, His son.
Immediately, my heart was captured. My soul stood still and I gazed upon him with my whole being. I’m aware of nothing else that happened in that room. This is what was inside me? This is who was inside me? He’s perfect, I thought. And for a long time, the three of us sat there holding him together. The midwives and doula left so we could be with him while the umbilical cord drained what nutrients were left into baby Jaxson.
It was a moment unlike any other. It was the moment we had been waiting so long for. It was the moment our lives were forever changed.
You see, having a baby changes things. Of course, you know that. But I didn’t know that it would change me so much. It would change me to my core. I’d be less interested in my hobbies, my friends, my lifestyle I had come to love. I’d be obsessed with my baby's face and his sweet little sounds. I’d be able to function on a few hours of sleep and I’d jump up at the smallest noise so I could check on my son. I’d willingly and readily awake to take care of him. I’d take bruised and scabbed nipples as we learned the skill of breastfeeding. I’d have tears pouring down my face when they pricked his heel and he screamed and cried for the first time from pain inflicted by this world that I didn’t protect him from. I’d suddenly spend a lot of time thinking about all the children and babies in this world who are hurting, hungry, abused, abandoned, broken...who are suffering without the ability to understand it yet. And I’d cry and I’d pray and I’d shout those unanswered questions about how God could allow such things. How could humanity be so cruel to one another? How could anyone hurt or neglect an innocent baby, a child, or even an adult…once a baby as my own? Who is good? Who can be trusted? How can I protect my child, my family, in this unknown world?
I would suddenly come to understand so much about motherhood that I knew nothing of before. I used to think women were annoyingly obsessed with babies. I didn’t understand the obsession. I didn’t know the strength. I didn’t honor the woman’s body as I should have, respecting it’s ability to carry, birth and sustain a child. How naïve I was.
So, we’d made it to the very end, or maybe it was the very beginning. November 10th, 3:11am…our son was thrown into my arms on our bed at home, my husband holding us both from behind me where I lay in between his legs. We had done it, I had just given birth at home with no medicine. Completely natural and as we had wanted it to be.
I understood immediately the bond that is created when you allow your body to go through birth without medicine. I didn’t associate the experience with pain alone, even as it was fresh on my heels. It was love, rather, and for the first time I understood that pain is a part of real love. Without pain, we wouldn’t truly love. Every day, five times a day, for the first few weeks after birth, I thought about pushing him out, and the memory was so enjoyable, strange as that may sound. So powerful was the bond created that I look upon those moments and feel such love, such satisfaction and fondness, over an experience that, in the moment, felt so painful. What a fascinating concept!
This child, he is truly flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone. He came out with my blood and he is born of my blood. For the first time, I have a sense of true belonging. For what could offer a deeper knowledge of belonging than your own child?