When I sat down to write this story, I couldn’t figure out whose it was to tell.
I considered my son, because it was the day he entered the world. And he, above all, was the driving force behind the birth and should know about the events that unfolded. But his entrance, albiet monumental, was the end of this specific story, not the beginning.
A story all my own, perhaps? I recalled that, shortly after giving birth, I wanted to journal about the experience, so that I could always look back and read through every single detail. That never came to be, and the details I appreciated in those early days that followed escaped me now. Was this birth just my own? Something about how everything unraveled suggested otherwise.
And so, this story is a dedication to you, dear body—a sign of appreciation. It is a confession, a peace offering, an acknowledgment of the work you put in with me, and sometimes, in spite of me. After all, it is because of you that I am a mother.
It started and ended with water. Everything before, and everything after is hazy. But I remember the water and appreciating the way the patter of its pressure felt against our skin. Counter pressure against our hips had worked so well leading up to this point. Now, it was time for water. Water so hot there was probably a little steam radiating from us. This was the hottest it had been since before we started growing this life. I missed the hot baths and the hot tubs, especially after a long day at work.
Standing in the open shower of the master bathroom, eyes closed, jaw clenched, I wasn’t quite sure what I was bracing for. You, on the other hand, were orchestrating the whole show.
One contraction brought us down to our knees soon enough. The sharp grit of the floor tile and grout dug into our skin and it felt nice to diffuse some of the discomfort to another part of us.
This is when I felt us split. You taking control, and I, all in my head, focused more on doing the best I could to stay out of your way.
Relax your face. Drop your jaw. Remember to breathe.
The water was still running. I focused on this until Matt offered me a towel to put under your knees, but you wanted nothing to do with it, so I turned it away. And like that, my attention went back to the water.
“I should get out now. I feel bad wasting so much water,” I told Matt and started to walk out of the shower mid-speech. “I can’t be in here forever.”
Leaving the water, I just knew, was going to take me even further away from you. I held off as long as I could because I knew the work would get harder. We headed toward the bedroom, I expecting to try lying down again. You, knowing better.
Another swell. I remember the surge, like the climb of a wave. Floating in the water, feeling the pull. Knowing full well that there was little I could do to swim away from it. So, I let it carry me. I had very little control, in this moment, but you lent me enough to land back on the toilet. Straddling the tank. At some point earlier, a pillow was placed on top where you could rest your tired head.
This was our bed now. This is when I chose to ride the wave and let you steer. We grew this baby together, and now, he was coming.
It still felt so far away.
Some days, you were the only thing keeping me from him. That was frustrating. I couldn’t even picture the baby in there. But I could feel him. And through all those many months of feeling, I learned something about trust. I trusted that you had things under control. I had no choice. In those final moments, I had to accept that, for the most part, this wasn’t even up to me. Trust or not, you had taken over.
Leaving you. Not having control of you, and you in turn controlling me, was the closest to an out of body experience I’ve ever had. I didn’t know when the words I wanted to say were coming out and when they were not. I didn’t know who was in the room with us and who was kissing the small of your back.
How can I describe the thoughts that flooded me while you rippled and pulsed and clenched and stretched? A mix of complete disillusionment and wonder and calm. From me, the roars, the groans, the moans, the cries. Not from pain but from a release of everything suppressed before. A relinquishing of control. These were primal sounds. Maybe not from me. All from you. I can hear them still, even though, again, I’m not sure they were heard by the other two in the room.
This is when fear crept in for the first and only time. I waited to feel the need to vomit. I waited for the urge to bear down. I wanted all these things to hit me so I had a signal that the end was in sight. I didn’t know how much I could take.
None of those things came. I thought to myself, I don’t think I can do this. And later was told I did say this out loud. What if I have this feeling forever? I think I’ll die if I do. These thoughts lasted a few minutes before I stopped really thinking all together.
My face was pressed into the pillow through the contractions that had to have only been a couple minutes apart and I was hoping Matt or the doula was calling the midwife. But they were quiet. From the outside looking in, there was plenty of time left to wait.
Asked to face our doula, I turned around slowly. She asked me, “Do you feel anything between your legs?” Another sign I was completely disconnected from you—I had no idea. So, I had to reach down, with your help, and feel. Everything was completely swollen. That’s the only way to describe it. But I didn’t feel a head. Not yet. I said something, I’m sure. The doula tried to guide me to the bed. We rose, attempting to obey. And then you just erupted. I could feel wave after wave crashing down. I tried to roar, but it rattled out of me as if driving over a road of gravel. Who knows what others could hear.
I spoke three times between breaths.
“I feel something.”
And then a splash.
As we stood, legs straddled over the toilet, my son slid out. That’s the only way to describe his delivery. There were no ordered pushes, chin to chest, deep breaths in. Not from my end. Later, Matt would say he could see the ripples in my back right before I turned around. You pushed him out.
The splash was our water breaking into the toilet. Without waiting for me to realize what was happening, our arms swooped down to catch him. Before I knew it, he was resting in front of me, on our chest safely. No impact. No slipping.
It wasn’t until I saw him on our chest that I came to. That I really came to. I don’t remember the crying, just the comfort in knowing he was okay. He was looking around, he was here, and then a few moments later, some cries.
Squatting over the water, straddling the toilet. Still wet from the shower, I leaned back again and sat, resting against the tank of the toilet seat.
I did say that it started and ended with water.
The doula had been on the phone with our midwife when it happened. She was now on the phone again with her. Everyone was in shock, myself included. But you, you knew all along.
In the days that followed, we all pieced together the timeline that never quite seemed to make sense. He was born an hour after I had decided a shower sounded nice. It had been about six or seven hours since I started feeling something unusual—three hours since I had a feeling this might be labor, the whole time convinced it may be prodromal labor. I was bracing for days when I should have braced myself for minutes.
Dear, dear body, so little about my childbirth experience had to do with control. In fact, it was in losing control, in breaking open, during the birth and in the year that followed, that I found both a less restrained and more gentle version of myself. A version that knows there is no me without you. That we are one, that we is just me.
For the first time, that feels like a strength.
This writing was inspired by For Women Who Roar, a digital and print magazine featuring the voices, experiences, and art of women, and their #DearBody December Challenge.
Jackie Leonard created Motherscope, an online and print magazine that explores the intersections of motherhood and shares the stories of women who mother. The first issue, Oh Mama, is a collection of birth stories. Jackie has an MFA in Creative Writing and worked as editor for multiple college and literary publications. She also is a Teach for America alum, worked as a paralegal for many years, and has been creating books since before she could read. The things that make Jackie feel most powerful are the community of women who surround her, writing, and her son. Her garden, cooking, and husband bring her peace. Website: motherscope.com. IG: @motherscope