The first gift I wanted to give you was your birth: a peaceful birth, a birth that let nature not interventions guide it, an un-medicated birth where you would emerge with clear eyes and a calm heartbeat, a birth where we could bond as a family immediately. That’s not what I thought birth could be for most of my life. That’s not what I saw in the movies or heard as we women recounted the battle scars our bodies have taken in our journeys as women. I spent most of my life fearing birth and, as I grew older, it’s eventuality in my life. But then, through friendships, chance encounters on the Internet, and a growing desire to find an alternative to the traumatic tales I had heard, I started to learn about the midwifery model of birth, hypnobirthing, and the amazing ways women’s bodies are designed to birth. And then pregnancy, birth, and the process of labour became fascinating to me, and I wanted my first gift to be one without cutting, drugs, separation, and trauma if possible.
And so we trained. I carefully chose liturgical and inspirational songs to sing during labour and practiced them every day. We took hypnobirthing and practiced breathing and calming techniques regularly. I read positive birth stories and tried to educate myself about my options here in Seoul and saved money to get that kind of birth. The initial result was that I was so happy during my pregnancy. Me, your pessimistic, cynical mother, was no longer afraid of the changes her body would be going through during those ten months or the impending day of your birth. In the end, that might have been the first gift I gave you, that while in utero, I was happy and fascinated by the weird and wonderful ways my body was changing in order to accommodate you. I enjoyed sharing space with you. I hope that positivity during that period somehow influenced your character in a positive way.
Things were not to proceed so smoothly though. At 38 weeks 2 days, part of my membranes released un-expectantly without any signs of contractions starting. Of all the scenarios I had practiced for, this was not one of them because even though the birth centre was much less ready to intervene than almost any other birthing place in Korea, I was still only given 48-72 hours to start contractions naturally because of the risk of infection to you. If I could not start contractions naturally, I was going to have to be induced, and if I have a critique of the natural birth movement, it is that it doesn’t always do as good of a job of helping people to prepare peacefully for births which do actually require interventions. In between the constant trips to the birth centre to get antibiotics, check your heart rate, and monitor our health, I tried to research how I could use my training if I did have to be induced. However, again and again I found that discussions focused on the to avoid being induced instead of how to be induced and still birth peacefully. Obviously I was trying very hard to start my contractions naturally, but the hour glass sands were falling fast which was causing me more stress and preventing progress even more. And so, as I was walking, going up and down the stairs of our building, bouncing on my exercise ball, eating spicy food, and doing all the other proscribed actions to induce contractions naturally, I also had a lot of fear in my heart that I was not going to be able to give you the birth I wanted for you.
And that’s where your 아빠 stepped in. And that’s when I began to realize that this was not just my gift to give but was going to be a collective gift made possible through the actions and beliefs of many. Your 아빠, a man initially very sceptical of natural birth, a man who had to stop telling coworkers and friends about hypnobirthing because of the negative reactions he received, this 아빠, he hugged me and calmed me down, and told me that I did not have absolute control over the process my body was going through, but that I had trained to at least be at peace. And I had absolute control over that part. As we spoke, and as he consoled me, I felt my confidence returning. I felt that I had the tools that I needed to get me through the rest of the day.
By that evening’s doctor visit, after a day of releasing fear, bouncing on my ball, prayers, and believing it could be so, I was in labour, 3 cm dilated, and effacing. We decided to go home to continue labouring, and our doula, Casey, made the trip into Seoul to be with us at home. When we arrived at home, I got into bed, turned on Sigur Ros, and focused solely on calm breathing and surge breathing. Throughout my pregnancy I had practiced to Sigur Ros, preferring Icelandic and atmospheric rock to the hypnobirthing cd we were supposed to use. Again and again I had listened to Glosoli and Hoppipolla in my training, and these songs were instrumental during early labour. I continually visualized the ending of Glosoli where the children jump off the cliff only to fly/swim though the air in absolute freedom, and the bad assness of elderly puddle jumpers with pirate eye patches and wooden swords. They gave me strength and joy.
In retrospect, that long period of labour was beautiful. Many people prefer to call contractions “surges,” and that is what my feelings were. My body was surging. Your body was surging. We were surging together, but we accepted the force with peace. I slept between the surges and awoke to my body moving to the ethereal sounds like some kind of primitive cosmic dance. Then Casey arrived, and she massaged me and gave me a heat pack for my back while I continued to sleep and surge. The whole process was more pleasurable than I could have hoped for.
When my back began to hurt, I got up and spent time on my ball and walking around the house – moving slowly from talkative during rest periods to a more trans-like state as my body deepened into labour. Finally, I decided to go back to bed to labour there, but around 4 am during an deep surge, you suddenly dropped, fully bursting my membranes in the process, and sending me into intense surges every couple of minutes. It was at that point that we decided a rather swift ride to the birth centre was in order. Your 아빠 skilfully – and probably in his heart terrifyingly – drove through the empty streets of Seoul as Casey kept me breathing and kept me from flinging myself out of the car with each massive surge.
When we finally reached the centre, I was deep in heavy labour. It had come on so hard and so fast that I was completely unprepared for the transition. I was breathing the baby down with each surge, but that process was the most painful and intense feeling I had ever experienced. But then they told me I was 5 cm dilated. My midwife and doula told me that I had made excellent progress and that 1-5 cm usually took the longest, but I couldn’t fathom how 8 hours had resulted in only 2 cm. And once again, your mother faltered and was weak: I pleaded for drugs, for someone to cut me open, for it all to stop. I lost faith. I didn’t believe anymore. I didn’t think my body or your body were capable anymore. I spent the surges on hands and knees on the bed moving my body down with each wave and breathing down, and then I would collapse in the chair beside the bed feeling defeated and wearied. I felt I had lost everything I had practiced for, and I thought all was lost. I could not complete this process. I could not.
Again, your 아빠 and our doula were there for me – reminding me of the reasons I had chosen to birth like this: reminding me of my progress, reminding me of the techniques I had learned, reminding me that my body was designed to do this and there were no complications preventing me from doing this act. Our doula brought me cool towels sprayed with something delicious and refreshing, and I smothered myself in it. They gave me blankets and water and juice and massages. Again I was reminded of this truth; they took care of me so that I could take care of you. They supported me so that I could birth you naturally. And then I decided, if I did not have the strength to sing, I could chant. And I started to chant the words I had practiced the most:
Come, come, ye saints, no toil nor labor fear;
But with joy wend your way.
Though hard to you this journey may appear,
Grace shall be as your day.
Tis better far for us to strive
Our useless cares from us to drive;
Do this, and joy your hearts will swell –
All is well! All is well!
Why should we mourn or think our lot is hard?
‘Tis not so; all is right.
Why should we think to earn a great reward
If we now shun the fight?
Gird up your loins; fresh courage take.
Our God will never us forsake;
And soon we’ll have this tale to tell-
All is well! All is well!
Then, as dawn broke and the sun came up, I repeated over and over again “grace shall be as your day.” Maybe I had always known that you would be born in the morning; maybe I always knew that the dark soul of the night would bring you as my dawn and my grace.
There was something about this point where everything clicked, and after one final torturous surge, something changed, and there was an intense feeling of pressure that never ceased but was devoid of the previous surges. At that moment, the midwife came in and proclaimed I had reached 10 cm and was ready to push. I didn’t believe my doula when she said that pushing was a relief earlier in the night, but it was true. Pushing was on my terms. The surges weren’t directing my actions anymore. I was using the surges to direct the action. I was in control of my own body again, and by default, I was in charge of your body. Pushing was labourious. Pushing sometimes felt useless at the beginning. And again I lost some of my confidence until I reached down and felt your head and knew that you really were there; you really were on your way.
I laboured on the birthing stool but didn’t like it. I pushed on my hands and knees and loved it, but my arms and body were growing weak, and I couldn’t maintain that position. I ended pushing on my back, but as I had been allowed to move for the rest of the labour and pushing, it was actually a relief not a burden to be in that position as I had feared.
And then, with one final push, you slid out, and there was a feeling of freedom and relief that I’ve never experienced in my life before. Then you were lifted up onto my chest with your cord still attached – the piece which tethered you and me – and I gazed at you as the last of the blood flowed from me to you. I saw your full head of dark hair, your clear eyes, your adorably moulded cone head, your tiny feet and hands with their perfectly formed nails, and you were perfect. The only intervention had been antibiotics. Neither of us were hooked up to machines. No stiches were needed. We laid unencumbered for several minutes skin to skin. After ten months of carrying you, of imagining you, of feeling you from the inside, I was finally seeing you from the outside. It was both surreal and thrilling.
Birth was harder than I had expected in both a physical and emotional way. I wanted to be strong throughout the whole process. I wanted to be the calm zened out woman in the birthing videos. I wanted to be in control at all times. But I wasn’t and initially my perceived failures saddened me. But what I had failed to realize before I went into labour is that while perhaps some women have it in them to go through this process alone, I very much needed a support system to get me through. And thankfully I had that support system in place, and they rose to the occasion. We all had roles in bringing you into the world, and we all had a part in giving you as natural as possible birth. Collectively you were welcomed, and together we worked to strengthen each other and ensure the best possible birth for you.
That was your birth little Dragon. It was peaceful and painful and powerful all at once, and maybe, if we are talking about something as awe-inspiring as the creation and delivery of a new human being, it is as it should be.
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