There is a point in labour called "Transition." It is the most intense part of labour, the time when you dilate from 7-10 centimeters, the time when your body makes its final preparations to bring your baby into the world. It's a good word for the birth process, heralding a state of in-between-ness, movement from one realm to the next, from one being to two, from couple to family, from unattached individuals to attached parents. Birth is the dividing line between my old self and this new self who is suddenly a mother, someone who has walked to the edge of death and come back to tell of it.
In talking to other mothers I've found that many women feel as if they should have died in labour. It doesn't seem like the human body should be able to sustain such agony without expiring. My mother related a passage from a book she was reading in which the protagonist, after enduring an excruciating two day labour, states that she no longer has as much respect for Jesus as she used to. Crucifixion just didn't sound so bad anymore. I can relate.
Prior to going through labour I watched a lot of videos of blissed out women having ecstatic water births. These women would hum to themselves, sway a little, and bring their babies into the world with very little fuss. I heard about "orgasmic" births. I read forums where women said that they couldn't really describe their contractions as "pain" but rather as rushes or powerful surges. In my prenatal classes and my prenatal yoga I was instructed to imagine the contractions as manifestations of my body's own internal power. In the end I felt duped. Let's just face it: labour HURT. It hurt like hell. It hurt more than I could imagine hurting, in ways that were completely unique in their ability to create pain.
I birthed at home, without drugs, and I have never experienced such intense pain in my life. But I would do it again. Yes, it hurt. Yes, I made sounds that I didn't know I was capable of producing, but in the end the experience was transcendent. It went beyond pain, beyond fear of death, to a place of extraordinary power where I found in myself a will stronger than anything I have yet summoned up. I trusted my body to birth my baby, and it happened. I have never experienced anything closer to a miracle. The miracle of birth is not so much the appearance of the baby, but rather the internal transformation that occurs as a women moves through physical torment, and emerges on the other side as a mother, full of the deepest love and already beginning to forget her labour. The miracle for me was the ability to persevere when part of me wanted to give up and die. I am not likely to face any challenges in the future and say "I can't do this." If I can do labour I ssume I can do just about anything.
I'll need to keep that knowledge in mind as I face long days of mothering a newborn. Nothing prepares you for being the primary caregiver for a tiny person who needs you constantly and can't tell you what he wants. He's at once completely dependent and intensely wise. He looks out at the world sometimes as if surveying his kingdom, looking down his stub nose at his surroundings and pursing his lips in deep thought. I think he knows things that I don't. One day I hope he'll tell me what those things are. He's a meditative baby and I wonder what he thinks about during his increasingly common alert times when he drinks in the world and begins to process his own humanity.
For now I have to be content responding to his basic needs. I can feed him, change his clothes when they're dirty, give him baths, play with him, and make cooing noises (though he sometimes looks at me with disdain when I do so as if those sounds are SO beneath his advanced intellect). It will be awhile before we can address his slowly developing existential philosophy, but I'm sure he's harbouring extraordinary knowledge that will help me see the world with fresh eyes and an ever expanding capacity to love. It's enough now just to adore him, and for his father to adore him, and his grandparents too...we're all absorbed in the basic fact of a person existing where there wasn't one before. It's an amazing thing--the world's last bit of real magic.