When I was 27 years old, I gave birth to my first child.
It was also my first experience of truly understanding what it means to stand in for myself, claiming and holding sovereignty over my body.
I was forced to take a decision either surrender to a medical system that ultimately took away my autonomy or face resistance.
I chose the latter and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life.
Earlier, when I was in my twenties I didn’t care much about what kind of gynecologist I had. Male or female, old or young, it didn’t matter because I only went once a year for a check up. The procedure was always the same and the outcome usually too and so I didn’t give it too much thought.
A couple of years prior, I had changed practitioners because I moved from a country town into the city, and the doctor I started to visit for my annual check ups, was male and in his late fifties.
But the day came where I had been overdue for a number of weeks and since the pregnancy test I had done, failed, I felt an ultrasound was the safe option to get certainty that all was good and I was not pregnant.
I didn’t know that it was going to become a historical day in my life.
As I entered the practice room, I took my clothes off, sat down in the chair and put my legs into those side holders. Feeling a bit uncomfortable and exposed, I started chatting and told him that I was a bit worried because I had been overdue. I told him how I thought that I was sure I was actually fine, since I didn’t feel nauseous, however, I needed clarification.
Admittedly my sleep was strange, I experienced intense dreams and woke up unusually early these days. Also my appetite had somewhat changed.
While listening to my mumbling, he applied the cold gel onto the ultrasound device and I felt it pressing onto my skin.
Relaxed and with ease he scrolled over my lower abdomen and pointed out that there was some movement.
My eyes got bigger, penetrating the screen.
“What is it?” I gasped, suddenly alerted.
“Looks like, hmmm... looks like life in the uterus.... hmmm... oh, ah, and here we can see the heart beating,” he continued in a rather dry voice.
My world turned upside down!
Thoughts tumbled through my head in wild chaos! I had expected anything but that.
I was pregnant! And not only was I pregnant but I was in week 8 or 9.
I can only vaguely remember what happened after.
I crumbled off the chair somehow, while feeling that I had been thrown into a parallel universe. When I stood up, my legs felt like pudding and I heard his voice from faraway, telling me about all the things I needed to do, avoid, take care of etc.
I felt the cold wooden floor beneath my feet, while he had taken the seat again behind a large white desk.
I collected my clothes from a nearby chair and started to put them on. When I finished and looked down on me, I realised that I had put them all on the wrong way and on the very top I was wearing my undershirt inside out with the label in front. I stopped, took everything off again and started anew, trying to concentrate, while the avalanche of thoughts and emotions had full control over me.
I found myself in a state of shock and everything felt surreal.
When I finally finished putting my clothes on, I sat down on the other side of his desk, collapsing my shoulders. He asked if I was ok, but without listening to my answer continued to bubble forth with his tips on pregnancy and routinely giving me a prescription for multivitamins as well as iron tablets.
Eventually he sent me off. I stopped at the front desk to make another appointment before I walked out of the office.
There was no ground under my feet.
I was in love with the man I was with, but our relationship was still in a testing phase. 9 months ago he had been assigned to a job overseas, where he worked since. I had visited him a few times but it was a distance relationship and we were nowhere near familiy planning.
Anyhow I must have gotten pregnant the last time I stayed there.
I left the practice and walked outside, closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I crossed a tram station, walked towards a park and sat down on a bench, where I could overlook the lake. It was December and the air was cold and crisp. Faint rays of sunlight appeared to be giving some warmth, but they couldn’t really warm up the winter air.
I took my gloves off and pulled out my phone to dial his number. Knowing that I was calling him with these kind of news was quite extraordinary and I had no idea how he would react. I tried to prepare my speech and be sensitive, but when he picked up the phone, my little script was gone and the news burst out of me without a filter, overwhelming him completely.
Now it was him who was in shock.
It came as unexpected to him as it had come to me just moments earlier. He was going to come home soon and I was glad since we had to figure out what we were going to do with this new situation.
He arrived a few days later. Right after I picked him up from the airport we took a long walk in the park by the lake.
We talked a lot.
The conclusion was that we didn’t really have any excuses to not have that child, apart from timing and the fact that we were taken by surprise.
I felt that we were mature enough to deal with this, we had a relationship and we lived in a stable country, there was income from both of us- this was the sober conclusion.
As we walked through the park, it was ironic as all we seemed to see now was strollers and babies everywhere we looked.
He made it clear that he wasn’t ready for a baby, but he left the last decision with me, saying that he would respect my choice regardless.
It was never really a question for me after I had seen her heartbeat and so it was a decision from the heart rather than from the mind: We were going to move forward with this new situation.
Deep down I knew that ending the pregnancy at this stage would have left me wounded probably for the rest of my life.
I had witnessed a number of women in my life who had aborted babies and they all experienced pain. There was not a single one who was just easy and cool about it. It simply isn’t true that women take abortions lightly. In my experience they don’t and the majority leave this possibility as their last option.
A woman who has to take that decision, always needs our compassion and never our judgement. Saying No to a 20 year project when she feels that she can’t do it, needs to be respected as it is an act of taking responsibility rather than the opposite. Also she often has to take the part of the responsibility for the man too. But this is for another time.
My decision to carry this baby to term and raise it, made my partner have to rise to the occasion too, and so after a couple of months of getting used to the idea and watching my belly grow, we started looking into birthing options.
We went to the practice of my doctor to get a first advice and he explained to me which hospitals he is in contract with, in order to accompany the Mothers-to-be during labour.
None of the suggested options was appealing to me. Also I had gotten to know him a bit better and I simply couldn’t see this man being there for the most transformative and vulnerable moment of my life.
The stories he told me were all somehow scary and lacked respect for the miracle of Birth itself. All I ever heard was his take on things from the medical point of view and often his stories made me fearful.
I felt much more confident with women around me in this phase of my life and I wondered how on Earth was I ever going to do this in a way that feels natural?
Luckily, a friend of mine who used to be a practicing midwife before she had kids herself, told me about the existence of birthing houses.
A birthing house!
I felt excited the minute she introduced me to this idea which I couldn't get out of my head again!
A birthing house, I then researched, is a place where midwives run everything. The whole spectrum of maternity care from pregnancy over birth preparation, childbirth as well as postnatal care. There are no doctors involved unless there is an emergency or a special request.
In the area we lived there were only two of those centres and while one was much closer, the other one, which was half an hours drive away, made me feel really warm and happy.
I slept a few nights over it and my decision was made.
My baby was going to be born in this place. To me it felt like a sanctuary and I felt that this was going to be a place where I was safe from imposed medical interventions and possible issues that arise often due to the interventions. I was sure that my integrity would be respected here.
The way I looked at it, was that there is a subtle balance in the process which is easiest and best when supported and not when interfered with. I felt that I needed a place where I could completely relax and surrender into the process.
I liked the midwives, the atmosphere was serene and peaceful. It seemed so much more suitable to me than a hospital for the experience I wanted to create.
I considered childbirth a spiritual initiation into the next phase of life and I intended to expand into it and experience every part of it fully and consciously.
When I enter a hospital usually, the last thing I can possibly think of is expansion. Every time I enter one, I feel intimidated and the atmosphere feels scary. So I contract and try to get out again as quick as I can. That wasn't going to help me if I was going to give birth the way I wanted to.
The house, which was transformed into the birthing house was about 60 years old. It had three storeys with wooden stairs, making creaky sounds when someone walked on them, the walls were painted in soft colours and there were photos of the team, babies, lovely paintings and flowers decorating everything.
All felt right. My partner noticed that it made me very comfortable to be here and so he supported me despite his initial doubts.
He, like most people, didn’t know any other approach than the medical one and so it was a process for him to learn that another way was not only possible but maybe even appropriate, given I was a healthy woman.
Slowly and over the course of a few weeks his doubts were replaced by trust and inspiration.
The deep wisdom and knowledge from the midwives planted seeds of confidence in him.
He knew that dignity and authenticity mattered to me a lot and I needed him to have my back, now more than ever.
With overflowing excitement I went to my next appointment at the Doctor’s office. I told him about my new plan of giving birth in the birthing house.
I should have known that he was not going to be able to react positively. He looked at me with a hysterical expression and said with an assertive and loud voice:” A birthing house?! You are aware that all the babies coming from there are born like this..?!” As he spoke, he cringed his body, twisted his hands and face, miming spastic paralysis. In his world, all babies born through women, without medical assistance were prone to have major deficiencies, all because of irresponsible women daring to take charge of their own bodies.
Here he was, the classical patriarchal smart aleck trying to patronize me in a rotten way.
I was in disbelief!
This was not the first time he made me feel like that. It had happened a number of times before. He tried to plant seeds of fear in me and make me an accomplice to his distorted views, where women preparing to birth their own babies needed the guidance of men in white coats.
The first time it happened was only three months into the pregnancy, when he convinced me to do a test to calculate the risk of having a child with down syndrome. Naively and without considering the consequences, I agreed, which led me to allow him to extract fluid with a big needle from the amniotic sac, because according to the outcome of this test, I was in a high risk category for a child with down syndrome.
It was a traumatizing moment for my unborn child as well as for myself. I had to lay in bed for two days to avoid losing the baby, apart from that, I couldn’t get the picture out of my head, where he penetrated the needle into the womb and the little foetus which seemed to be moving happily, suddenly became still.
The second time it happened, was when he took measurements of the width of my hips and length of my belly, looked at me seriously and told me:” yeah, most likely you will have a c-section since your measures are way too narrow to give birth normally.”
Now this time, I decided, was the last time I allowed this man to try and hijack my confidence, while undermining my mental and physical ability to do what women always have done- bring forth life.
I had enough, and I felt ready to reclaim my autonomy once and for all.
I walked out of his practice and onto the street.
I took a minute to calm down and center myself and then walked upstairs again, straight to the front desk asking for my records. Then I left the office with my head held high and a sense of pride that I wasn’t going to allow him any longer to make me smaller just so he could feel bigger. I told the assistant that I will not come back.
I took my papers to the birthing house and gave myself into the capable hands of the midwives. By giving them my trust, I empowered them too and as much as I needed their safe haven, as much they needed women like me who believe in their ability to give birth. They face much pressure from the medical society and the health insurances, that it is nothing short of admirable that these ladies stay so strong. If something goes wrong they are being held accountable in all ways under the sun while facing tremendous critique. It almost seems that the system simply does not like empowered women to empower women, certainly not in childbirth.
But what they know is deep feminine knowledge and wisdom. There is no arrogance but humility, there is no unnecessary intervening or rushing a woman, but patience and the understanding that a birth process takes the time it takes and doesn’t follow an artificial schedule. Ever.
And so the day came when baby was ready. I had woken up for two nights every ten minutes. Two days and nights of contractions and on this day I was not going to leave again. I was going to have this baby.
I entered the beautiful birth room. Naturally dyed curtains let the light in but kept the place private and guarded. The birth pool was big, round and stood in the middle of the room. There was a bed and a rope hanging from the ceiling as well as a green gymnastic ball.
As the waves started to roll over me in stronger and stronger ways and shorter and shorter intervals, the caring midwife was present and holding space for me. She didn’t talk much but always kept checking on the heartbeat, letting my body guide the process. I had taken CD’s and she played whatever I asked her. Morning turned into afternoon and eventually day into night. She lit candles and stayed very close to me all the time, so did my partner.
No one was rushing me or imposing anything. I had declared in the beginning that I wanted no painkillers offered to me when things would get rougher and my will was respected throughout the process. I went in and out of the bath tub, stood up, hung onto my partner or the wall, and was given water, isotonic drinks or homeopathy. Whatever kept my spirit and strength up.
I could fully express myself, sing or scream, lay down or stand up. Whatever I needed, it was provided.
They kept a space of dignity and choice, while checking on the heartbeat regularly and doing their job- with respect to me, the baby and the process. My daughter was born after 16 hours of labour. It was surely the most exhausting thing I had ever done in my life, but I was so determined to learn what it means to birth a human being into this world that I didn’t want any modification and I didn’t want anyone taking my experience or pain away. I wanted to know what my limitations are and I was rewarded with a learning experience like no other. I can wholeheartedly say that I had an amazing birth, one where pain turned into power.
Every single minute of it was worth it and I realised that I had created a Rite of Passage for myself.
It was the most powerful initiation imaginable.
There is a moment within the process of giving birth, when you think you die. It’s a scary thing because it feels very real. Later I read somewhere that this phenomenon is known. What happens is that the girl, the maiden dies, so that the Mother can be born. This felt completely true.
Birthing a child is an initiation of the woman into the next phase of life. It’s deeply personal and how we do it matters a lot.
Almost any woman can give birth like I did, in fact many do.
It’s a matter of believing in yourself and your innate ability to bring forth life.
I don’t have an exceptionally high tolerance of pain, I cry when I cut my finger.
If we are given a supportive environment that is dedicated to the magic of this journey, one that honours the spiritual passage it is, a lot is possible and we can outgrow ourselves. Beside the physical level of labour, there is a subtle event happening too and that is on the soul level, where not just one body birthes another but one soul gives entry to another in this realm.
That part, my dear sisters is the one that you will notice later on. It is on you to create for yourself a subtle unfolding of this life changing event. You and no one else is in charge in the end. Do not allow anyone to take away from your experience, unless there truly is a medical reason and also that can happen and then that requires a change of priorities.
My doctor who wanted me to have a c-section would have had to scratch his head that giving Birth naturally and in the for me ideal environment worked. I didn’t even have a tear. My cervix just took the time it needed to completely dilate and I was given time with no one losing their cool or starting to panic at any moment. Instead I was offered valuable advice and support that helped me every step of the way.
I am eternally grateful for the presence, patience and wisdom of the beautiful midwives which allowed me to experience the incredible strength and power any woman inherits.
Stories from the edge
Uta Verena is a Mother, a Yoga,-and Healing Practitioner, She deeply cares about Earth and is passionate about the restoration of inner and outer balance.