I love giving birth. It’s a strange thing to love, given the pain it brings. I, however, am a recovering perfectionist, a doer of all things, and a prayer easily distracted. Birth takes me over, and I go, willing and resisting, barefoot, into the heart of it.
Physically, the barefoot part is bit of a given. My long hours of labour start with a pony tail and comfortable clothes and slippers. Each stage of labour brings less composure, less clothing, less control. I am in labour and I am labouring, and the focus becomes less and less external and more and more internal.
And this is where the lines between the physical and spiritual reality blurred to incoherence. Each birth has been different from the others, each one carefully unwinding two persons who have been growing together. Birthing barefoot is showing up to see myself, my baby, and my God in the unwinding.
I have never been so prepared for a birth. Ten hours of false labour the week before gave us time to have things ready. The early hours before sunrise allowed for lunches to be made and the floors cleaned. After so much grief, I have been ready for and anticipating new life.
The labour progressed in its typically slow way for my body. It became more intense in a welcomed way over hours. We moved from the excitement of early labour and the attentive timing of contractions into the second stage with visiting between pain and focus in it. For me, the middle feels familiar – like leaning into the more difficult moments of my life: taking deep breaths when the kids throw fits, swallowing a reaction when someone speaks sharply, powering through procrastination and fear when I would rather give up. The middle is all optimism. Birth and my body in it still feels like a miracle.
And then I got stuck. For three and a half hours, despite my effort and the midwife’s, we did not move from seven centimetres. The pain deepened, my body fatigued, and I hit a wall of fear. I heard myself saying (more than I intended to say), “I feel like I cannot do this, like he is stuck, and something is wrong.” I begged for a trip to the hospital instead of staying at home, even though I did not want to go. For oxytocin, for epidural, for surgery. Anything to bring the unwinding to its right end, with no more pain.
The midwives did their monitoring. They ensured that my baby was not in distress. They monitored my health. But more, they heard the cry of my soul that I had not heard. The last baby I delivered was without breath, and was overshadowed by the death of the girl who was delivered with me. What if the new life I longed for wasn’t going to arrive? Physically, I could feel my resistance, but not spiritually.
I felt like a complete failure. My other births had been physically harder. I was begging for relief and caught in my own head. Hearing the reality, I was powerless to do anything else. I was at the bottom of my own capacity and God did not seem to be answering my prayers to take over.
While one midwife explained what moving to the hospital would mean, I listened with relief at simply doing something to change something, in complete desperation. The other midwife whispered: “You’ve had a really hard year. It makes sense that you would find it hard to trust the pain.”
Something shifted. I lost myself and my thoughts. My body took over. I shuddered through the next twenty minutes, clinging to Marc and crying until I heard myself say, “He’s coming.” And he did, right there in the living room, beside the birthing pool that had eased so much of the intensity before. And he was laying on my chest, warm and perfect.
My instinct is shame at the falling apart. And the day after, a midwife knocked on the door, and let herself in. She checked us both over, and reflected on the miracle. She poured her experience on the story of it all, and helped me see the moment when resistance surrendered to possibility.
It is only in the thinking back on it that I can see the bottom of my capacity as the greatest gift of the barefoot birthing. I have been so afraid to trust the pain. I needed birth and a midwife to whisper it to let God into the fear and break it up.
And so God arrives in a Christmas spilling into Lent, pouring new life into a season marked by ashes. Atticus is rising from ashes buried with Claire and Abbie, and God is raising me with him, here and now, in the barefoot birthing of a baby and my life.