Disclaimer:

If detailed accounts of childbirth squeam you out, click away before it’s too late! I’ve hesitated telling this story in public for over a year, because of its personal nature. It felt as though sharing my story would open it up to the scrutiny and ridicule of others, and that, somehow, documenting it would cheapen my sweet memories. I’ve chosen to push past this fear and share it anyway to preserve it in my own memory. 

Since giving birth to my son almost 4 years ago and then my daughter last summer, I’ve become aware of the culture of fear and anxiety that surrounds the deeply feminine and spiritual act that is childbirth. My story is one of millions of stories, some documented in writing and others only in the memories of those mothers who were there. It’s often that the stories that get told and retold are the ones that continue the culture of fear surrounding childbirth. 

My hope is that my story, as strange as it may seem, helps to counteract these messages and pushes other mothers, future mothers, and childcare professionals to rethink what may be possible for their own story.

This is the story of my daughter’s birth.

Look at those cheeks though (photo credit: Lisa Rubel Photography)

In our household, my mom (who’d had 6 children, half of those births were unmedicated) was fairly open about the birthing experience. We watched A Baby Story on TLC frequently, and just like most women I grew up thinking that childbirth was probably the most painful, scary thing anyone goes through regularly. I wasn’t really scared, I just tried to not ever think about it. I never really had much interest in childbirth, much less that it was possible that it didn’t have to be incredibly painful and just short of horrific.

Orgasmic birth? (insert cry-laughing face)

My first exposure to the concept of orgasmic birth was in high school at a good friend’s home in rural Saskatchewan, where a group of friends and I were visiting. His mother was a very outspoken woman with auburn dreadlocks, with many strong opinions about natural child rearing. As soon as we walked into the living room, I noticed a youtube video playing on a large computer in the corner of the room, all about the “Orgasmic Birth Experience.”  I was simultaneously taken aback and highly amused, so I filed it away in my “Woo woo things that probably don’t happen but hippies like to talk about” box in my mind.

Photo credit: Lisa Rubel Photography

An awesome but difficult first birth

Fast forward ten years later, and I am pregnant with my second baby. I had been exposed to a lot more information about natural childbirth, including the book Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, which I have reread a number of times (and I HIGHLY recommend it).

I had my first unmedicated birth with my son at the same birth center I was planning my current one. I went into labor while dressed up and attending a live performance of Phantom of the Opera at the TPAC in Nashville (yes, I stayed until the end! I’ll tell this story another day) It was an intense 20+ hours of labor and my son was so barrel chested at 10 lbs. 5 oz. that his shoulder got stuck and he broke his collarbone on his way out. Fortunately, it healed in less than a week, but the whole experience including the transfer to the hospital with him in a separate ambulance and the myriad breastfeeding issues was rough, and made me hope for a better experience this time.

The TPAC isn’t the most ideal location for almost childbirth

Show time!

Active labor began quickly, three days after my daughter’s due date. I had prodromal labor for about three weeks, which is basically “false alarm” labor that prepares you for “active” labor, and it’s not quite as intense. I was obviously pretty miserable at this point and not fun to be around at all, since I was overdue, claustrophobic, could hardly breathe, eat, sleep, or walk, and just wanted to meet my baby. My mom and sister stayed and helped me pass the time by going on lots of long walks, prepping freezer meals, and catching up on some Netflix. Long-suffering, we all were.

On that evening, I decided to help my sister dye her hair pink, since I was having consistent contractions that I assumed were just another false alarm and needed a distraction! However, halfway through the dye job in my kitchen, I was having strong contractions every 4 minutes and was forced to abandon my poor sister’s hair to lie down in my room.

While my mom hurriedly finished the dye job, my labor was quickly getting more and more intense and I felt her head drop lower with each contraction. At 10-11 PM, after about an hour of this, my husband and mom helped me finish packing up my hospital bag and snack cooler filled with watermelon juice and fruit, and help me down the three flights of stairs. I had grown to hate those steps over the 2+ years I had been climbing them up and down, and now that I was having a contraction every several steps, and they enraged me more than ever. My sister stayed behind to take care of my toddler, who was already asleep.

I drank copious amounts of this before and during childbirth, maybe it helped?

All the annoying transition stuff in between

After a bumpy 45 minute car ride, I arrived at the birth center and met the midwife who would be helping me deliver my daughter. Even though I had never met her before, she immediately put me at ease since she reminded me of a cross between my first midwife who had delivered my son, and one of my good friends who is also a midwife. As soon as we got there, I had to pee and get hooked up to an antibiotic IV drip (since I was positive for strep B), but I was having several contractions right after the other so it took what felt like forever to get settled and changed into my soft black robe. 

After laboring standing up or leaning next to the bed for awhile (I found that I could ease the pressure a bit by pressing on my thighs to stretch my spine out), I felt like the transition phase was beginning, and decided to labor lying down on the bed with a pillow between my legs. I didn’t want anyone to touch me or talk to me, so the midwife watched me from a distance, filled out paperwork, and checked me periodically. It was for the next hour and a half or so that I entered what I can only describe as an altered state.

Apparently altered states during childbirth are a thing

The “waves” of contractions were so intense that I had to go to a place inside myself deeper than ever before to be able to withstand it. I felt like the world outside me didn’t even exist, and almost forgot where I was during each one. I remember feeling like the pressure was a physical force that was so powerful that I had to become just as strong and powerful to match it instead of resisting it. With my last birth, I got through it by imagining all of the strong women that have birthed children over thousands of years, but this time it was so intense that I somehow that I had to augment it by tapping into my masculine energy too.

So in that strange, ineffable altered state, I became Joe Rogan, the comedian, MMA commentator and podcaster. It was crazy because I really felt like I WAS him (I wasn’t actively controlling or deciding any of this consciously, it’s just what happened in my mind and it’s hilarious to me to this day. I think that’s who my psyche latched on to because I have always felt an affinity with him and he has a very masculine, solid energy about him. So JR, if you’ve ever had a dream/ DMT trip in which you were a woman in labor, that was me!). 

Yeah, my thoughts exactly.

Thanks, Joe.

I felt like the contractions were right at the limit of what a human can physically handle, but knew that if my own body was creating them I wouldn’t die. Even though the pressure was like being at the bottom of the ocean, I felt empowered enough to handle it well.

In between these powerful contractions, I would come out of it with my entire body trembling violently and crying refreshing tears as if I was releasing deep emotional wounds from generations before.  I felt high and euphoric for a few minutes while my mom rubbed my back, before the next wave would come over me and I once again turned into Joe Rogan and want to be left alone again.

Sarah, the water goddess

I had no sense of time whatsoever, but apparently this went on for over an hour. I felt my baby start to press her way out, and let the midwife know, who I don’t think believed me, since I was still alone and quiet lying on the bed the whole time. She basically humored me by coming to check me, and said it would probably still be a while before the birth. My husband left the room to get a drink from the vending machine right before she turned me over and checked me. When she did this, I had another intense contraction that broke my water aggressively and exploded it all over her and across the birth suite! It was awesome and I felt like a powerful water goddess. Thankfully she was gracious about it since amniotic fluid is a pretty big part of the midwifery job description.

Fire in the hole!

My husband rushed back into the room, and I started to feel the urge to push so I turned over on my hands and knees. After a couple of contractions her head started to crown, and the midwife (and her assistant and nurse now)  turned me over onto my back to help “open me up” a little more. After only a couple more pushes, my body took over again and pushed her out almost without effort from me, and with only a brief burning sensation.

As she was born, at 1:15 AM, an indescribable flash of an ecstatic feeling of “spiritual oneness with everything” came over me as they placed her heavy, squishy body on my chest with a thud. All of my pelvic floor muscles continued to contract in waves over and over again, which translated into feeling like a *super* strong but weird orgasm (it didn’t exactly feel “good” since a giant baby just came out of there, but it was all of the same muscles and I felt it all throughout my body) that lasted over a solid minute. I didn’t tear at all, even though she was a mongo baby at 10 pounds, 15 ounces!

Exhausted out of my mind but feeling great

Post-birth euphoria

The next 24 hours were absolute bliss emotionally, even with all of the physical unpleasantness that happens right after childbirth. My new baby was absolutely gorgeous with dark hair and rolls all over the place, and she latched on and nursed perfectly right away. I had a sense of euphoria as if I would never have a negative emotion ever again.

We got to stay overnight at the cozy birth center, and I stared at my beautiful new baby all night long while I decided on her name. Arielle it was.

The next 3-4 months were probably the busiest I’ve ever been (we decided to buy a fixer upper a couple of weeks later, and a bunch of other crazy stuff happened), but I still had that deeply content and grounded feeling that helped me get through it. I healed extremely quickly and my baby and I have an exceptionally healthy bond to this day.

What happened to me again?

I honestly forgot all about the inexplicably spiritual, orgasmic moment of birth until a few weeks later in that “half asleep” hypnagogic state where you remember random things, and I woke with a start with the realization of “OMG WHAT THE F*** I had an actual orgasmic birth, why didn’t anyone tell me that’s what it was!?” I refrained from telling almost anyone about it since I didn’t want them to think I was nuts. I looked up “orgasmic birth” and “altered states during childbirth” and my experience fit both of those perfectly. And ever since then, now over a year ago, I have felt a much stronger sense of empowerment about myself, and have been much more grounded and confident.

Have we been lied to?

I had never done any kind of psychedelics, I don’t make my own yogurt or consider myself a “hippie crunchy mom” (only a little bit, hehe), and my interest in “new age” spirituality is more of a passing curiosity. But the undoubtedly spiritual, ineffable experience I had while birthing my daughter, with its lasting, life changing effect on me, has had this question on my mind – why don’t more women know about this part of birth? If I had known that was even ~in the realm~ of possibility, I probably would have been looking forward to birth instead of dreading it.

Why aren’t women told that their birth experience could be spiritually transformative?

Whenever I read lots of birth stories, I feel incredibly sad at the amount of disempowerment going on in the medical birth community at large. Women are generally taught to fear their bodies, that birth is always a scary painful thing and that you *need* help and as much numbing as possible to get through. (I’m not talking about real medical complications which DO need medical assistance for sure, I’m talking about the normal, healthy, everyday kinds of pregnancies/births) Women’s vaginas are cut without consent, have large male hands shoved inside roughly, pressured into things they don’t want or need to do, disrespected, poked and prodded endlessly during the stage where you need your inner strength the most, and it makes me ANGRY.

Things are better, but we have a long way to go.

Yes, we have come a long way from the 60s and 70s when women were left to birth literally strapped to beds with bright lights shining on them while surrounded by unsympathetic strangers. But I cannot shake the feeling that the systematic disconnection of women from the spirituality and inner strength of childbirth is another way we have been held back from our true power over the decades. I think that if more women knew about this and the extent of their inner wisdom, the patriarchal and sometimes abusive medical system we currently have wouldn’t last long.

Yet one of the key barriers to women accessing this power and resource is the stories we tell and allow to be told surrounding childbirth. I’ve seen many birth-positive stories on social media be mocked and ridiculed by other mothers who had difficult births. I may be the next mother who is mocked or looked upon with derision by others. 

The rule, not the exception

I fear contributing to the messaging around women that creates unrealistic standards or that other women will feel “less than” as a result of my own story. This is not my intent. The truth is that I do not know why my birth story went the way it did. I have no five step program to reach an altered state in labor or experience an orgasmic birth. The mystery will linger for some time. 

While I cannot tell you how it happened, other than a cocktail of hormones, I can tell you that I’m incredibly grateful for the experience.

Perhaps one day our knowledge of human consciousness and feminine power will advance, and we will be able to increase our level of education and preparation for women, to where stories like mine will become the rule and not the exception.

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