Trusting the Unknown: A Birth Story
Written by Sarah Engelhart, Co-founder of Joan of Sparc
I realized while breastfeeding my almost 8-month-old son this morning, that I am beginning to forget his birth story. To be clear, I will never actually forget the enormity of the birth, but as time progresses the subtle details that were once so vivid are beginning to fade. As I write this, my eyes are slightly stinging, in the same way they do after a red-eye flight. Sleep deprivation is a side effect of motherhood that I have accepted. Besides having occasional burning eyes and a perpetual fogginess from not sleeping through the night for almost a year, I feel happier than ever. (And that is saying a lot for someone who has prized herself on 8+ hours of sleep every night for years.)
Part of what makes birth so powerful is that it is on the edge of so many things: Life, death, sex, spirituality, pain, and most importantly, the unknown.
Even talking about birth in a way that feels most authentic to me balances on the edge of being inappropriate or oversharing. It feels vulnerable to talk about. But that makes sense to me because giving birth is a vulnerable process, and an empowering one. Birth has taught me a bit more about the strength that can only come through surrender and trusting the unknown.
My birth story is somewhat unusual by modern standards. I blissfully surrendered to my body’s instinct to push him down and out into a big tub of water at the birthing center near the beach in California. As softly reflected sunlight danced across the surface of the water, the playlist of sacred songs I created months prior played in the background. After 15-20 minutes of pushing, his dad caught him while kneeling on the outside of the tub next to my doula and midwife.
Two women on my birth team later told me it looked like I had an “orgasmic birth”. (Apparently throwing my head back and saying “Yesssss” during some of the bigger contractions could be considered “orgasmic” but in the moment, surrendering to the force of sensations surging through my body was the only viable option.) Honestly, it wasn’t orgasmic… it was beyond that; the birth was sacred and blissful but there was never a feeling of it being sexual. It was primal. And my understanding of that word now is much more complex and rich then it previously was. I found it quite healing to be so uninhibited… simply because you can’t birth a human and be self conscious at the same time.
Giving birth required all of my attention so there was no space for the usual thoughts of insecurity or shame to emerge for me.
I am still astounded by how miraculous the whole process of bringing new life into the world is. Even the moments I had anticipated being the most painful to bear during labor were not as painful for me as I imagined they would be. Interestingly, I didn’t even notice I’d torn because it didn’t hurt in the moment. Side-note: if you don’t know about the “ring of fire” as it is affectionately referred to, I suggest you google it) I attribute the lack of severe pain, in part, to the practice of surrendering to the contractions instead of resisting them. (Much easier said than done) It also helped that my baby was positioned in a way that didn’t cause any complications or back labor (ouch!).
Using visualization to ease the pain
Once the contractions started to get painful, I listened to some hypnosis tracks that are designed for giving birth. The hypnosis tracks helped me to contextualize the pain as just a sensation. Whenever my uterus started to contract, I imagined that the sensations were power surges with a benevolent purpose to allow the baby to move out of my body naturally and with ease. My intention was to keep myself from getting stuck in fear or resistance which can release stress hormones in the body.
I even found myself praying and meditating in some moments, visualizing a rainbow portal opening between this world and the other world for the spirit of my baby to make its way onto Earth…. strangely this also helped to lessen the pain.
Observing my body take over the birthing process on its own was quite magnificent. I found it extraordinarily instinctual as I heard myself making sounds that I almost didn’t recognize as my own voice. Our bodies, as women, are so strong and nothing short of miraculous. (We should invent a word that is a combination of sacred and miraculous to refer to our bodies from this point forward.) Giving birth was one of the greatest and most interesting experiences of my life. An empowering gift and a true blessing.
I now have even stronger trust in the innate wisdom that resides within me. Call it Truth, God, Intuition, trusting the Unknown, whatever you wish.
Finding communion with the Divine
There was a moment just after I got pregnant where I felt disturbed by how painful birth looked. In the realm of infinite possibilities, I couldn’t wrap my head around why we are designed to bring life into the world in such a horribly painful looking way. I brought the question inward almost like a prayer, and was somewhat surprised when I received a response from what I can only refer to as the Divine within me. Chills ran up my spine and intuition delivered a sense of knowing that there is an intelligence intrinsic to the design of birth. I feel this even more strongly now after having gone through it. In that moment, it was as though a sweet voice I have known for eternity whispered to me that I can trust It to support me through the birth process and that there is a reason why birth is designed the way it is. I don’t know how to say it without sounding uber lofty spiritual… but after that moment of insight,
I knew I could surrender to my heart and listen deeply for the guidance that exists within me to support me through the process of giving birth.
Approaching the birth process, my contractions (sensations so strong that they practically threw me to the ground), and pushing out my baby with a sense of trust in the Divine within me was an amazing experience to say the least.
So much preparation and still no guarantee
Leading up to the birth I did everything I could to try and prepare for an easeful experience. I was determined not to experience unnecessary interventions like so many other women have in the conventional medical system around birth, ie: a series of inductions, complications and an eventual c-section. I am well aware that surgery can be lifesaving, as well as all the other interventions that hospitals provide. And I have profound respect for every woman’s journey to motherhood. There really is no one size fits all approach to birth. Even with all my preparation, I knew that I had to surrender to whatever was going to happen and practice trusting the unknown.
We are each endowed with the freedom to make a choice based on the circumstances that unfold in life. Only we can decide for ourselves what an empowered birth looks like.
After all is said and done, I am left with a sense of awe for the utter magnificence of life. I have learned things about both my strengths and weaknesses that I was not aware of before giving birth. Trusting the unknown and remembering to take refuge in the Divine spark inside is something that has forever changed me. In some ways it was as though a new part of me was born through giving birth. A more selfish part of me has started to die as I now am starting to see the value of life more clearly than before. There is a new sense of appreciation for taking care of others, starting with my baby, that has started to permeate my life. And a new kind of reverence for life itself, after experiencing what it takes for each one of us to come into the world. (They don’t call birth labor for nothing)
Now, I am more inspired than ever to support other women in connecting with their inner knowing, trusting the unknown, facing the darkness with honesty, and finding greater compassion and self-nurturance. When we as women do these things, we are transformed into something beautiful, fierce and wise. We are in this together, after all.