Sunday, January 8, 2012

Birth of Morgana Faye, 1992

Both of my babies' births have been prefaced by a slow descent into the primordial. On both occasions, I required a full week of intense nesting activities interspersed by equally intense mood swings, while contractions became increasingly noticeable, to finally make the “descent” from my head into the depths of my body. Preparation for my second birth was so intellectually exhausting that the power of my mind finally yielded to the power of my body seven days after my “due date”.
    As with my first birth, the onset of labor was a gradual process. As I come face to face with the raw power of my body in giving birth I am at once terrified and electrified. The intensity of my labors is a direct reflection of the time it takes me to give in and allow myself to ride the waves of energy coursing through my body. Immersion in the birth experience means fully embracing the power of creation, becoming one with it. 
    I experienced my labor as if it were a dream from which I awoke and floated restlessly back into, wanting desperately to see how it would come out, but wondering if I would ever fully awaken. In reflecting on my  births I recall an intense, deeply cellular memory of always feeling safe. I don’t believe I could have fully experienced and truly owned my other feelings without that prerequisite safety. 
    I was awake most of the night of August 15, watching my labor pass like a slow procession before me. By 7 in the morning I had tired of watching alone and was losing my ability to remain fully present. As the day dawned drizzly and cool, Donna and the apprentice Nancy arrived, as did my son Allie’s godmother Beverly. My husband David set up the elaborate system of hoses that filled and drained the drinking trough that took center stage in the living room. I had decided when Allie was 6 months old that my next birth would be underwater, and once Morgana agreed to relinquish her breech position near the end of my pregnancy, everyone was comfortable with the idea.     
    Throughout the morning Donna and Nancy seemed to almost fade in and out of my reality. I have strong memories of the smells, sounds and tactile experiences of my labor, while others retain the more visual experiences for me. We chose to shoot only black and white photographs of my births, because black and white photography has always felt much closer to the bone for me and seems to resonate the full range of senses, whereas color is primarily a visual experience for me. I later hand-colored some of the photos, adding my own subjective visual texture.
    I remember the smell of muffins in the morning, the sweet taste of the sauce in the lasagna at midday, the firm pressure of Nancy’s hands on my lower back and the immense comfort of Beverly caring for me by caring for my son. I remember the way the wood of the deck gave slightly beneath my feet, damp from the drizzle that came and went all day. I am eternally grateful to Donna for the rhythm of her hands as they moved across her needlework, trusting in my body and in me, allowing a deep sense of security within me. 
    My labor was easily described as a labor from hell. My labor had stalled for hours at 7 centimeters, even with Donna holding my cervix through contractions three times and Nancy administering foul-tasting herbs to strengthen and regulate my contractions, which at times would simply stop for 20 minutes or more. Even though we all knew that my labor was definitely not progressing by any textbook standard I never felt pressured to speed things up and the interventions oddly fell into the rhythm of the birth.  I kept changing positions, getting in and out of the tub, laboring on all fours or leaning on Donna throughout contractions. I liked having space around my body when I felt strong, but when I felt diminished I leaned on Donna and soaked in her strength. 
    I felt the baby's quest to be born swell with intensity as the day wore on and I told Donna she was needing to come soon. To this day, I am amazed at Donna’s ability to read birthing energy in all its nuances. At some level, she knew that there was an emotional block to my ability to stay fully present in my body. She suggested that David play music. Normally I am loathe to hear music when I am trying to focus, but that day I would have tried anything Donna suggested. David played “In a Country Churchyard” by Chris de Burgh, the song that we had played at our wedding 11 years before. I felt my body relax into the tub while David sang the song to me. As tears streamed down my face, I felt my intellect finally collapse into full acceptance of the work my body needed to do. I progressed almost to transition as the song played, while Donna and Nancy cried in the kitchen. 
    I left the tub, and as I rocked, leaning on the couch, I told Donna that I had finally reached my limits. As she was supporting me through what was obviously transition, my water broke and Barbara arrived. Barbara’s presence completely changed the atmosphere in the room such that within a short time I was in the tub and pushing. It took a long time to push out my son Allie, so I was unprepared for the intensity of the first few pushes, which brought my baby’s head to crowning. Donna told me I could catch the baby myself, but I had death grips on David’s and Barbara’s hands as I squatted in the tub and I had no intention of releasing them. By this time Allie was standing before me with Beverly behind him, camera in hand. I have a fabulous shot of Allie standing in front of the tub while I am bearing down and being quite loud, as he is covering his ears. Beverly held him from then on, so I have no more pictures of the actual birth. 
    Barbara’s voice reached me, reminding me to breathe. With the next surge, Morgana’s head was in the water. In that moment, time stood still. My memory of the three minutes before the final surge is one of the longest, clearest memories I hold within me. Morgana’s head was sideways in the water and I could see her face clearly. There was vernex on her body and tiny curls covered her head. At that moment she appeared to literally stand between two worlds, simultaneously containing the innocence of new life and the wisdom of eternity in her tiny body.  I felt as if she and I were interwoven threads in the fabric of life, a fabric woven by all the births gone before us, and I felt a vital bond with all birthing women throughout the millennia.
    When I finally took a breathe, I raised my eyes to see everyone looking at me. I gazed into Donna’s eyes, content to remain where I was forever. Donna never spoke, but her energy reached out to me as if to simply will the next contraction. I answered her from deep within my soul and gave my daughter forth into the world. As I got out of the tub I lifted her into my arms, intent on being the first to hold her. Morgana nursed within moments of her very gentle birth and so began weaving her own way into the fabric of life.
    David and I chose Morgana’s name along with Alexander’s name nine years before Allie was born and long before we had ever heard of homebirth or water birth. Her birth was a dance that she choreographed while the rest of us simply gave ourselves to its wisdom. Morgana Faye was meant to enter the world just as she had on the 16th day of August 1992. Morgana means “by the sea”.

©JenniferTow, 1992