"When babies are born, so is the mother" is a common phrase among birth workers. While that's true, it's also a somewhat incomplete and limited reflection. Here our client, author, Sarah Showalter-Fuillette, expands on that idea as she shares her birth story and beautiful insights of her own birthing experiences.
We Birth More Than Our Children
The birth of my first child, my daughter, Clover, in 2015 was a long, challenging, and wholly transformational experience. She was born at home in San Francisco after 55 hours of labor. The long and short of her birth was that, well, it was long and not much about it was short.
I had prepared for the home birth with my husband, my midwives and doula, and internally with my own mind. I worked hard to stay present in the experience, long and meandering as it was. (I distinctly remember my midwife observing me at the 50-hour mark and declaring I was still in “early labor.” I contemplated punching her.) And I spent a lot of time reflecting on the birth in the weeks and months that followed. Reflecting on the significant shift in who I felt I had become. Reflecting on my transformation because of the powerful act of birthing.
The birth itself was a lesson in letting go of control. Of releasing to the experience of birth and, thus, those that come in life. It was a crash course in learning to trust the part of my being that is wholly separate from my thoughts and mind. It was an awakening of a deeper, ancient side of my femininity. It connected me to the billions of women who had come before.
Birth released my dormant, inner power.
After birthing my daughter I wondered why we women even bother trying to prove we can make it in a man’s world, as this now seems like child’s play. Climb the corporate ladder? Obviously I could do that. DID YOU SEE THAT I JUST PRODUCED A HUMAN WITH MY OWN BODY?!
It took awhile for me to understand but I now see the day of Clover’s birth as also they day I birthed Sarah-as-a-mother, it marked the end of an era of being focused on my individual-self, and the day we began the journey to a new family unit.
Overnight, I felt my priorities shift from my previously nuclear family, in which I had years of participation as the little sister and daughter to my new nuclear family where I was, more firmly, a wife and, most notably, a new mother to this perfect little being.
When it came time to prepare for the birth of my second, two-and-a-half years later, I felt ready. Now living in San Jose, I had to find new birth providers. I had to prepare for another homebirth which takes logistical, physical, and–most importantly, in my opinion–mental preparation. I spoke to the doula I’d had during my first birth and she charged me to remember that the things I needed first time around might not be the things I’d need this time. This certainly rang true. First time around I sought women who were strong in a somewhat more in-your-face, activist kind-of way. Women who outwardly fought the patriarchy and the “system” (though they absolutely respected hospitals, doctors and medical interventions when necessary or wanted.) The second time around my team consisted of midwives and doulas with a quieter strength. A strength that wasn’t so much heard as felt.
My doulas–Wendy and Kersti–especially embodied steady, calm confidence. Their confidence in a woman’s birthing body, in me, was infectious. It emanated from them and was felt in every unhurried, loving interaction. They assured by their presence. They eased my fears. With them, I felt ready for whatever might come.
My second’s birth story:
On June 2, 2019, two days before my estimated “due” date, I began having contractions around 6am every 6-10 minutes. They were not increasing in intensity, but were not abating. Walking, sitting, lying, showering changed nothing and I had to breathe through them. Then, around 9am they backed off completely. I was disappointed that they’d backed off and very tired. By 12:30 I was convinced birth was not happening today, so sent my husband, Romain, and daughter off on a bike ride and laid down to watch T.V. I had 3 more contractions, 10 minutes apart and then my water broke at 1:15pm. I felt good, texted my team, called Romain and Clover to come back, and hopped in the shower.
In the ensuing minutes between my call and their arrival back home I began to move through transition. On hands-and-knees in the shower alone I thought, “I do NOT want to do this.” When Romain arrived, I said “Call everyone. Tell them to come.” Romain set up the bed while timing my contractions. Clover would “help” him set up the bed and every 2 minutes, when a new contraction started, she would run into the bathroom and stare between my legs. “The baby isn’t here yet” she’d inform me, slightly annoyed, when the contraction ended.
I moved to the toilet and my team arrived. Wendy joined me and used some aromatherapy as a labored. Her presence was calming. I told her I wanted to move to the bed.
Romain told the midwife he was going to begin setting up the tub. Even though she’d yet to lay eyes on me she could hear me in the other room. “Don’t bother,” she responded. “You’re going to have a baby in about 15 minutes.”
On the bed, I asked Romain to hold my hands. I hadn’t requested his presence like this during Clover’s birth. But this time around, he grounded me.
I moved to a “soccer squat” on the bed and soon felt my body push baby down during the surges. The only difference for me between “contractions” and “pushing” is that the sensations during “pushing” have an additional, extreme downward force. To me, they are otherwise equally intense.
My 3-year-old Clover was mere inches away at the corner of the bed watching with a smile on her face. When the baby’s head emerged and hung out for 2 minutes, suspended between two worlds, she kept exclaiming, “Hi little baby! Hi little baby! Hi little baby!”
And then he came! He was a boy! Fast and fierce he arrived 1 hour and 14 minutes after my water had broken. It’s as if his fast birth was to say, “I’m ready to be in this family with you guys, let’s get this party started!”
I had been warned that second births go quicker than firsts, but after 55 hours the first time around, I really didn’t think it would move *quite* so quickly for us.
I was in a bit of shock, to be perfectly honest. When Clover was born I felt elated, powerful, and healthy pretty much right away, despite the 55 hour labor. With my second, the placenta wouldn’t come out. We tried herbs, he was breastfeeding, I thanked the placenta, but still it wouldn’t budge. After 59 minutes, the midwife gave me a shot of pitocin to avoid having to go to the hospital for a retained placenta. That did the trick, and out it came. I felt better once I was officially done birthing, but it still took me a while to feel “good.” It took me a while to connect to him.
A short birth is a challenge in it’s own way. Your body has so little time to acclimate to the intensity. I was overjoyed to have him with us, healthy and thriving, but didn’t feel the same superhuman feeling I’d felt the first time around.
I remember mentioning this to my team a day or two after he was born and someone saying, “The first time around you birth a baby and you birth yourself into a mother. The second time around, you’re already a mother.”
So, then, what else is born? I had spent so much time reflecting on what else had been born in me along with Clover I wondered whether anything else was born along with my son, Forrest. Need there be more than him? He was incredible! He was perfect! Why did I need to reflect on what else had been born?
But almost one year later I can tell you, in addition to this awesome little boy, what else was born–a full family. Yes, our family unit had 3 members once Clover was born and I’d have bucked at the idea that we weren’t yet “complete.” But I had so much internal, womanly adjusting of myself going on I can see now that the 3-person-unit was different. We had two adults who were finding their footing as parents and individuals and a baby finding her way into the world. We were a family unit, no doubt, but we were also three individuals learning how to come together.
Three years later, when Forrest was born, he somehow solidified our family. No longer do I feel we are individuals learning how to exist as such among others. We now exist first and foremost as a family unit. Our individual selves, at least for the moment, come second to the family. Where as before the dynamic between adults and children was unbalanced we are now on equal footing; two adults, squarely residing in the middle-ish stage of life, and two children with their hearts and souls blooming into a future we as adults cannot entirely see.
For me, I no longer feel much like my individual, maiden, pre-mother-self. On some days, I miss her. But as the mother of a family unit I find my purpose is to invest in the security and facilitate the growth of the family over the growth of myself. I’m still learning to be this woman, this mother, this young matriarch of my own family.
Along with Forrest, I have birthed myself into a woman who finds happiness in this largely unacknowledged stage of cultivation. My current role is to create a secure home-base for the family. Once established, it will serve us all as a safe place from which we can jump off into the world as confident individuals. I plant seeds every day in the foundational, figurative garden of our home life. And as much as I wish this “woman’s work” was more seen in our culture, I hope my children do not see such much as feel this grounding. These roots, I hope, will silently support them as they learn to explore and become themselves and, eventually, move confidently throughout the world.
I have birthed myself into a woman who is finding joy in this new stage. This stage of family rooting, cultivation, growth and change. This unacknowledged effort is my endless and proper work. I will learn what it has to teach me.
Birth, God-willing, will always bring babies.
But we women birth more than our children. There is an extraordinary power that comes to a birthing woman. An innate, incredible energy that transforms how she sees the world, who she is, and how she loves.
What will birthing awaken in you?
Sarah Showalter-Feuillette is the author of Find Your Birth Joy: How to release fear, prepare your mind, and find support for a natural childbirth. It can be found on Amazon.com and at www.findyourbirthjoy.com. Sarah lives in San Jose with her husband Romain, their daughter Clover (born at home, 2015), and Forrest (born at home, 2018).