taking the long way

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If you talk to my mother, she will tell you that I was trouble from the start. I was a ‘posterior’ baby, meaning that instead of settling my head into the optimal position in her pelvis during birth, with my squishy face pressed towards her sacrum, I chose to turn my back (literally) on convention, and do things my own way. This, of course, meant a longer, more painful, and ultimately more complicated birth for my mother and for me; and it foreshadowed the way I would approach much of my life’s journey.

Babies who decide to take the birth journey in the occiput posterior position are not pathological or abnormal–they represent a variation of normal. Yet, they often need more time to make their way into the world. Contractions have a tendency to fluctuate in their regularity, oscillating from periods of rhythmicity and predictability to perplexing stretches of time during which a seemingly well-established labor patterns dwindle and space out into an occasional, but powerful contraction. Why does this happen? How is it that the body, once laboring, doesn’t continue on a linear, ever longer, ever stronger, ever predictable path until the arrival of the baby? Because the baby is the one running the show! When the posterior baby finds that he needs to negotiate a different path, to make minute and precise adjustments to nestle the head into the perfect spot in the mother’s pelvis, time is needed. The baby is charting his very own course into the world, and he buys time by slowing the labor until he is ready to proceed. When he feels like he can move forward, the mother’s body responds by resuming regular, progressive contractions. This is mother and baby working symbiotically. And so it was with my birth. My mother’s contractions slowed to a halt. I needed time to find my way.

American birth being what it is (and what it was even then), the slower pace of my birth was deemed pathological, and something had to be done. My mother was given pitocin, a very commonly used synthetic hormone that causes uterine contractions to  happen at the pace and strength of the practitioner’s choosing. With long, strong, pitocin driven contractions pushing labor forward, I moved down the birth canal quickly–more quickly than I might have chosen on my own. My heart rate dropped dangerously low, and my mother’s obstetrician, noting my poor positioning, reached in and turned my head, expediting my birth.

While we may not have fully conscious memories, replete with visual pictures and sounds, from our births, I do believe we carry that primal, formative experience with us for a lifetime. Labor and birth is the first opportunity we have to assert our will on the external world (we, of course, have been exerting our will on our maternal environment from the moment of our conception), and it is the time during which our first impression of this new environment is made. Is it safe? Is it made of love or fear? Is it gentle or aggressive? How fully can I express myself? Etc.

It may sound absurd to examine one’s own birth in search of the origin of one’s behavioral patterns, but the longer I live, the more I see how my birth journey has played out repeatedly. I often need time to step away from the linear path, to contemplate, to deliberately choose the most appropriate way forward; and I often get stuck in this decision making process, struggling to move from the thinking process into the doing process, and feeling overwhelming pressure to “get there faster!!”  I recall overwhelming feelings of paralysis, as if waiting for some external force to make the decision for me (which often it has). My initial steps into midwifery were no different. I knew in 2006, after taking my first class with a midwife, that I was being called to do this work, and yet, it took a full 5 years for me to take the leap.

Despite the time it has taken me to move from point A to point B, birth has been my healer, my therapy and my guru. It is no coincidence that during the three years in which I attended births as a doula, many of my clients carried babies in the posterior position, who like me, needed time and patience to chart their course. Life has a way of teaching us what we most need to learn. I slowly became aware of my deep rooted patterns and brought them to the surface for examination. I also learned that, with awareness, ancient patterns can change. Even behavior that has been deeply imprinted can be examined, explored, understood, and set free.

Taking the long way is no longer my burden to bear, but my birthright. In accepting the part of me that needs to take her own way, to chart her own course, to determine her own timing, I have reclaimed my right to make my own decisions.

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