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    BWS Stories - "Reflections of the Way Life Used to Be"...Times Have Changed

    "Reflections of the Way Life Used to Be"...Times Have Changed - Pushing Through Three Decades,
    by Patti Dean

    Pushing Through Three Decades,
    by Patti Dean

            Let's get the math and the reason out of the way - four children and three husbands. The only other people who can write an article on the scope of Childbirth Through Three Decades are Catholics and Mormons. So don't ask - trust me - and let's get to the good part.

            In the ‘70's, fresh off a Southern Child Bride vine and ready to be strong and roar like Helen Reddy said we could in her song ‘I Am Woman,' my 20 year old husband and I enrolled in a Natural Childbirth class conducted by a strapping, muscular mother of four nurse currently leading the vanguard to have husbands in our small town's delivery rooms. We were warned that we were in for work. Valuable work. Denied the use of the word ‘pain,' we called our sensations contractions and challenges. Like Olympic athletes we groaned, grunted, and gyrated our hips in sumo style squatting exercises to strengthen our bodies for the event ahead. Our husbands were our coaches and our taskmasters, encouraging us to practice four kinds of breathing and our kaegels. "Squeeze the Lemon, Squeeze the Lemon!"

            No stranger to the work ethic that went with my usual uniform of work shirt and drawstring pants, my husband and I were both in college and working part time at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio. Labor started during a tango class, quite a feat going pelvis to pelvis with middle-aged pot-bellied men. I timed my relaxed breathing to its sensual slow- slow-quick-quick-slow Latin rhythm. I was focused, in the zone, and very strong. 

            Being poor students, I'd received prenatal care at a community clinic. My discipline stood me in good stead when the doctor on call made a derogatory comment mid-push about deadbeats having a baby way too young and on the taxpayer. My husband, determined to fulfill his coaching obligation, hyperventilated matching my rapid breathing and fainted dead away after my daughter made her entrance. He was led away in a wheelchair. I got off of the delivery table and walked to the recovery room. I forget what the point of that was.

            My second birth was more of the same pioneer spirit. A school of 18 nurses in training sat in chairs along the wall as I pushed and exalted in my 10 lbs 5 oz little girl. It was only right that this effort be one on public display. The barriers were coming down. Next time, the Tonight Show!

            The New Age ‘80's encouraged my meditating second husband and I to prepare a home birth with midwife, video camera, and perfectly timed entrance to a mix of the closing crescendo of "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and Swami Muktananda's chanting of "Om Nama Shivaya."

            Our home birth classes made me uneasy. With Earth Mother Birth a distant 8-year memory, I worried that there needed to be more than weekly meditations of floating gently in a catamaran toward an island rich in vegetation and waterfalls and white warm sand. Visualizing world peace, tranquility, and a loving nirvana for my child was fine, but I missed that emphasis on the body as a machine built for birth - made for birth. 

            Clues that I might be on to something were found in the waiting room library. In a scrapbook, there were delivery pictures of a woman with a beard heavier than her husband's on a mat in the jungle. Her letter thanked our midwife for her birth assistance in the Amazon, the bottle of Tequila, and the ample supply of Acapulco Gold.

            Despite misgivings, I spread the ‘blessed by the Guru' shawl on our floor bound futon and lined up an array of vegetables in case we really wanted to try placenta stew. Game to the idea for its rich vitamin content and spiritual significance, I secretly held on to Plan B of burying it outside next to a tree or some thing that grew. Whatever. 

            Let me tell you - a futon on the floor is a long way from standing and the sands of Bali don't reach your upstairs apartment in Seattle. It was torture. At one point, I was balanced standing on a toilet seat like a buzzard waiting to pounce trying to ‘unstuck' the baby's head from under my pelvic bone. My husband started chanting to his guru for help. I said, "Breathe - breathe in my ear - I can't concentrate with that chanting!" As for the Beatles - well, to hell with them, they broke up anyway. I retrieved some last minute body memory from the ‘70's to help me push and dumped a great deal of blood on the futon. I did my own fainting dead away with this birth as I got up too soon to serve lasagna to the birthing crew. Nobody mentioned the Placenta Stew idea.

            In the reunion class, everyone else had ended up in the hospital except for one mother who planned for her baby to sleep in the family bed until kindergarten.

            At age 37 in 1993, I was ready for hospital, jacuzzi, and spending my day in bed. The focus of this childbirth class - three husbands/18 weeks of childbirth classes - was the buffet of various chemicals available for labor. "Is no one going to do this completely natural?" Dubbed the ancient one, I was on my own with this one.

            With nothing to lose, I set up a creative experiment. I'd been doing my own meditation practice by then. I'd also been working out. And I'd also started thinking that maybe - just maybe - I could start to co-create my reality. Borrowing a bit from each decade, what if I made an agreement with body, mind, and spirit? What if I talked to my body, my unborn daughter, and that something that I'd been sensing in meditation practice and got us all on board to make this a 6 hour max project from start to finish? What say everyone?

            Dialogue with my body was accomplished by pregnancy workout tapes of gentle exercises of stretches and coordinated breathing in both tense and relaxed states. I grew limber. In meditation, I spoke to my daughter and with great humor I thought she said, "Let's make it three hours." Ever noticed how humor makes situations easier? 

            At 8 p.m. I started labor. As my husband took my youngest child over to the neighbors, I heard this humming in my ears. I can't adequately describe it - but it sounded like the turning of the earth on its axis. Sensing innately that this was a pathway for me to follow, I relaxed into that sound to the exclusion of all other noises. Even as I careened down a corridor in a wheelchair pushed by a spiked heeled receptionist so I wouldn't have the baby in her office, I could not be distracted from that intrinsic hum. At 11 p.m., my no nonsense Aries daughter arrived according to her own timetable. 

            At this reunion class, only one other person had an easy birth. The 17-year-old unwed mother everyone had pitied labored to the sounds of Queen's "We Will Rock You" and clocked in at seven hours with the biggest baby in our class. No chemicals were used, but the nurse did threaten to pull the plug on the jacuzzi if she didn't get out in time to have that baby. Apparently the hospital was not yet ready to accommodate water births.

            As for the millennium, my eldest daughter has had two children. She's very pragmatic and grateful for all the ways that medicine has made it an easier experience. Her stories have their own rhythm and majesty. Sitting in her kitchen eating chocolate chip banana bread and swapping labor stories bonds us together as women and as mother and daughter. We both enjoy the fact that the mean spirited doctor at her birth had a hard time sewing me up because I was laughing so hard at her Dad passed out on the floor. It's our favorite part of Our Story.

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