In July 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. Just two months later, and with a lot less fanfare, my father became the first man to walk into the delivery room at Livermore California’s Valley Memorial hospital, and watch the birth of his child. He often told me that I looked like a beautiful butterfly unfolding.
My mother believed in natural childbirth. She was deeply saddened that she had had little awareness of my older sister’s birth and was determined not to let that happen again. She learned Lamaze techniques from a little red notebook, and used what she learned to be fully present for my birth.
Thirty years later, my sister was traumatized by the birth of her daughter, causing me to question how would I handle the birth of mine?
I was confused by these different images of birth, so I read everything I could find about childbirth. My husband and I took a class from the author of the book that particularly affected us. That class helped us challenge our beliefs, and transcend our fears about birth. What if the pain was worse then I imagined? What if I wasn’t strong enough? As we prepared mentally for the challenges of birth, we formed new beliefs like that I had the power and strength to give birth naturally.
Giving birth is often compared to running a marathon and when I first heard this comparison I was annoyed. Having run marathons, I thought they had nothing in common. In a marathon when I reached the half way mark, I knew the same distance was left, and I also knew I could stop. In birth I would have no idea how much longer was left, and there was no stopping. After giving birth I saw an important similarity: for both I prepared physically, mentally, and emotionally. I also then knew that giving birth was so much more than a marathon.
I believe I embrace life differently as a result of how I prepared for giving birth, which is independent of how the birth itself unfolded. The fundamental learning for me came from challenging my beliefs and assumptions, and facing my fears about birth, which were shaped from what I heard and saw through out my life, like the story of my own birth, my sister’s trauma, and the comparison between giving birth and running a marathon. As it turned out, I gave birth just as I had hoped. It was joyful, and spiritual, and illuminated all I knew about life, and its challenges.
I believe giving birth taught me a lot about myself. The picture sitting on my desk of me, my husband, and our daughter taken just seconds after her birth reminds me to question my beliefs and assumptions, address my fears, and trust my intuition.
Now I realize that what my father walked in on, 37 years ago, is in fact, more wondrous and awesome than putting a man on the moon.
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