This post was originally published on November 26, 2006.
Recently I attended what was perhaps the most beautiful birth I’ve ever witnessed. Keiko, pregnant with her first child, was raised in Japan and moved to the United States with her husband six years ago. Since English was not her native language, she chose her words thoughtfully, and in so doing, was eloquent beyond words.
All through her pregnancy, Keiko possessed an extremely positive attitude. Whenever she had a pregnancy discomfort, she would inquire “This is normal, yes?” and when I assured her that it was, she would smile and say “Then all is well.”
At various times throughout the pregnancy, I asked if she had any concerns or fears about the upcoming birth. Invariably she would look at me with a confused expression and ask “Am I supposed to be afraid?” At one of our sessions, I offered to teach her some comfort measures to use in labor. She politely declined, saying that she didn’t think it made sense to learn new skills for labor, since she had Tai Chi, “an already acquired skill” to use. She thought that the upright positions, gentle movements and focused breathing of Tai Chi would be all that she needed.
Right on her due date Keiko started having contractions. As planned, she stayed home until they were strong and close together. When I joined Keiko and her husband at the hospital, I found her standing, wrapped rather elegantly in a hospital blanket that she had somehow fashioned into a garment. She looked beautiful. “I think it is working!” she said smiling. Whenever a contraction came, she quietly and gracefully moved in rhythm with her breathing. Unless you were watching closely, you wouldn’t even know that she was having one. When it was over she would smile again. “I really love the rest periods,” she said.
When the contractions became very intense, she had to work hard. She spent the entire labor out of bed. She said she couldn’t imagine not being able to move. All the way through, she kept her positive attitude. “It’s very hard,” she said several times.
Keiko pushed (squatting) for about 30 minutes before baby Kaito made his way into the world. He was immediately put on Keiko’s belly where he rested, quiet and wide-eyed. When he was ready, Keiko confidently put him to breast and he latched on like a pro. I marveled at the ease at which he took to the breast. It never occurred to Keiko that it would be any other way.
Now, I can’t stop thinking about this birth. As Judy Lothian often says, it was “birth as it should be.” Somehow we have to encourage women to have the confidence that Keiko did. We have to change the cultural attitudes that tell us that birth is something to be feared, something to be endured instead of embraced. Childbirth education may unwittingly be a part of the problem, giving new parents the idea that birth requires a whole new set of skills, when in fact we have what it takes from the start.
Thank you to Keiko, husband Alex and baby Kaito for allowing me the privilege of being with you during this wondrous event. I will remember you and this birth always.