My wife wanted to use a midwife when she was pregnant with our first child. I was opposed at first, though not because of anything I knew about midwives–or even childbirth for that matter. I just wanted Jen to be safe, and doctors with their stethoscopes and expensive degrees, and hospitals with their machines with blinking lights and teams of busy nurses, seemed very modern, and therefore very safe.
If there was one thing humans had been working hard at all these centuries, it was staying safe and living long. Also, how to kill each other, but I would say mostly staying alive.
I didn’t put up much resistance, recognizing that Jen really needed to be the last word on this decision. When we met our midwife for the first time, she gave us a little lesson in childbirth and its history, how once all women squatted because it made physiological sense and how it wasn’t until doctors–who were all male at the time–took over that women were made to lie on their backs. She also emphasized that birth was not a medical procedure, that it was natural, that medical professionals were only necessary if something went wrong. You’re not having an appendectomy or your tonsils removed, she reminded us.
She then talked to us about the pain women experienced during labor. Women, she said, did not experience pain because of contractions, but because they resisted the contractions. The resistance was instinctive. The woman’s body was doing something on its own, independent of the mother’s will, and it’s natural to tense up at that moment. The contractions are so strong, have so much force in them, that if the woman resists even a little, she experiences pain.
Jen decided to use something called hypnobirthing, which is a way of focusing to stay relaxed during the contractions. She didn’t have much luck with it, unfortunately, but she was determined to do better when she got pregnant again–and she did. It was something to see, especially after being by her side during the long, grinding hours of that first labor. We’d be sitting on our couch, talking and waiting, and then she’d say, “Hold on. One’s coming.” She’d stand up, close her eyes, begin swaying a little, and then, after a minute, open her eyes again and sit back down.
That was a contraction. Everyone in the room had to be absolutely quiet when one came. It took all her focus to allow the contraction to happen without resistance. It’s worth mentioning that her resistance had nothing to do with the outcome–that is, she and I wanted the child that would be born as a result of contractions. Rather, it was the process of how our child would be brought into the world that she was tempted to resist. It was, after all, strange to her and a little scary and out of her control.
I think of Jen’s labor sometimes when I’m working a new book. It’s easy to believe you’re in control of what you’re writing. It’s just you at the keyboard, after all. If I’m not in control, who is? Plus, I want to write the book, want to go through the process and one day hold it freshly printed in my hands. Yet as soon as I sit at a blank page, as soon as I put down one sentence I like, something outside of my control begins to happen.
Whatever my ideas for that story were when it was just a notion in the lazy privacy of my daydreaming mind are soon overtaken by the direction the story wants to go. My job at that moment is to get out of the way, forget what I thought was supposed to happen, and allow the story to be what it wants to be. The pain I have known in my creative life–and I have known plenty of it–has all been the consequence of me resisting this natural process.
The day we learned Jen was pregnant, I stood in our little apartment in Seattle and tried to picture the future–a future we had both wanted, as her pregnancy was no accident. This trying to peer into my own imaginary crystal ball was a fairly common exercise for me. Often, I convinced myself that what I seeing was real, which assuaged, however briefly, the niggling fear that I might be headed somewhere I didn’t want to go.
But on that afternoon, I thought the words, “I have no idea what’s going to happen now except that everything is going to be different.” Those were the truest and most comforting words I could find. All I knew was that we wanted to have a child. I didn’t actually need to know anything else. All that would change, all that would come, all that would be different, would grow naturally from that single seed, planted in our life with love.