When I was pregnant with my son, I repeated these words each week with eight other expectant mothers and their partners at the end of our childbirth preparation classes. We changed the emphasis to a different word each time we repeated the phrase, working through all of the words in the sentence.
At the end of the session, I declared with equal parts hope and skepticism, “My body knows just what to do.” Does it? I wondered. Labor and childbirth were such a mystery to me, covered over with almost mythic stories of unendurable pain, as well as lyric rhapsodies of birth as the work women are designed to do.
I wasn’t ready to commit to either side just yet.
When it was time for my baby to arrive, my body took over in a way I had never experienced. I labored for days, walking the stairs of my midwife’s old Victorian house, where my husband and I had chosen for our baby to be born. I clambered into the shower, where the hot water massaged my taut lower back.
Even when I tried to rest, my body kept on with its faithful work. The night before I met my son I straddled the toilet facing backwards, my head resting on the toilet tank, the only place I could find relief.
“How is this baby going to be born?” I whispered to Gina, our doula. “Your body knows what to do,” she reassured me.
She was right. On a Tuesday afternoon, my son and I worked together as he entered this world, surrounded by my husband, Adam, our midwives, and Gina. They held sacred space for my body to labor with the pain as I did some of the best work of my life, delivering my son Julian safely into this world.
That was sixteen months ago, and in the time since then, I have developed a whole new appreciation for my body’s work. I see my whole body and spirit giving birth to my precious son, my breasts swelling and leaking in the early days as Julian and I struggled to learn the rhythm of nursing, my hands smoothing Johnson’s baby lotion on his strong legs, my ears straining to hear the tiny noises of his sleep, and my arms carrying him across the room so he can climb up the stairs on his own. Daily, Julian becomes more aware of the power and mystery of his body, and so do I.
Last night Julian woke at midnight, with sharp, inconsolable cries. Adam changed his diaper and handed him to me. I was sitting in our gray armchair, ready to comfort him. But Julian refused to be comforted. His body stiffened as tears streaked down his small face. He did not want to nurse, did not relax when I sang him lullabies.
I did not know what to do, but I kept going. A tiny part of me softened, in the midst of concern for my boy. My brain slowed down, just a bit, as I let my body take over. My hands brushed the hair out of his eyes, stroked his back. My voice sang the love song that we made up for him as a newborn. My heart spoke to his. “Mama is here. I love you. I’ve got you.” The rhythm of our breathing filled the room.
Over time, Julian’s sobs quieted. I offered to nurse him again, and this time, he accepted. I shifted in the chair, and cradled my little boy in my arms as his body relaxed. Mine did, too.
Julian drifted back to sleep, and I gently placed him in the crib. As I crept back to my own bed, a well-loved refrain drummed out its rhythm.
JOURNALIST: Jordan Miller-Stubbendick
Photo: Anna L.