The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face Four months later – through a stubborn belief in their own responsibility, a passion for their visions and an incredibly loving circle of supporters –they were well, and I had the privilege of being with them through the birth of their perfect baby girl, Keana. This is my story of that event and how it birthed me Two weeks ago Pieter dreamt that I helped them to birth Keana, which is why, on an otherwise ordinary Wednesday, I find myself laughing with Marilyn as she bounces on a birthing ball in a maternity clinic. Light contractions come and go. The room is gentle and full of sunlight. Pieter and my husband, Garrick, keep us amused and I keep us reverent. It may not be conventional for two couples to be doing this together, but it’s all right. We hold Marilyn’s hands and take a walk, stopping regularly when the force of a contraction takes over. The three of us supporters become humble, our egos dissolving into countless repetitions of 1-2-3-4 and the comicality of rubbing your friend’s bum in a public parking lot. It’s easy to be bigger than your personality and your gender when you are in the courageous company of a labouring woman. Back in the birthing room, our words are few. Marilyn plays some music into which she gracefully disappears. Her hips sway, her knees bend, and she dances her breath deep down into her pelvis. Her sensuality is like fire, but she is oblivious to everything except her body and her baby making its way into the world. When our eponymous wedding song starts to play, I know that she will understand when I stop rubbing her calves and go to kiss Garrick, pressing my body against his with the kind of intimacy we have only expressed in times of deep hurt, the birth of our own children and during that self-same wedding dance. But there are awkward moments for me too. Maybe because I am a channel, or maybe because I am a woman, I always seem to know where the energy is in Marilyn’s body, and what is needed. But I feel very concerned that I’m taking over, dominating Pieter, being a pushy know-it-all. I suddenly see that this is the fear I carry around with me all the time – the fear of being arrogant. In a split-second of realisation, I get that I have cultivated a lifetime’s habit of not being fully present so as to tone down my impact and not be a ‘show-off’ (which I was called as a child). Language junky that I am, it makes linguistic sense to me: I don’t show up, so that I don’t show anyone else up. Over the years I have quietly become less spectacular, and more pleasing, because I fear the loneliness, and criticism, if I were to be full, complete, magnificent. This wonderful insight opens up to me in the midst of my rubbing, supporting, holding and encouraging. The joy of realising it eclipses the pain that it brings, the same way that a baby in arms eclipses the pain of bearing it. So, on this occasion, I choose not to tone myself down, but to take the risk of being fully there. It’s easy to do because of the magnetism of the birthing couple. I have never seen Marilyn so assertive, beautiful and in touch with every important signal in herself. She is so self-attuned that she can hear the music of the cosmos singing her baby’s name. We who have the pleasure of watching her can see her disappear into bliss every now and again, between contractions. We know that when she smiles like that she is meeting her daughter as a soul, enjoying a tiny, precious moment of full recognition before the exhausting demands of newborn motherhood. I ache for it. As the dilation progresses to 8cm, the pain is overwhelming. Marilyn’s body is colossal in its strength and humbling in its vulnerability. Her face is dazed, panting, illuminated, as wave after wave of contractions pass through her, bringing her baby down. Pieter’s recession is as powerful as Marilyn’s emergence. I’ve never quite seen the grace and compassion he is when quiet and inspired by the awesome being that is his wife. Their dance is harmonious. She is prepared to lead and also to be lead; he is prepared to follow and also to be followed. The two of them have given the room a sensuality, which Garrick and I also feel and express in our eyes. It is only when you are a friend of your body, and of pain, that you can find the sexuality of birth, like a surprising diamond in a gushing river. And that river is certainly gushing now, we can all sense it. Keana is ready to come. Garrick quietly removes himself so that Marilyn can birth in the most secluded way and I don’t know if I have ever felt more proud of his gentle selflessness. The midwife confirms that she is fully dilated and we assist her into the welcoming arms of the warm bath where she drifts between the heaven of rest and the heaven of sharpness. At one stage I am separated from her behind a curtain and I hear her let out an animal roar, as she touches her threshold of pain. Because she can’t see me, I let myself cry. But I am not crying for her, I am crying for me. I have done this too, I have given birth twice and embraced pain and fear to go and meet my babies. For the first time, I actually realise how miraculous that is and my tears roll in recognition of what my body and I did together. I remember channelling that the function of pain in a birth (and possibly elsewhere) is to take us to the edge of our identity so that we will give permission to step beyond it. I watch this in Marilyn as she begins to push. In that moment she is not attached to her personality, her image, her past, her future or all the stories she tells about who she is. She is immersed in a moment that is relentlessly physical and, therefore, wholly spiritual. Watching her push – in fact pushing with her – is incredible, incredulous. We can see Keana’s black, wispy hair in the water already. Marilyn reaches down to touch her daughter’s head as she spends the last few moments inside the body of her mother. We are encouraging her to push, to breathe, but she is oblivious to anything but the command of the contraction that bears her baby down. The room is dramatic. Not one of the people there is thinking of a single thing except what is happening in front of us. We are singular, alive, witnesses to power. Marilyn reaches down inside her to roar an ancient roar and pushes Keana’s head into the water. I grip her hand and watch as the head turns into a neck, turns into shoulders and eventually a complete, perfect body slides out of another and into life. There is no way to get used to that. Yet there they are – Marilyn, Pieter and Keana in each other’s arms, cradling themselves, recognising themselves. Only a moment ago pain was taking Marilyn to the edge of herself, now she is gurgling to her baby girl asking her if she is cold and hungry. I retreat now, spilling my tears carefully so as not to shift focus off of an intimacy so sacred that it can’t bear itself for very long and is soon replaced by scales and stitching and latching and laughter. I take a look at the clock on the wall and I know that I will always remember the baby, and the self, that I birthed at 4.50pm on 11 June 2008. Published in the Odyssey September / October ezine, www.odysseymagazine.co.za Leave a Reply Cancel Reply You must be logged in to post a comment.