The light in the motel room was dim when I walked in. The faded curtains had been pulled shut to keep out the stifling heat of the July afternoon. She was alone in the dark, her body stretched out stiff like a plank of wood on top of the tattered chenille bedspread, clutching a pillow that she had stuffed into her mouth to muffle her moaning. Her skin glistened with sweat and her eyes looked wild and desperate, like a caged animal, as they darted to the wall on her left where loud, strident voices penetrated the thin walls.
She had called earlier to tell me her labor was starting, and as she lived an hour and a half away, she wanted to come up the mountain early, saying she would rent a room to hang out in until the labor became strong and steady. Then she intended to deliver in the birth room at the small, local hospital. She mentioned that her anxious parents from Long Island were with her and would stay in a separate, adjacent room.
The contractions were coming steadily every three minutes and felt powerful and strong to my touch, yet when I examined her, I was surprised to find that her cervix had not opened. It was closed tight like it had been sewed shut with baling wire. Oh boy, I thought. This is not good. I knew that if her breath could find its voice, it would take the tension off the cervix, but I could see that she was too inhibited with her parents next door to let that happen.
I looked into her eyes and said, “Let’s blow this joint.” She pointed to the wall, and frantically nodded yes. I pulled my car up, dashed next door to explain to her parents that we were going to the hospital so she could be more comfortable; no need for them to come yet, as it was early. I knew we only had three minutes to load her into the car. She took a deep breath and bolted out of the room while her parents stood outside frowning and ringing their hands. “Hi mom, dad; I’m fine; I’ll call you; Gotta go; Bye!” And then, BAM, the next one hit as I peeled out of the driveway, her head collapsing into the pillow on her lap.
When we arrived at the birthing room she looked around like a crazy woman. I knew I needed to do something to help her, so I said, “I want you to know that this room is absolutely sound proof.” “Sound proof? Seriously?” she stammered. “Honest. Absolutely,” I lied.
Relief instantly flooded her face. Good, I thought. She can feel free to moan out loud now. However, when the next contraction came, she grabbed both of my arms, jerked me across the twin bed, opened her mouth wide and proceeded to roar at the top of her lungs in my face. She not only sounded like a lion, she looked like one! I was stunned. My heart started pounding in my chest and I thought it might stop altogether. When the contraction stopped she collapsed on the bed and I staggered back trying to catch my breath. Then the next contraction came and she grabbed me again, her face inches from mine, a primal roar spewing from her throat. It went on and on… one contraction following on the heels of another. My head was throbbing. Then she cried. “That son of a bitch left me! I AM SO FUCKING ANGRY!”
Finally – there it was. All the pent up rage she had been suppressing for nine months was coming out. Her boyfriend had said he loved her and wanted to get married, but when she got pregnant, he disappeared and never returned. At first she was upset, but then she said she was done weeping, and made a conscious decision to be happy for the sake of the baby. “Many people are single parents. I can do this,” she said as she tried to convince herself and me that she was cool with it all.
Suddenly there was a loud knock at the birthing room door. “WHAT?” I said with a little irritation. The nurse outside was cross-eyed. “Every patient in this hospital is awake and thinks there is a mountain lion loose in the halls. What in the hell is going on in there?” “Oops… sorry about that, but trust me; we’re good in here. Things are moving along. Hear how the pitch of her voice is dropping? She should be ready to push any time now,” I reassured her, as I gently closed the door, feeling quite certain she would be able to settle the patients down.
As the labor progressed, her face relaxed. She let go of her grip on my arms and her breath became soft and sensual, like the earth itself was breathing. ‘Come out, little one. I’m done and now I am ready,” she whispered. She gently massaged her perineum with oil and slowly delivered the baby’s head into her hands. As the shoulders eased out, she lifted the baby to her breast and tenderly caressed her new daughter, utterly absorbed.
As I sat on the end of her bed, watching this timeless union of mother and child, I realized that she had shown me how it’s possible to transform rage into power, by giving it a voice and not pushing it away. It was a power so magnificent that she was able to transcend her human vulnerability in that moment and push another life out of her body into a field of exquisite love. Wow, I thought. Women are so bloody amazing. Trust them, give them the space, and they will get it done!