No matter what mothers and grandmothers say, maternal amnesia about the birth experience is a myth. The truth is that birth is so vivid, so unlike anything we can otherwise relate to, that it’s indescribable.
I was banking on a birth experience that was beyond words, but I never considered the possibility of two new people emerging from the delivery room. Babies are born every day, and with them, incidentally, so are mothers. What a monumental transformation we make, from woman to mother. It seems we tell our birth stories through a chronology of facts: i.e. my husband fighting sleep while talking me through a HypnoBirthing relaxation, the weight of his dive watch in my hand as I timed my contractions, pacing from the tub to the couch and back to the bed all night long, envisioning my cervix opening like a rose with each contraction, the look on my midwife’s face when she informed me the next morning that I was 6 cm dilated, easing into the whirlpool tub to labor at the hospital and, ultimately, propping myself on a birthing stool after 28 hours of labor to breathe my baby into the world.
We had a boy. His name is John and he is awesome. But the thing is, my birth experience didn’t end with the final push.
Two weeks after John’s birth, I had my first solo outing. And where would a woman whose birthing stitches hadn’t yet dissolved and who hadn’t changed out of a nightgown for 10 days go for her debut as a mother? Target. In the short drive, I felt a crisis of identity emerging. A hip-hop song I liked came on the radio-could I dance to it, or was I supposed to switch to NPR instead? Could I kick back and enjoy the wind in my hair or did I need to begin the soccer-mom-multitasking of making calls on my cell phone and writing grocery lists at the stoplight? Could the guy in the car next to me tell I’d just had a baby? If the car seat in the back wasn’t a dead giveaway, did I look like a mom? What do moms do? How do moms act at Target? Who had I become?
They call the sensation of your baby crowning-or his head passing from your womb into the world-the “ring of fire.” I presume the name comes from the intense burning sensation that feels like a circle of fire as you push. However, it’s an apt name for another reason: Once you experience the ring of fire, or once your baby’s head emerges, you are forever transformed. In Eastern wisdom, and even in practical Western logic, fire is a change agent for the elements. Once Baby John passed through my own ring of fire, I became a mutated version of my old self. Yet regardless of what course labor takes, the moment when woman becomes mother-and it happens in a matter of seconds-is so drastic and fulfilling an evolution I’m still not sure how to articulate it.
What I do know is that it’s empowering, it’s uplifting and it connects you with a timeless lineage of mothers, past, present and divine. Once your baby is born, you are re-born, and in a society that rarely offers unconditional second chances, birth is an opportunity to start life afresh.
Emily Hughey Quinn is a freelance writer living in Chicago.