Sitting in the still, quiet spaces between contractions one night while attending a birth, I did a rough calculation of how many labour contractions I have witnessed in my career as a doula. A modest estimate is well over 100,000.
Some people prefer to use different words for this wave of powerful energy through the pregnant body. I have heard “surges”, “rushes”, and “expansions”. Personally, I enjoy “contraction”. The uterus squeezes hard for its door, the cervix, to open. The baby is strongly embraced and moved downwards by its power. Instead of the more masculine “hero’s journey” of forging outwards to find our holy grail, birth givers are drawn progressively more inwards with their strengthening contractions, guided instinctively towards their deepest coping resources.
For me, “contraction” is a good word. As a seed is nestled in the sheltering Earth and a loved one is squeezed tightly in a welcoming hug, a contraction is an embrace leading to powerful opening.
Contractions are the steps on the journey towards delivering a baby. Everyone has had them at some point in pregnancy, felt or not, so those who have planned Caesarean births have participated with them too. Each contraction is its own unique entity, though they flow in sequence towards their inexorable conclusion. I liken them to a stone pathway, Each individual stone has its own shape, texture, and story although they are similar in nature and arranged in patterns ranging from the measured to the haphazard.
I have been listening to the stories taking shape within and between contractions for many years. They are rich and varied. Though the imprints of some last longer than others in any given labour, they always pass, being finite in number. Every single contraction wave which emerges from the oceanic tide of labour concludes on its shore, closing the gap between the states of “pregnant” and “postpartum”.
Some contractions speak of a change in the nature of labour, keening at the peak, gutteral at the end, heralding a firm descent of Baby into Birth Canal. Others are a whisper, speaking of a dance of the greatest concentration. Some suddenly reveal to the naked light a memory of childhood not previously known. Some trigger the grief of loss. There are the occasional ones which can generate actual orgasms, much to everyone’s delight. There are yet others which create a temporary desire for oblivion.
I have known contractions to heal patterns of self-limiting belief, changing the birth giver indelibly. I have witnessed others create beliefs of failure and regret. Some contractions imprint the story of trauma, others the ecstasy of triumph. The very last contraction is often accompanied by a shout of such intense ferocity that any self-respecting predator within miles would think several times before sniffing around the birthing space.
Every contraction lends its imprint to the totality of a birth experience. I meet every one of the stories with welcome, honouring their place in a developing labour, supporting the birth givers on their terms in this crazy dance of bringing forth a being of flesh from their own depths.
If the power of birth were to be seen as pure, white light and the birth giver/baby unit as a prism, each experience, while still light, is absolutely unique in its appearance. Birth’s expression through each prism creates a magnificent kaleidoscope of perceptions, sensations and feelings, no one birth the same as another. Some birth stories are joyful. Others are not. They are each a sacred unfolding of a new person Earthside, therefore inherently precious, and inherently worthy.
I am a doula, free from the tasks of being clinically vigilant and medically responsible at births. Simply witnessing one hundred thousand contractions has taught me more about the nature of birth than almost any other resource I’ve drawn upon for learning. I am grateful for the teaching of each and every one of them.
I am a doula. Imprinted by 100,000 contractions, I am rich in story.