The Graceful Turtle
Our pregnancy was fantastic. My wife was fit and healthy and had no complications in the nine months. The baby active and well positioned. Only in the last month did Bronwyn experience some discomfort as the baby began to engage, which is normal. The nine months for me was different. I found myself going through waves of fear about whether I could provide enough for the future and meet expectations. However I dealt with these as they arose through self-inquiry methods and realised that these fears were ill founded. I really had nothing to worry about.
As I cleared each fear that arose and made sure I didn’t take on other people’s fears, I found I was able to stay close and be more intimate with Bronwyn and the baby during the pregnancy instead of being distracted by unnecessary fears. I was frequently in a space where I could just simply be with them, with my heart, in love. I felt I was energetically supporting them, my love radiating out from my heart enveloping them in a transparent bubble. In fact the bubble seemed to wrap around the entire house. In this bubble of unconditional love that I was consciously holding, Bronwyn and baby were able to simply be with themselves knowing they were safe and held on their journey. This was where I discovered the deeper levels of the traditional male role of supporting and protecting.
I’ve read other men’s birth stories where they couldn’t connect with the new child until perhaps six months after the birth. I am grateful that I connected with our baby almost immediately. Upon finding out we were pregnant I lit a candle, symbolising the baby’s soul, and welcomed it into my heart. I cried deeply with love and gratitude for hours. From that moment I felt the baby’s presence almost always.
The pregnancy was brilliant in helping us realise, again, how much society is run on fear. We were absolutely confident that all was well with the baby in utero, and we trusted deeply in the process. We wanted no interference, no ultrasounds nor any other electronic gadgets. We trusted that everything was as it should be. We didn’t need to know that there might be a one in five hundred thousand possibility of something or other happening, and we weren’t interested in testing for it.
We began our pregnancy support at the local hospital. Our first appointment was the compulsory meeting with the obstetrician, which was a nightmare from the start. When we told the doctor that we didn’t want any ultrasounds or other electronic testing he launched into a half hour rant telling us that we were putting our baby’s life at risk and that we, ‘weren’t living in the real world’. There was no room for discussion. I managed to get a couple of reasonable questions in but this fuelled him up even more. I also witnessed Bronwyn slipping quickly into the role of becoming a, ‘good girl for the doctor’, nodding at everything he said and ready to hand over her entire birthing power to him and the system. At the end of his tirade, very quickly and quite arrogantly, he lay Bronwyn on the table for a check up. Palpations we thought. But before we knew it he was holding a dopler machine on Bronwyn’s stomach and the beat of the baby’s heart filled the room. I was irate and could have hit him. There was no way I wanted this man anywhere near my labouring wife.
We left the hospital stunned. Walking home we ran into a friend who was eight months pregnant with her second child, who told us of her first home birth experience. We had been thinking about a home birth but still hadn’t decided. With renewed enthusiasm, we raced home and began finding an independent midwife. Sonja visited us and in a few weeks we made the decision to have her support us in a home birth. We quietly extracted ourselves from the hospital system.
A month before the ‘due date’ the baby’s head began to engage into the pelvis. One night at around this time Bronwyn had a dream. The dream involved a turtle. A turtle symbolises slowness, strength, patience, endurance, and stability; just the qualities that are needed for labour. I recognised that Bronwyn’s psyche was preparing her for the labour and the birth – as it should. She had another dream a few nights later where some men were carrying around a huge rock. This symbolised a different type of strength to that of the turtle. A male strength was being brought into the process. To help integrate these energies into her consciousness more I bought Bronwyn a slab of clay and she made two turtles from it; one a mother turtle and the other a baby turtle which, for some unknown reason, didn’t yet have a head. Un-fired she mounted them both on the alter in the living room in front of where the birth pool would be. She placed the mother turtle on a rock she had found at the beach. A few days later the mother turtle’s head fell off. Unaware of the symbolism Bronwyn then transferred the head onto the baby turtle. The baby was now fully formed. The mother had unselfishly given a part of herself to the baby for its own sake. Soon after this our labour began.
I had an idea that the energies of the turtle and the rock would be useful during labour, but I didn’t know how useful until we were deep into the process.
The contractions began on the stroke of midnight as Capricorn gave way to Aquarius. Slightly at first, like period pains, then they became steadily stronger. Bronwyn lay curled up in bed and held my hand tighter with each increasing pain. By 3am I was timing the contractions at 50 seconds long coming every three to four minutes. I inflated the birth pool and began filling it, then called Sonja our midwife, and left a message for Janet, Bronwyn’s mum. They would be with us in a couple of hours.
By 4am Bronwyn had entered the pool. I kept filling it with buckets of hot water to bring the temperature up. I stayed on the outside of the pool for a while, then got in when I felt I needed to be closer.
Bronwyn’s contractions were getting stronger and stronger. She repeatedly breathed out long breaths. Janet arrived at around 5am and made herself busy in the kitchen. Sonja arrived at twilight, checked we were OK and simply sat near by, observing. From the sidelines Sonja supported us in our process, clearly it was going to be the two of us, just as we planned, with Sonja coming in when needed. She gave us our space to do what was needed, which is rare, and from our viewpoint, valued. Our main plan for our birth was for as little intervention as possible. We were confident and trusted in the process. No checks were necessary. All the natural signs were good. Everything was going accordingly. The sunrise out of the lounge room windows was amazing as it filled the room with golden light.
It was some time early in the day that the contractions all of a sudden slowed, then stopped. I massaged Bronwyn’s Spleen-6 points on her legs but the contractions kept stalling. Sonja suggested that her and Janet’s presence was interrupting the process, so they excused themselves from the house. Bronwyn said later that she had felt some pressure to ‘perform’, particularly with her mum’s presence. So the subtle stress of having to perform upset her natural rhythms and halted the contractions.
With only the two of us in the house now, Bronwyn could relax. The contractions returned and became stronger. Her long breaths now turned into moans. Each new contraction was more intense than the last. Her moans became louder and deeper. Throughout, Bronwyn squeezed my hand more and more tightly. For the entire labour I was just simply there, next to her, being 100% present in the moment with her. The nine months I’d spent looking beneath my fears and being in the moment prepared me for this moment. In this space of stilled mind I could intuit what needed to be done; massage her lower back or head, gently stroke her face, pour warm water over her body, offer her a drink of water, but mostly just be there with her. We spoke very little, however, occasionally I would offer encouragement with words that came from my heart, not my head. I know when I’m talking purely from my heart because in the next moment I can’t remember what I said. What I do remember is the feeling that the words and intent were just right. What I offered were words of belief and trust in the natural unfolding of the process, and words of praise and admiration. I became her rock to which she could hold onto to stay grounded in what ever she was experiencing. I trusted so deeply and was so immersed in the process that I never took on her pain or felt I needed to ‘fix’ anything. This helped her to trust in what we were doing just as deeply and to lean on me 100% when she needed to.
In turn I drew on Sonja’s strength and experience. All I had to do was look at her and see in her confidence and calmness that everything was as it should be. This supported my own confidence and calmness. I trusted Sonja and through this Bronwyn trusted me more.
Sometimes between contractions, when I was alone with Bronwyn, I had to get out of the pool zone and do domestics; boil pots of hot water, fill the drinking cups, or grab some bananas. Through the entire labour Bronwyn lived on bananas, yoghurt, and water mixed with Gastrolyte, a glucose and electrolyte powder I bought at the chemist, which is far better than lollipop water like Gatorade or the like. It was a bit frustrating not having the backup of the others, but I did the domestics fast enough that I could be back in the pool well before the next contraction.
Sonja and Janet came back in a few hours. Again the contractions slowed and stopped. After a while Sonja suggested I do some more massage to get things going again. I massaged the Spleen-6 points and stimulated the nipples a bit too. Within a few minutes she was back in the flow.
The day progressed slowly. Twice more the contractions stopped and twice more we got them going again. Although Bronwyn appreciated a break from the pain, for me there was a fine line between her resting and her avoiding. When she was avoiding and not wanting to go back into the pain she would ‘disappear’. She’d have a distant look on her face as if she wanted to be somewhere else. We both knew there was no way out except to go straight through it. I had to remind and encourage her to stay with it.
At about 1pm Bronwyn was losing energy and becoming upset. She sobbed deeply and wanted it all to be over. The pain of the contractions wasn’t what she expected. The contractions stalled for the third time. After a while Sonja gently asked her if there was some fear about anything in particular. Through tears Bronwyn soon admitted that she was afraid of the changes that would come. She didn’t know if she was ready. Soon after this fear was aired the contractions began again, becoming stronger and stronger.
In the mid afternoon Bronwyn wanted to know how far she had dilated. She wasn’t interested before, but now she wanted to know. Sonja checked with Bronwyn to see if she really needed to know. What would she do if she hadn’t progressed as far as she’d hoped? Bronwyn decided to take the risk of being further demoralised and asked Sonja to check dilation. Sonja reported that she was between 7 and 8cm. This was pleasing news and gave her more confidence.
The fourth and last time the contractions stopped, about five in the afternoon, Sonja and Janet left the house again. Bronwyn had split to some other planet and I coaxed her out of the pool to get her moving. ‘We’ve got to get active darling’. She reluctantly laboured out of the pool, staggered to the toilet, emptied her bladder, had a contraction, squatted in the shower and had another contraction. Her moans were getting louder and louder. I thought she might give birth there and wondered if I should put the plug in and fill the tub. The hot water on her back was good. After half an hour or so she stood up and staggered back to the pool.
I can’t remember exactly when Bronwyn began to make the really loud sounds but it was probably about now, in what was to be the last third of labour. She was moaning the roof off. Always placid and serene I watched her layers slowly come off as she moved to a deeper space inside herself to let it all out. Bronwyn later told me that making those sounds was more helpful than the breathing. Even though breathing was good at first it was the sound that got her through the peaks of pain. It was an anxious and excruciating hour and a half for the last two centimetres.
Since Sonja and Janet had left for the second time I had a deep feeling of abandonment. I thought there was nothing in the kitchen to eat, as labour had started when we hadn’t expected it (eleven days before the ‘due date’) and I hadn’t done the shopping. Now Bronwyn was going through hell and needed all of my attention I felt angry that I had been left to do everything. I got out of the pool to get some food for us and found the fridge packed full of all the food we needed for a month. Good on Janet. I laughed and felt foolish. They knew what they were doing and Sonja trusted me to support Bronwyn. I cleared my projection and got back to the job.
At 6.30pm we finally reached full dilation. We’d been going for 18 and a half hours. Bronwyn was exhausted. I had found two hours sleep somewhere in the mid morning but Bronwyn hadn’t slept at all. In fact she hadn’t slept since the night before last, almost 36 hours ago. I felt some relief in reaching full dilation. Bronwyn felt the need to push but was still uncertain that she was fully dilated and worried about an anterior lip. I called Sonja. She and Janet had gone to get some sleep. She was back in the house in ten minutes and reassured us that all was good and to go with the urge to push. During this transition time Bronwyn looked to Sonja for some confirmation that the pain wasn’t going to go on for much longer. Not wanting to discourage her Sonja wisely answered, ‘it’s up to you sweetheart’.
Bronwyn said to me through sweat and tears that she now understood why women take pain relief. This was as close as she came to asking for any. She knew that there wasn’t any in the house, not even an aspirin and heading to hospital didn’t even enter our minds. I remember telling her that I knew she could do this. These words look a bit weak on the page, but from the heart said with love it was the thing that picked her up and helped her carry on. I was the rock supporting the turtle.
Bronwyn pushed, and pushed, and pushed. For four hours she pushed. And of course the contractions were more intense than ever.
She needed something to push against, to help her push the baby out. The edge of the pool was too soft, so she used me. Before, in our moments of intimacy in between contractions we would put our foreheads together, as if our third eyes were kissing. We always do this. It is our habit of affection. Now, in the pool with our foreheads touching another contraction arose. Bronwyn began to moan and push her head against mine. I had to push back with equal force. Stripped bare of all dignity she heroically bore the pain in all her primal rawness and sounded herself out to the world. She was using me for physical, emotional, and energetic support and I had to give her everything I had.
For over three hours we were connected at the forehead. The energy between us was incredible. She was in the height of labour pushing against my forehead with a strength generated by all the birthing goddesses in all of history. I had to match this by tapping into my own universal male energies. I needed to draw upon an equal amount of energy to support her through this. I not only brought in the energy of the immovable rock but I also brought in the energy of my Aries ram. My forehead locked onto the forehead of the lioness. If there wasn’t a male birthing god in existence before this moment, then one was created that day in our living room.
After three hours of pushing, Bronwyn could see no end. Both Sonja and Janet were now fully present, closer to the action, and helped with encouragements. Bronwyn despaired that she could feel the baby move forward through the canal and then move back. One step forward, two steps back. Sonja confirmed that this was normal. It eases the vagina open and helps to stop tearing. But for Bronwyn it was compounding frustration.
After three hours of pushing there was some fear that something might be wrong with the baby. I don’t remember how it started, perhaps by some talk that the baby was not moving. Bronwyn couldn’t remember the last time she felt it move. I remember visualising the cord wrapped around the baby’s throat and it was being strangled and it couldn’t get out. Fear rose up inside of me for the first time in the whole process. I suggested to Sonja in a weak and uncertain voice that perhaps we should check its heartbeat. I meant that she use her dopler machine, but, as she knew our sensitivity to them she thought I meant the pinard and said that the baby was too low in the womb to hear anything. I was too much in fear to notice the misunderstanding. What seemed like half an hour went by and the tension in me only escalated. Finally Sonja suggested strongly that we should use the dopler machine. We all agreed and Sonja placed the probe in the pool, next to Bronwyn’s pelvis. Nothing. I felt horror as my heart leaped into my throat. Then she moved the probe a few millimetres to the right and there it was, loud and strong. There was no stress, only a beautiful rhythm telling us that it was patiently waiting for the gates to open. We all cried a sigh of relief. The sound of this precious heartbeat lifted us all and motivated us back to work.
In the fourth hour I felt it might be best to get Bronwyn to stand up, to let gravity assist the baby’s descent. All fours in the pool wasn’t working so we tried standing several times. She didn’t have much strength left so I held her up by the arms. Janet then lifted her skirt up and stepped into the pool, standing behind Bronwyn to help hold her up. This was working. The baby was progressing more easily, two steps forward, one back. After a while we couldn’t hold her up much longer. My brain began to think. I said that we needed a birthing stool. Sonja replied that we didn’t have one. I thought laterally for an alternative. ‘A bucket, grab a bucket’. To my surprise Sonja grabbed a bucket and submerged it beneath Bronwyn. She sat with part of her weight on the bucket and the other part still held up by Janet and myself. It was working and Bronwyn was pushing. Three pushes later we were encouraging her into the fourth when she exhaustingly said, ‘I think the baby’s out’. We lifted her off and there in the bucket was this little blue grey alien thrashing around like a fish. She had come out all at once in that one last push.
Sonja reached into the bucket and lifted the baby onto Bronwyn’s chest as she fell back exhausted against the side of the pool. As it came out of the water we heard it take its first breath, a quick small cry, and it rapidly turned pink. It was 10.29pm. In shock and amazement Bronwyn exclaimed, ‘it’s a little human!’ I noticed Bronwyn immediately change. All the pain she carried of the last 22 and a half hours simply disappeared. Now she expressed shock, joy and amazement. I was amazed and full of joy myself. We’d done it!
We sat in the pool looking at this little pink slimy creature staring back at us with its huge clear black eyes, glancing between mother, father, and the dimmed light on the ceiling behind us. It was silent and attentive, fully aware and fully awake. It was so incredible and precious these first few moments of discovery, for all three of us, and granny Janet too. Despite all the commotion going on outside the womb it was as if the baby had entered the world with absolute patience and grace.
It was some time before we realised we hadn’t looked at the baby’s gender. During the pregnancy we intuited that it would be a girl, but weren’t fussed what sex the child would be. We had no attachment to one or the other. This non-attachment to gender helped us to fully appreciate and love this little being that had made such an incredible journey earth-side. It helped us connect to its soul, which is deeper than gender and beyond all social expectations. When we remembered to look we lifted the baby up. In the dim light I mistook the umbilical cord for a penis and announced, ‘it’s a boy!’ On the second look it had none. My brain had to work a bit harder but it finally figured out that no penis = girl.
We soon climbed out of the pool, dried and lay down on the futon next to the pool. The next few hours were spent marvelling at this little miracle, letting mother and daughter bond, and waiting for the placenta to birth itself. Three hours after the birth there was still no placenta. It was now 1.30am and we all needed to get some sleep. We agreed that we would sleep on it and Sonja check first thing in the morning.
When she checked at 7am the placenta was still inside Bronwyn. There were two possibilities. One, that the placenta had let go and was just sitting in the birth canal, and a gentle pull would help it out, or two, it hadn’t let go and we might have to go to the hospital to get it surgically removed. This second scenario would have been a complete downer after such a beautiful and successful homebirth. Just in case the placenta was still attached to the wall of the uterus Sonja injected syntocinon into Bronwyn’s thigh. Then she pulled ever so gently on the cord. The placenta easily plopped out and at the same time the baby farted. Sonja affectionately said to it, ‘so it was you who was holding on’. More sighs of relief.
During the day we agreed the baby’s name would be Alina Grace Caganoff. She weighed in at 6 pounds 3 and a half ounces.
We proceeded with our planned lotus birth. Salting the placenta after 24hrs of draining it, then re-salting it every 24hrs until it came off four days later. We were sitting at the dinner table that evening chatting away, Bronwyn had Alina and the placenta bag on her lap. All of a sudden we heard a thump on the floor and a cry from bub. The bag had fallen onto the floor and pulled the cord off at her belly. After the three of us got over the shock of it we then doubted that the bag had simply fallen. Perhaps at that moment Alina discovered that there wasn’t room for the two of them anymore and kicked the placenta off? She had a perfect belly button.
A week or so after the birth a friend read Alina’s palm. Oblivious of our turtle story she calmly explained that Alina’s characteristics would be strength, patience, endurance, and longevity. I laughed; so it was Alina in the dream, making herself known in the form of a turtle. Indeed, mother and daughter had worked together harmonising with the same turtle energies to ensure the least traumatic (but still quite dramatic) entrance into the world. Bronwyn gave so much of herself for Alina to be so complete. She is a calm, content, happy, active and aware little girl.
Despite the stalled contractions and the late birth of the placenta, we had a very successful, uncomplicated home water birth, which gave us the opportunity to go where couples rarely go: beyond ego into a place where you can both surrender to love, surrender to pain, and surrender to the magnificent creative and destructive forces of the universe.
I wish to thank Sonja for the dedication she has to her profession and offering us her experience and guidance during our process. I wish to also thank Janet for the dedication and support for her daughter and granddaughter and for taking a risk and following us out of the cultural comfort zones in order to birth our child on our own terms.
As a man, and now a father, I wish to express my love and admiration for Bronwyn and baby Alina, for passing through this momentous ‘rights of passage’: Alina’s graceful passage earth-side and Bronwyn’s courageous journey through the unknown darkness into the sunlit, and sometimes thunderous fields of motherhood. It was an absolute honour to be the main support for my beloved. It was truly the most incredible thing I have ever seen and been a part of.
Lastly, I would like to gratefully acknowledge all mothers throughout history for bearing the pain of childbirth, and to all midwives for their experience and knowledge handed down through countless millenniums of birthing ritual.
Read Gary’s other articles on The Birthing Zone