Words by Luna Angelina, Photograph by Madam Besson
It was the 3rd of April and I had been pregnant for 43 and a half weeks. We had been staying in Ubud for the past month, to be near the natural birth clinic. Initially I had wanted a home birth, but living in a small village on the east coast my husband and mother convinced me that it would be best to give birth in a clinic. Since in case of any complications it would be an hour drive to the hospital. We had tried everything to induce the labor naturally. From daily acupuncture to moxa therapy, castor oil to eating a pineapple a day, walking kilometers through the streets of Ubud trying to kick start this labor… hmm my first lesson into motherhood *PATIENCE*. I was slowly starting to fear a hospital birth.
Around 4PM I started feeling mild contractions but didn’t give much thought to it as I thought I’d been feeling contractions almost every evening the past week. I was thinking this baby was not going to leave the temple. Around 8pm I thought I’d head to the supermarket. In the middle of the supermarket I got another contraction, I squatted down by the instant noodles and looked over to the woman by the checkout who looked at me in fear. OK, this was the real deal, I needed to get to the hotel as soon as possible. Once arrived we sat out on the terrace, looking at the full moon rise. It was the night of the full moon eclipse, we should’ve known he was waiting for this special night to make his way out. Over the next hours contractions grew stronger and more frequent. At 11pm we hopped on the motor bike and made our way to the clinic.
I always thought I’d be the type to dance through labor. I envisioned myself moving around the room, incense, music… well, this wasn’t really the case. Instead, I leaned back on the same side of the bed with my eyes closed for the first 10 hours. My husband was trying to feed me rice and fresh coconut water, but I wasn’t having it. I was alone inside my pain, my eyes closed. There was nothing else. I wasn’t prepared for THIS much pain. With every contraction I felt sick, felt the need to vomit, honestly I was feeling miserable. In my head I went over all the women in my life, my mother, grandmother, great grandmother and so on, and thought of them, going through this same pain. My great grandmother birthing my grandmother, birthing my mother, birthing me, birthing my son. A huge respect grew inside of me, women, WOMBman… powerful beings, portals of life. I drew strength from them. I opened my eyes and it was morning, I had been riding these waves of extreme pain the entire night with my eyes closed, I was somewhere else. As hours went by my moans became louder and the pain almost unbearable. I tried some different positions, leaning onto my husband. Nothing was easing the pain. We decided it was time to get into the bath.
The water was warm, it soothed me and somehow it made the pain bearable again. My midwife added flowers to the bath, I relaxed and gave in. Voices faded out. 5 hours later I started to feel the urge to push, the midwife told me to listen to my body, and so I did. I started pushing and soon after I pushed out some of the amniotic sac, which was still intact and his head became visible. I got super motivated, and pushed and pushed. 6 hours later he was still in the same place. We agreed I’d try to get out of the tub and I lay on the bed. I was tired and started to doubt myself. Two other midwives joined and they looked at the amniotic sac, then cut it open. They all looked worried and started whispering. “What’s going on?!” I asked over and over. Nobody answered and they left the room with a bowl of the fluid. I was worried, I was scared. Was my baby going to be OK? The midwife checked me and said I was only 7 cm dilated, yet I had been pushing for 6 hours. She told me it was absolutely necessary to STOP pushing.
Anyone who has ever given birth knows this is close to impossible. The contractions, the urge to push -especially once started- is almost impossible to hold back. I was in excruciating pain. I growled and moaned and screamed until my voice went raw. This pain was the worst pain imaginable, nobody deserved this pain. I didn’t know how I was able to manage. I was delirious. There was no one left in the room except my husband, he was the only one who could keep me calm. We sat back into the tub and he held my hands and looking at me, assuring me I could do this. We breathed through each contraction together and he was right, I COULD do this. But then 2 hours of the impossible passed and I started to panic. I got out of the tub. I couldn’t handle this pain any longer. I felt I was putting my baby in danger by not listening to my body and instead working against my body. I could feel his head outside of my body for the past 8 hours. I felt like the biggest failure in the world. I looked around me into this room full of women, my mother, the midwives, they had all done it before me – why couldn’t I? I went into full panic mode. “Somebody please help me! Do something!” I yelled into the room. I could see the fear on everyone’s faces, maybe this wasn’t how it *normally* goes… I broke down and cried.
Finally someone came to my rescue. Ibu Robin Lim arrived, the founder of the clinic. The whole atmosphere changed and I felt safe. She changed my position and massaged my hips and told me I could push if that’s what I felt I should do. I got oxygen and I was shaking and sweating. I was exhausted, I was delirious. I had been in labor for 29 hours already, little did I know I had yet another 8 to go. We tried every position, nothing would change, and he was stuck. You could see my cervix stuck around his head. I squatted down by the bed, pulling myself up on the railing. Ibu Robin was lying down her hands massaging my cervix off of his head. I could hear his heartbeat, there was blood everywhere. I went outside of my body. I could only hear murmurs, I heard voices of people who weren’t there, I would open my eyes but I couldn’t see anymore. I felt as if my body had been taken over. I was exhausted.
A panic came over the room and my husband and mother demanded an ambulance, this wasn’t working. An argument started, I began to doubt myself even more but Ibu Robin was convinced I could do this. They prepared an ambulance but I refused, I didn’t want to imagine the horror of delivering in a hospital (possibly in the ambulance), a C-section, cord clamping and what not. No. In all honesty, I thought I was going to die but that would have been ok, as long as my baby was going to be fine. I finally told them I couldn’t see anymore, it was all black. They checked my blood pressure and it was way up, meanwhile my baby’s heartbeat started to slow down. A doctor arrived and she gave me acupuncture while I was squatting, pushing by the bed. With every push someone was behind me, putting pressure points on my shoulders to help me push harder. Another person was feeding me honey and water mixed with some homeopathic drops to help my blood pressure go back to normal. Hours passed which really felt like minutes, or maybe days, I don’t know. And STILL nothing happened. I finally said, I can’t do it anymore, I give up. I climbed onto the bed and closed my eyes; I was shaking, sweating, sore, exhausted.
With the following contraction I laid on my side, as I was ready to give up, I pulled up my leg against my chest. And I PUSHED. A rush came over me. YES - finally my body released him. My mother came behind me, I was resting between her legs. The same way as she had given birth to me 22 years prior, I now too became a portal for a newer generation. At last I felt in control and with every last bit of strength I had within me I pushed and finally, his head came out. With the next push, his shoulders. It burned. It burned but it felt so good. The most painful, strange, beautiful, surreal feeling imaginable. Everyone started singing, the gayatri filled the room… Om bhur bhuva swaha… One last push and there he was, I opened my eyes and he was held up in front of me, I snapped back to full consciousness. I was fully awake, never had I felt more alive, the pain stopped and everything became clear. He reached out to me and was laid on my chest and latched onto my breast. After 37 hours, 14 hours of pushing here he was. So beautiful, so familiar, he was absolutely perfect.
I was being stitched up and slowly people started to leave the room. Only then I noticed how many people had been present, supporting me. We choose for a lotus birth. I initially wanted to encapsulate the placenta but as the placenta is considered holy in Bali -they say it’s the physical body of the child’s guardian angel- it had to be buried at home. Ibu Robin suggested I ate some of it to minimize the risk of rejection after such a birth. So I did. Day turned night and night into morning, time was nonexistent. To finally hold my baby, I can honestly say I would do it over again and again if I had to. It will forever be my greatest accomplishment and I am proud to say that I birthed him into this world naturally, painfully, beautifully.
Connect with the author through her Instagram @narayanamoksha