by Joely Rese, Tree of Life mama
It was 5 am on Sunday morning. My contractions had started almost exactly 24 hours ago. I knew, though, that my husband, Jacob, and I still had a ways to go before we were going to meet our son. Earlier that night while laboring at home, the frequency of my contractions had picked up and it seemed like things were moving quickly towards baby. Our midwife told us to come to the birth center. By the time we arrived at Tree of Life Birth Center, the contractions had slowed in frequency, though not in intensity. After several more hours of early labor at the birth center, I was throwing up from the pain, Jacob had barely slept since my contractions had started 24 hours ago and my cervix was almost completely thinned, but still only about 3cm dilated.
In our Birthing from Within birth class, we talked about the multiple “great” gates that one must pass through in the labor process. In that predawn light, Jacob and I had come upon the "gate of great doubt", that voice that says: "I don’t think I can do this." I’m not sure the image of a gate does it justice. It’s really more like the Wall in Game of Thrones. A seemingly impenetrable blockade with no clear way under, over, or through. I knew there was no way back, but I also could not see the path forward.
Our midwives made the brilliant, and perhaps unexpected, suggestion that Jacob and I leave the birth center and go down to the beach to watch the sun rise. Without a better alternative, we ventured to the coast and sat in our car watching the waves catch first light. Jacob knew he needed to sleep to recharge. I knew I had to change my inner monologue. I was judging myself and my labor—or, as my doula put it, I was “should-ing all over myself.” I should be coping with my contractions better, I should be progressing faster, etc. Something had to change in order for us to move forward.
As we drove back to the birth center, a subtle shift occurred. The gate of great doubt still stood before us, but instead of looking like an icy, impassable wall, it started to look like a gate that one could pass through with the right key.
When we returned, Jacob slept for a few hours and I labored outside with my doula and midwives. The contractions started to pick up again both in intensity and frequency. After a relatively short stretch of time (in comparison to the previous 27 hours!), it was clear that I had transitioned into active labor. We moved inside; I got in the tub for a while before ultimately welcoming our son, Solomon, on a birthing stool surrounded by Jacob and the most phenomenal birth team a person could ask for.
I have no hesitation stating that labor was hands down the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, by a seemingly incalculable magnitude. Encountering the “gate of great doubt" challenged me, my body and my spirit in ways I never could have anticipated. I also realized that there was no one right way to move through that gate. In that moment, my path was laboring outside with some awesome, supportive women while my partner got some sleep to continue to support me in the process. For others, it may have meant going to the hospital for medication to provide some much needed rest. For some, it may have been having faith in a higher power. Whatever the path, the key was connecting to a deep intuition that I knew what was right for me and trusting those around me to support me through that gate. I can think of no better way to begin the journey into parenthood.