TW: rape and addiction
When I was a younger woman thinking about pregnancy and babies but nowhere near having one, I dreamed of a natural at-home birth, like my mother before me. I was born in an apartment in Greenwich Village, and my father caught me, as red as a pepper, and they named me Cayanne. As I got older, and still older, I started to worry that when the time finally came, I would be too out of shape and scared to go natural. I became pregnant at thirty-six, and I knew the moment that I looked at that plus sign on the stick that I would be having my baby “at home” and naturally. I felt no hesitation or fear, and for the next nine months I felt certain and positive about this decision. My confidence was unflinching. I was at a certain advantage in that my husband grew up on The Farm, and his mother is a long-standing midwife there, where she’d delivered over 100 babies. There was never any doubt in my mind that was where I would give birth. However, I live in Asheville, NC, and The Farm is six to seven hours away in Summertown, TN, so there were some obstacles . . .
First, to find prenatal care which would allow me to receive all of my care in my hometown and then transfer to The Farm for the birth. Then, to find practitioners who would not oppose my choice for a natural birth.
I had to go through the motions of calling several doctors’ and midwives’ offices and explaining my circumstances, only to be turned down. I was starting to lose hope, although my mother-in-law said, if it came to it, we would travel back and forth and she would provide my prenatal care. Luckily, it didn’t come to that. My husband had actually worked for a family practitioner but wasn’t aware that she did prenatal and delivery, and so, when I got to her office on my list, she answered, “I was wondering when you were going to call.” And all the chips fell into place. I received the most amazing care from my doctors, Lisa and Susan, at Family to Family. I also had birth classes from an incredible woman, Chama, who followed the “Birthing From Within” recipe. Both of these made me ready for childbirth.
I had to get to The Farm before the baby decided to come. We scheduled this move three weeks prior the due date, which was July 9. My doctors actually pulled me out of work two weeks early. This gave me the opportunity to prepare for the baby as much as I could at home. I loved this time of cleaning and organizing. We drove to The Farm, a longer than usual drive because of a rock slide which closed half of the highway going over the mountains. I enjoyed three lovely weeks with rest, family, and physical and mental preparation. I walked, I napped, I thought.
I was almost ready, but there was still something holding me back, some fear which I hadn’t uncovered. Throughout the pregnancy, I had been completely confident in my body to do what came naturally, yet I wondered where this new-found confidence came from. I hadn’t trusted my own body in a very long time. In fact, we had become strangers to each other.
I am a survivor. I was raped when I was thirteen, before I had any real and personal knowledge of sex or relationships or, most importantly, of self. My sense of self and my relationship with my own body was shaped by this one, extremely powerful experience. How did it affect my experience, twenty-five years later, when I became pregnant and gave birth? First, I have to explain a little about the effects of rape on the relationship that I developed with my physical self.
At that early age, I learned that my body was not my own, that I did not own the rights to it. Someone had destroyed that feeling of self-possession, that innocent knowledge we have as children that tells us we get to decide what happens to our bodies. I felt my inability to protect myself. I felt betrayed by myself, and out of that betrayal, hate developed, which caused me in my teenage years to cut myself and to be a cigarette smoker and alcohol drinker. These would become crutches I would use and abuse for the next twenty-five years. Because of this hatred, I allowed myself to be used for sex and believed that was all I was good for. I had been a dancer throughout my youth and had loved it so dearly; I thought it would be my life-long dream. But I stopped dancing.
I treated and thought of my body as an enemy, a foreigner, something separate from me. During the rape, I left my body, what people refer to as the “out-of-body” experience. I watched from above, I became numb, and I never came back. We parted ways. I only realized fully, while pregnant, that I had never fully re-entered my body again after the rape. I never reclaimed it. I never forgave it. We had separate identities…what I did with and to my body was separate from the rest of me. Much later, I would always have trouble when yoga instructors would instruct the class to “be present in your body.” I had not been present in my body for most of my life.
During pregnancy, we were getting reacquainted. I listened to the stories that my body told me. During the eight hours of labor, we became trusted friends. I reclaimed my intuition. The experience of birth also birthed the reunion of my body and mind, birthed forgiveness and wholeness. The birth of my daughter restored my trust and belief in my physical self and connected these two parts which had been separated for most of my life. This is one of the gifts that my daughter has given me: a relationship between my body and myself.