Today my daughter turns seven, and I’ve decided to honor the day by sharing her birth story, which I wrote shortly afterward.
Shamans believe everyone has power animals — animal spirits that reside with each individual, offering protection, wisdom and power; they usually make their presence known through dreams or visions. The elephant is my power animal. And I called on her late in my pregnancy when it seemed my own strength had run out.
My baby girl was still turned sideways in the womb at 36 weeks. Concerned that the large fibroids growing near my cervix might obstruct her turning, my doctor ordered a sonogram for the following week. If it showed my baby to still be lying transverse, she would schedule me for a cesarean as soon as possible. The threat of a cesarean had hovered over most of my pregnancy due to these fibroids. And it was certainly not the outcome my husband and I desired.
I needed more time. I had read that a small percentage of babies turn late; perhaps mine was one of them. On my own, I scheduled the sonogram for one week later. And then called on my good friend Jim for help. Jim, a shaman of sorts, (he once resuscitated a baby deer back to life) offered his long-distance assistance. He promised to do some drumming and visualization work with my power animal and encouraged me to do so as well.
“Elephants are majestic, fertile and strong creatures,” he said. “Remember that the head of an elephant herd is the matriarch, and the tender loving care lavished on baby elephants is one of the species’ most endearing traits. Also,” he added, “you can dance your power animal — dance Elephant so She can be in your body.”
At 38 weeks pregnant, I wasn’t sure about the dancing part, but I suddenly knew where to go for inspiration — the elephant house at Roger Williams Park Zoo, where Alice the dancing elephant came to see me. She isn’t really dancing, but her movements appear that way as she sways back and forth — a habit she’s had since childhood, according to the zookeepers.
For a couple of hours my unborn child and I watched Alice dance, and I imagined my baby’s motions simulating hers, which wasn’t hard as she was very active inside me. The elephants’ thoughtful movements calmed me. Their wise, gentle eyes sent messages of peace. Time in their presence gave me some much-needed spiritual renewal, if nothing else. I felt ready to accept whatever type of birth my daughter needed.
The next week’s sonogram results seemed nothing short of a miracle — my baby had turned in the 11th hour! She was head down and ready to go. My gratitude toward Jim was effusive. “Now,” I asked, “can you visualize shrinking fibroids and a smooth vaginal birth?”
“Of course,” he replied with enthusiasm. “And I will dance an exuberant dance of gratitude to Elephant. Your power animal has proven willing to help, but you must focus on your own strength as well.”
“I felt a strong sense of your power and of the baby’s when you told me the baby had turned,” Jim confided. “I’ll do what I can, but any healing ultimately comes from you and your spirit helpers.”
Since Alice had been so forthcoming with her support, I used a photo of her as a focal point during my labor.
My baby’s final leg of her journey was trying to say the least — it was a hero’s journey filled with obstacles to overcome, from an intermittently dropped heart rate to meconium in her fluid. After nearly 14 hours of labor, the doctor recommended a cesarean delivery. It seemed my little girl was turned the wrong way again (face up this time) and couldn’t squeeze past the pelvic bone. Plus there was the risk of infection, as my water had been ruptured for over 30 hours. Aware of my strong desire to have a vaginal birth, the doctor was willing to try to turn her head with the vacuum.
“I’ll give it three tries,” she said, “but if it doesn’t work, we’re going to the operating room.”
My husband and I exchanged worried glances. I was exhausted and so much longed to finally meet our baby, but I didn’t want to give in to a cesarean — especially not after all the intense work we had just been through. Although the doctor and nurses recommended that I save my strength for the vacuum, I listened to my baby and my own power instead. When I felt the need to bear down with several contractions, I did, pushing with more strength than I even knew I had. My breathing and pushing found a rhythm like Alice’s dance. A rhythm that helped my daughter descend further into the birth canal and, finally, with the turning aid of the vacuum, out into this world.
My husband wept. I was overjoyed and relieved. For my baby’s vaginal birth. For Alice’s spirit power. For women everywhere making this journey. I had done it! It wasn’t my ideal birth, but it was filled with my conscious choices. I didn’t let anyone push me and I quieted the naysayers who had all along predicted a cesarean. I felt empowered.
My daughter, Sofie Dylan, is a powerful female too. She came out with the umbilical cord wrapped three times around her neck — the cause of her dropped heart rate — and wailed intensely while the nurses checked her vitals. Wailed until she was placed in my arms where she quieted immediately, as if she knew she was home. She was in perfect physical health, the nurses proclaimed with surprise. After all that she’d been through, they were expecting to take her to intensive care.
I smiled. Jim was right. They didn’t know about our power. The personal power that overcame fibroids, transverse positioning, meconium and umbilical cords.
They didn’t know about the dancing elephants.
Alice herself may soon share in my joys of motherhood. She was inseminated in February with hopes of bearing the zoo’s first elephant calf. By May we will know if she is pregnant – 22 months of gestation if she is – yikes! If that is the case, I will take Sofie to visit Alice throughout her birthing journey to offer our emotional support and maybe, just maybe, even some dancing.
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