This is one of my favourite accounts of childbirth. It is over 100 years old, but is still so pertinent today. I first read this about 20 years ago and the imagery and depth of emotion has stayed with me...
From the autobiography by the wife of the poet Edward Thomas, describing the birth of their first child in 1900.
The New Year was still quite new when one night I woke up and knew that at last my baby was making ready for his mysterious entrance into life. I held my breath and waited, for I was not quite sure what it was that had wakened me, and conveyed to me so surely that my time was come.
It came again – a small sharp pain. For a little while I lay quite still, too moved by its significance to turn and speak to Edward by my side. I must be quiet awhile with my bab y- he in the dark mystery of my body, I in the dark mystery of my soul-our bond, and the breaking of that bond made manifest by the small, sharp pain that came again.
Then I woke Edward and told him. He kissed me sleepily and drew me into the hollow of his arm, and we fell asleep until morning.
The morning came, a cold winter morning. I woke feeling as I used to when a child on my birthday morning, or on the morning when we were going away to the seaside. Something was going to happen that I had been counting the days for. What was it? I had forgotten.
But my baby had not slept-he was impatient to be out and the sign was so sharp this time that it made me catch my breath. Edward was in his bath–I got hurried and flustered and called him to be quick and let me have mine, for the pain was now so sharp and seemed so impatient that it excited and unnerved me. Everything before had been so slow, so calm, this was a new and unexpected note. I could not at once attune myself to it.
I bathed and dressed as quickly as I could, the pain speeding me with its insistence. My baby called to me and I must hurry to him. But how? Edward, tying his tie at the mirror saw my face reflected in it and came and held me against him, and when I felt his body tremble my panic fled and I was calm again.
Edward had arranged that day to go for a long country walk with a friend and I insisted that they should keep to their plan, leaving me with Mrs Thomas (Edward’s mother). So they went, sending a telegram to my nurse on the way.
The pain came fiercer now and more often, but I was full of restless energy. I went up and down stairs and went down to lunch and read aloud. Mrs Thomas brought tea up to our room and we had a sort of picnic round the fire, she and the nurse talking of practical matters, I, lost to all but my own excitement, which not even the pain could subdue. I must be doing, my soul was singing and free, my body must respond however foolishly.
The fierceness of the pain stopped me in all I began. I had to hold onto anything stable and when I looked at Mrs Thomas’s face I saw pity there. But she could not speak of her feelings to me now, and I was glad that she could not.
I wanted to be alone with this fierce exultation of pain. My spirit sang in triumph after each paroxysm but my body was like a dead weight on it. I only know that my baby and I were struggling for him to be born. He could not go back into his quiet darkness. All was changed. He had begun his perilous journey into life-I must speed him and help him. I cling to the bed, and feel the pain is overwhelming me. I must not let it. Nurse came to hold me, “No, don’t touch me, go by the fire, I can smell the baby’s things scorching.” So, by trivial ways I try to keep in touch with my baby. I had a feeling that if I let go my hold on consciousness I shall be leaving him alone.
Nurse says a word of praise and encouragement which gives me confidence in myself again. I shiver as I lie on the bed but I use every ounce of effort when the paroxysm comes and feel again the triumphant exultation. My body labours but my spirit is free.
I am seized by a new strangely expelling pain. I am again terribly alone-a primitive creature, without thought, without desire, without anything but this instinct to rid my womb of what encumbers it.
A pain more rending than all bears me on its crest into darkness. A cry, a strange unearthly cry strikes piteously at my heart and pierces my darkness. My consciousness strives towards that cry, my soul recognises it. It is my baby’s cry and it leads my spirit away from the dark back to the light.
Someone says “a fine boy” and I, wearily, “Is he all right?” they say “a perfect child.” Then blessed rest and content-not unconsciousness, but just a sense of fulfilment, with no remembrance of pain, nor even of the baby, who is silent.
They say “here is your husband” and when he bends over to kiss me I cannot open my lips or eyes for weariness. But I can smell the violets he puts on my pillow.
After a while they give me my boy. I see that he has Edward’s fair hair and blue eyes and I am glad; but his nose is small like mine; his ears are like his father’s and covered with soft, fine down. His tiny fingers clasp my finger. His eyes are wide open. What does he see as he moves his head from side to side? The light of the winter dawn fills the room; his eyes unblinkingly seek the window, not with wonder as one coming from darkness, but as if in this strangeness the light alone is not strange.
Suddenly the realisation of life and all that may separate us comes to me, and I hold him close. I want him still to be all my own. His eyes close and he nuzzles against my breast and with his groping mouth he finds my nipple. He is soft and warm and sweet. As he draws the warm milk from me I feel that mysterious pleasure half spiritual, half physical. I realise that the link between us is imperishable.
I am forever his mother, and he is my son.