It is a bright Nashville Saturday morning. I leave the kiddos with my husband (“It shouldn’t be longer than an hour or two!”), show up to a room at the local library in a pair of cowboy boots and a summer dress, and prepare to share my birth story at an event called, "Under the Bold Red Tent." It was advertised as a place to connect with other women and share birth stories.
Now, I love a good birth story and I love telling my own birth stories. The whole thing fascinates me. How a human comes out of, well, there is pretty amazing. I love how like snowflakes, each story is different. Natural, medicated, c-section, vaginal, hospital birth, home birth, long labor, short labor, and everything in between. I love it all. I can't wait to hear the stories and share my own.
I am one of the first to arrive. Introverts hate to be the first to arrive to anything. I don't know anyone so I immediately sit on the floor and pretend to be busy on my phone. It is then that the “Red Tent” presents some serious red flags:
First, I notice that there is an ACTUAL tent...or canopy..or fabric...whatever it is, it is indeed, red. I had thought the name was metaphoric. Apparently not.
Second, the tent is on a stage. There are no chairs, just a lot of open space.
Third, there is a boom box.
Fourth, As the women arrive, I notice that I am the only one not wearing yoga pants.
Lastly, I am also the only one wearing shoes.
I have nothing against yoga pants and bare feet, in fact I sport that look a lot myself--but I do wish I would have gotten the memo. Introverts don’t like to stick out. I jokingly think to myself that physical activity might be required. Ha! Now wouldn't that be funny.
Everyone is accounted for and we are guided up on the stage and encouraged to form a circle.
On the floor.
The uniformity of the circle and the cross-legedness makes me slightly nervous, but it’s not a big deal, we’ll soon start telling our stories and I’ll be home by lunch time happy for having gone and feeling nostalgic for the births of my daughters.
We are told to grasp hands. By this time I am having minor heart palpitations. I don’t like where this is going.
First of all, I’m not a big fan of group hand holding and when I’ve done it, say, during prayer I am so distracted (“Am I holding too tight!? Are my palms sweaty? Why won’t my hand stop shaking!”) that I can barely focus on the prayer.
Second of all, WHY ARE WE EVEN DOING IT?
OH. This is why.
We are told to close our eyes and to “om”...
Again, California-born-home-birthing-daughter-of-hippies over here, but group “om-ing” is a little much, even for me.
Gracious, is that harmonizing?
Yes, yes it is.
Someone has begun to “om” in harmony.
Well this is Nashville, after all.
I am wrought with both fear and a fit of the giggles. They are oming in, oming out, and I am harkening my own labor strategies trying to “just breathe” through possible outbursts of laughter.
I evaluate the situation. Any empowering birth conversation cannot possibly be worth what is about to go down. I sense this. It is serious fight or flight time. I strategize an exit. Everyone’s eyes are closed, I can totally do this!
But it occurs to me that I'm on the farthest side of the circle form the door. In order to exit I’d have to move across the entire stage, and no amount of “oming” (no matter how loud or guttural) would cover up the sound of heeled cowboy boots fleeing on a hardwood floor.
Why pick TODAY to be fashionable, Flo, WHY!?
It’s too late for action.
Everyone’s eyes are open.
I start praying for Josh to call me with some sort of emergency--nothing serious of course--well, not too serious anyway. I so desperately want to say, “I’m so very sorry, but it appears one of my daughters has ingested 3 containers of play dough and the other one has had a significant diaper blow out.” But then I remember I married a superdad. There’s nothing he can’t handle.
CRAP. Why did I have to marry such a capable man! This is what I get for being fashionable and having good taste in men. I guess this is it. I'm in it for the long haul. Besides, someone is telling their birth story and if I were to leave now the delicate balance of emotions would unravel causing a disturbance in the womanhood force. Believe me, you do not want to do that.
There are probably a dozen of us in a circle up on that stage, under that red tent, and one by one we tell our stories. I’ve never timed it, but I’m guessing I could tell both of my birth stories in 10 minutes or less if I had to. Multiply that by 12 women and you get 2 hours of birth talk. That is assuming each women speaks for 10 minutes. Each woman does not speak for 10 minutes. Some speak for much much longer.
I start wondering what time it is. Tears, rage, and life stories are shared.I am not prepared. I wish I’d packed a lunch. If my stomach starts growling maybe they'll think I'm just oming. When it’s finally my turn, and I tell Amelie’s birth story in about 30 seconds because I am faint with hunger.
“Used a midwife. Had a home birth. Buried my placenta under a rosebush. (come on, I have to keep that in) ...It was really great...super spiritual...changed my life...Are there any snacks?”
Okay, the last part I think to myself.
The specifics are a bit foggy, but just about the time I was praising God for the last story being told, the leader makes an announcement.Turns out I was right to question the presence of the boom box.
She explains, “Now, not everyone has had this opportunity at other Red Tent events around the country (woah, around the country?? I had no idea) but I am happy to say that we have a dance instructor among us who has agreed to lead us this afternoon!”
I am AGHAST. Truly.
I hate dancing in public so much I didn’t even dance at my own wedding. Dance instructor? I have no idea what this could possibly mean in this context!
Oh, now I do.
We are asked to stand up, as she tells us to try to capture the feeling of our birth and let it manifest through dance in whatever way we wish.
Birth dance. GOOD LORD.
I try to make eye contact with someone--anyone--who like me might be wishing the earth would open up, but everyone is dancing. Everyone is loving it. It is a sacred congregation of mamas in yoga pants leaping, frolicking, and whirling like dervishes in a unified rhythm. I’m pushed along and caught up in the rip tide of hormones.
The only thing louder than that boom box zen music is the clickety clack of my cowboy boots as I stumble around the circle flapping my arms up in the air every now and then to give the appearance of “dancing.” I’m thinking I am NEVER wearing these #@&* boots again!I pray for some sort of supernatural time warp to carry me out of the moment, and just then the music fades.
God listens, y’all.
What did she just say?
I’m pretty sure she just told us to end our dance in ...a pose?
But wait, that’s not enough.
We must each pose in a way that represents our birth. Together.
I look around for ideas. I’ve gotten this far, what's one more humiliation? I mean, if I actually survived childbirth I can do anything, right? Isn’t that what we always say?
I strike a pose.
A birth pose.
I squat and throw my hands up in the air in victory.
FOR GETTING THROUGH THIS AFTERNOON!
And then...the pinnacle (no, that actually wasn't just it) in the form of an announcement:
The words, “we have a dance instructor among us” can only be trumped by, “Oh lovely! The news reporter has just arrived.”
FOR REAL PEOPLE.
There we are, all of us squished together, beaming, grimacing, squatting like birth warriors. News reporter is a guy. News reporter has his camera, of course. News reporter snaps a picture, and for the first time that afternoon I feel a surge of pride over my fashion decision...until I realize what the heck I’m doing. I imagine news reporter is totally scandalized and will go home swearing off procreation.
And just like that, we’re free to go.
I look around at these mothers who I don’t know and who don’t know how close I was to jetting out the door, and I feel something. Not fear, or ridicule, or even relief for it all being over.
I feel solidarity.
When I get home 4 hours later, I’m met by 2 tiny ladies (and a tired husband) who are wondering WHERE the heck I have been all day.
I kiss their faces... and I remember how they came to be mine.
I remember labor as a complete combination of fear and joy, terror and laughter.
I remember the fight or flight struggle, and the realization that the only way out would be to surrender.
I remember clasping hands with Josh and the guttural “oms” that surprised even myself.
I remember the awkward dance of labor that I did NOT want to be doing but stumbled through anyway, somehow.
And I remember that final push, holding my baby, feeling like the most victorious woman on earth.
I'm finally home, happy, and indeed feeling nostalgic for the births of my daughters.
The Red Tent was crazy.
But then again, so is birth.