She Who Brings Forth the Blossoms
by Leah Timmermann
Leah Timmermann lives in rural Eastern Ontario. She works as a midwife but is currently on leave with her 3-month-old daughter. She and her family live in a tiny house that they built on their family's land. She loves reading, cooking, and anything outdoors.
As a young sprout, I was surrounded by radiant, flourishing blooms of mother plants. They shaded me from the sun, fed and nourished me. They were my own mother, grandmothers, aunts and neighbourhood women. I observed them in their roles, and knew that I too desired the great privilege of becoming a mother one day. Even my young tomboy self, with the perpetually skinned knees and backwards baseball caps, couldn’t deny the intense call I felt to the nurturing and womanly howl of motherhood.
A month before my 30th birthday, my partner Erik and I remarked on the speed of time. We discussed trying for a baby. After all, we joked, I was about to start a new older and wiser decade, and he, with his grey streaked hair at 34, was becoming positively geriatric. We were fortunate to become pregnant quickly.
My pregnancy progressed as the seasons changed. Leaves turned brilliant shades of amber and red. Then came the snowfall as my belly grew and grew. In Eastern Ontario, our winters can be harsh. I continued to swing a large axe, chopping wood for our stove. I had a healthy pregnancy, and my midwife helped to answer my questions and check in with me.
At holiday time, I proudly showed off my baby bump. I felt the excitement and support from my family and friends. I was asked the same questions: “Boy or girl?” (Don’t know), “When are you due?” (May), and “Aren’t you scared it will hurt?”, to which my answer was longer. The young sprout in me who preferred tree-forts over dolls, also held a strong belief. I was taught that women are capable and strong; that a woman with deep roots can bend and adapt to the fiercest winds.
“No, I’m not scared.” I would respond. “I figure if all of us were born to mothers, and those before us, and before them, and for eons past…then I can do it too”. Despite the intensity and pain that I knew awaited me, I trusted in my mind and body to rise to the occasion. I knew that if I flowed along with the ebbs and flows of labour (and of parenting, for that matter!), that things would unfurl in the ways that they were meant to.
In March, I collected maple sap with my family, an annual tradition, which marks the arrival of spring. I began to waddle and grow uncomfortable. My pelvis and low back became increasingly painful. I found relief in moving my body. Fresh spring air helped calm my mind and ground me.
In April, I stopped work, and began preparing for our baby’s arrival. I knit, sewed, cooked, and read. I napped, relaxed, and spoke with friends. My daily stretches and weekly trips to the pool became imperative to cope with the pelvic pain. My partner and I began nesting. We were planning a home birth and gathered our supplies, including the birth pool, the towels, the candles. We cleaned and scrubbed, washed our bed sheets, folded newborn onesies, and put our mattress on the floor. Instead of a nursery, we planned to simplify life by having our baby live and sleep in our bedroom. Erik bought a mesh pool net from the Dollar store for potential scooping in the birth tub. Spoiler alert: it was used. We met with our midwife, and asked a close friend Danielle, to be our doula. On the last evening of April, we spoke to our precious baby and said “We’re ready to meet you!”. We were so full of love and anticipation.
Mere hours later, on May 1st, I woke to irregular contractions. They were more painful than menstrual cramps, but tolerable. These sensations were completely out of the blue; I had no prior signs of early labour - no mucus plug, no bloody show. Uncertain if these were really contractions, and knowing that being a first-time mom, my labour could last for a long time, I settled into bed.
I did not sleep. But I rested my body and breathed. I used my heating pad on my belly and tried to think gentle, positive thoughts. In the morning, Erik rose and I told him that I might be in early labour. He jumped out of bed, wide-eyed, and sprung into action. We were ready and so, so excited to meet our baby.
The day carried on with more irregular contractions. I didn’t time them but knew they ranged from every 3 minutes to every 15. The contractions were painful and while I could speak through them, they held my attention. I balanced rest with movement. I napped, chatted with Erik, and ate lunch. In the afternoon, we walked around our country yard. The grass was coming up and felt soft on my bare feet. I wandered over to the large magnolia tree at the edge of the property and noticed there was one, solitary pink blossom that had freshly emerged. “Imagine that”, I thought. Here I was, on Mayday, May 1st, Beltane, blossoming in my own right, with the magnolia tree mirroring me…or was it the other way around?
In the evening, my contractions were about 3 to 5 minutes apart. With still no significant signs or changes, I decided to check my own cervix. I was 1 cm dilated, and with my cervix still far back (posterior) and firm. It was then that I figured I would likely be in labour for much, much longer. I had to now stop and breathe with effort through the contractions, but with my dilation, I knew I was still in early labour. I spoke on the phone with my mom, who excitedly encouraged me, and told me that she thought I was surely in labour. Erik and I made a phone call to our friends, the local Buddhist nuns. Erik and his step father had built the nuns a temple on their property years prior, and had become close. The nuns requested we call them when I began labour, so that they could chant for us, and offer prayers of safety and love.
I cooked us a simple dinner, pausing every few minutes to breath and lean over the side of the countertop. I obliged myself to eat, but didn’t have much appetite. With the sensations becoming quite painful, I drew myself a warm bath upstairs. It was nearing bedtime, and I encouraged Erik to sleep, knowing that it would likely be a long night (or week-end) of labouring.
The bath was heavenly. The warm waters enveloped me, and immediately helped to ease my aching hips and back. The contractions didn’t slow down even in the warm water, which was a good sign. I began to moan and groan with the sensations. Curious, I checked my cervix again, and was disappointed to feel that my cervix had not changed. I was still only 1 cm dilated. I then felt my first pangs of doubt. “How will I get through this….?”. My mind wandered to women in my life who’ve had lots of babies. A close friend in particular came to mind, who had 4 children vaginally. I thought about all the women around the world, going through their own experiences of labour, at that precise moment. I felt a deep connection to their global strength and courage.
Things then got interesting.
The contractions began to come back to back. I think they were about every 2 minutes apart, and lasted about a minute. I held on for dear life, as the most intense pain I have ever felt surged through my body. Erik soon emerged from the bedroom. I felt good that he had come to my side, as I was beginning to really need support. He brought me water to sip, and a hand to hold. With each contraction, I tried my utmost to relax my muscles and to not clench. This was very hard to accomplish. The bath was still helping, but it suddenly felt cramped, the water too cold, and the surface hard on my hip bones. I asked Erik to call Danielle, our doula. I felt the need for more hands to squeeze.
No sooner had Erik left the room to make the phone call, did I feel a sensation deep in my pelvis, that I can only describe as feeling like two puzzle pieces, clicking together. I immediately knew what I was feeling. I gingerly reached a finger inside, and confirmed that yes, I was fully dilated, and my baby’s head was right there.
He called our midwife and told her things were moving along quickly. Erik asked if I wanted to move downstairs to the birthing pool. I said that I didn’t think there was time to fill it up. Not to mention the fact that I don’t think I could have moved! It took every ounce of my focus and determination to stay present and breathe through each contraction, as they barrelled through my body.
My body began pushing hard, and I fought it off, panting like a dog. I wanted our midwife and doula to be present so badly. Knowing that our baby was coming very soon, I turned to Erik and yelled “This baby is coming in 10 minutes! You better get ready”. I then started barking orders about towels, and the bowl for the placenta. Erik deserved a gold medal, for how incredibly calm and grounded he was, despite the exciting, yet nerve-wracking scenario. He continued to hold my hand and make low, vocal sounds with me.
The midwife arrived, and set up her equipment. We both felt a huge sense of calm and relief, having her guiding presence and support. Within 10 minutes of her arrival, our baby’s head emerged. It was a burning, fiery ring of satisfaction, as I knew my job was almost complete. Our baby’s body came easily next, and she was born under water, into her fathers loving hands. She was passed into my arms, and I was flooded with emotions and feelings that I will never forget. Love, gratitude, relief, and empowerment. It was after about five minutes, that we realized we hadn’t yet checked our baby’s sex, and we cried tears of joy to discover our baby girl. My placenta came some minutes later, with a strong push. Our midwife and doula helped me waddle over to our bedroom, where we tucked into bed with our darling new little sprout. We were both fed- she, from my breast, and I, chicken soup, tea, and fruit. It was now midnight and dark and cozy in our bedroom. I felt so safe and complete.
Days later, our family and friends were eagerly awaiting to learn the baby’s name. We both felt that “Maeve” would make a pretty first name. Lying happily next to her in bed, it came to me so clearly and vividly. “Maeve Magnolia”. Our darling little flower girl, born on the first day of May, with the magnolia tree starting its season, with the offer of a perfect pink blossom. It was meant to be.
Becoming a mother has been a wild ride. At three months in, as I type this with one hand, as my other holds my daughter, I am happy. There are hard days, hard nights and tears. But there is also a love and connection that runs wild and deep. I often think to myself, “If I can give birth, then I can do anything”. And so, I have blossomed. Firstly, as a woman, with strong roots, and a sense of self. And now as a mother, with a sense of purpose and love, that I never could have imagined. So, thank you my daughter, Maeve Magnolia; you are she who brings forth the blossoms.