Birthing Beyond Fear: The Birth of Rowan Oliver Curtis

Rowan’s birth was the first true “Curtis Method” birth. It was during this experience that I learned what it truly meant to follow my birthing instincts and birth beyond fear. I was active when I needed to be active, I rested and relaxed deeply when I needed to rest. I used my voice to block out distractions and focus my birthing energy. I chose the positions that felt most natural and comfortable to me, and used my hypnosis tracks as tools to help me remain deeply relaxed and calm, and to create my own natural anesthesia.

Even though I had been teaching hypnobirthing for years at this time, I still had a lot to learn about birth, along with plenty of fears and worries and doubts that I needed to process and move beyond in order to birth unhindered. I learned so much from this experience, and it changed my teaching forever.

I actually started writing the story of my fourth son’s birth when he was two or three weeks old, but I couldn’t finish it until today. He’s almost two and a half. Our Birth Love story was so intimate that I didn’t know how to tell it until now. I realized that I had to start at the beginning, the moment of his creation, because it’s all part of our birth journey.

The Beginning

As I sat in my bedroom nursing my fourth baby boy I realized that his whole life up to this point has revolved around this space. He was conceived in love in this room; I even know exactly when it happened. It wasn’t supposed to be possible. I was on the pill, I had scheduled an appointment for an IUD and my life was just too busy for another baby. But sometimes, love is more powerful than our best-laid plans.

One night in December, I realized I was pregnant in this room, sitting on our bed, checking my calendar over and over and finally understanding that my sore boobs and cranky moods were NOT due to the worst PMS ever. I looked at my husband with wide eyes and said, “Honey I’m late. I’m pregnant. I know it.” It was past midnight and I made him drive to Walmart to pick up a pregnancy test, which I took immediately and stared at in complete disbelief as first one pink line… and then another appeared before me.

After our 15 week ultrasound, my husband and I sat in this same room, on the bed where we had conceived, and he held me tight as I opened the envelope that held the answer to the question: “Is this finally our little girl?” I pulled out the single black image of our tiny baby which was clearly labeled “It’s a boy!” and my question was answered, for the final time, with a “No”. In this room I cried and mourned the loss of the daughter I had dreamed of for so long. My three boys gathered around me with kisses and snuggles, patting my hair and soothing my tears. 3-year-old Asher sang to me gently with concern in his eyes “Cry mom, Cry mom, Cry mom…” I kissed each one of them and knew it was going to be ok. The little white dress with butterflies on it was tucked away in the back of my closet once again.

A day or two after the gender reveal, I climbed into our bed take a much-needed nap and I felt those first few, bubbly little flutters that an experienced mom KNOWS come from her baby. I placed my hands on my belly and smiled with tears in my eyes. He was real. He was mine. He was in there, growing and kicking and turning into a little person. He wasn’t my little girl, but he was MINE and all he wanted was a mommy who loved him. I felt some of my sharp disappointment melt as I wondered if he would have his daddy’s big brown eyes, Noah’s gorgeous dimples, Elijah’s strong jaw, Asher’s playful grin, and maybe a little something from me, too.

Every day I spent time in my room listening to my recorded hypnosis tracks, visualizing and mentally rehearsing our birthing day. I knew my boy would be born in a tub at the foot of our bed. I knew I would be surrounded by wise women: sisters and doulas and midwives. I knew my husband would be holding me close and that I would bury my head in his shoulder during surges while he whispered in my ear. I knew I would sway my hips and dance my baby down through my surges. I imagined belly dancing music playing in the background, and candles all around. I hoped this baby might be a little smaller than the others, who were all around 10 lbs. A nine pounder would be so nice, I thought. He would just slip right out…

My sister and I were pregnant at the same time, due three weeks apart, both of us expecting baby boys. We had been in this position before; several years earlier we had both been pregnant with two little boys, again due just a couple of weeks apart. It was so fun and validating to be pregnant with my sister! Our giant bellies bumped together comically when we tried to hug each other. Complaining about pregnancy discomforts is much more satisfying when your best friend can commiserate with you. When I pulled up my shirt to display my newest stretch marks, she showed me hers and we laughed and laughed. We swapped high-protein recipes and hired our favorite midwives and planned our home water births. I “borrowed” some of her maternity clothes and she didn’t even make me give them back. Late in our pregnancies, our dearest friends gave us a beautiful double blessingway and honored our babies and our bellies and celebrated our impending birth journeys. Wendy and I were excited to attend each other’s births and nurse each other’s new babies. My sister is half of my heart and I will always treasure this time we spent, planning and dreaming and waddling together.

My Sister’s Birth

Wendy’s birth happened exactly three weeks before mine. I was almost 39 weeks pregnant; sluggish, uncomfortable, and heavy with the weight of what still lay ahead for me. Her birth changed me forever. I could feel myself having contractions whenever she had contractions. I pushed when she pushed. I held her hand and let my tears fall into her birthing tub. I felt that birth in my bones. And on that day I nearly lost my sister, my first love, and I watched helplessly as her baby almost slipped away from us, cold and white and limp. Mercifully my little fighter of a nephew took a breath after several minutes of resuscitation… but it was too close a call. After that day I gained a new respect for the power and unpredictability of birth, and I realized I had less control over it than I imagined. My sister had done everything “right” and things had still gone terribly awry. Birth, like the ocean, is beautiful, powerful, primal, unstoppable, and unpredictable.

I drove home that night, after I felt certain that my sister and nephew were safe. I crawled wearily into my bathtub, and sobbed for hours. How could I do this? What if I couldn’t handle it? I could feel myself swimming in a deep well of fear, and at times it felt like I would drown. My husband called our midwife and she came to my side that night, and talked me through everything that happened, listening quietly and asking gentle questions. I recounted the whole story with a shaking voice and then asked her “Am I going to be ok? Can I do this?” But before she even answered, something deep inside me told me the answer. I just had to have the courage to listen.

Once the storm of Wendy’s birth had quieted somewhat, my youngest sister, Julia, took me through several Fear Release scripts. She was a gentle, calming voice in my ear as I made myself ready for the task ahead. I had a different path to walk, my birth journey was my own and nobody could do this work but me. I relied heavily on my affirmations and hypnosis recordings, and my husband’s music during this time. When the fears became overwhelming, I breathed them away and refocused on my love for my baby and my birthing intuition, which told me Everything is fine, you are healthy and strong and your baby is getting ready.

I took a nap and a warm bath every day, all while listening to my relaxation tracks and staying connected to my baby. I indulged in peace. Looking back, I believe those last weeks before my birth were an incredible blessing, as I was able to spend a great deal of time in deep meditation, preparing thoroughly for labor both mentally and physically. I’m grateful to Rowan for giving me that extra time. It was tempting to try to “urge things along” but I affirmed to myself every day “My baby knows exactly when to be born. My body is wise and it knows when and how to give birth.”

My Birthing Day

Three weeks after my sister’s birth, and two weeks after that silly “due date” that makes everyone feel like their belly is a ticking time bomb, I knew it was time, the same way a pregnant cat or elephant or gorilla just knows. I awoke in the morning with a feeling in my stomach that said Stay close to home. Conserve your energy. Eat a little, walk a little, get ready. I put in my headphones and listened to my relaxation recordings and affirmations all day, while my boys took turns rubbing my feet and brushing my hair. I think my boys intuitively knew that something was happening, and their male instincts said protect her, love her, stay close to her. Just like their daddy, they will be wonderful birth companions some day.

That night, after we kissed our boys, turned out the lights and said goodnight, my husband and I found ourselves together again in the same bed where our baby was made. We had decided to test the theory that “what gets the baby in, gets the baby out”, and guess what? It’s a good theory. After lots and lots of “oxytocin-izing”, I rested in my lover’s arms and felt my birthing time begin. It was unmistakable, but I wanted to pretend it wasn’t happening. I relaxed. I ate. I breathed. And I ignored the surges that were definitely getting stronger.

Around 11:30 at night I began to have the most amazing sensation of opening at the base of my uterus during surges. It felt like my whole body was yawning open as I ahhhhhhhhhed and sighed through each surge. I lounged on my left side in our bed, trying to fall asleep, until my body told me it was time to get up and get moving. I didn’t know how close together my surges were. I didn’t care. Time started to pass both quickly and slowly at once as I entered that altered state of the birthing zone.

I set up camp in my living room and turned on my meditation music to support the natural rhythms of my laboring body. I swayed and rocked on hands and knees, eyes closed, mouth open in a sigh, amazed at how I could actually feel my cervix opening. This sensation of opening in my cervix was new to me; I didn’t remember it from Asher’s birth. My relaxation keyword Peace was on repeat in my head. Over and over, Peace… Peace… Peace. I could feel waves of endorphins starting to flow. After each surge, I would get tingly chills all over my body from head to toe and the room would start to sway as my natural anesthesia kicked in. I was feeling very blissful and sensual and my surges were a deep, deep maroon which swirled around me when I closed my eyes. I felt so passionate and flushed surrounded by my deep red mist. This is me in the video, on my living room floor, wearing my birthing color (red) and breathing through a surge. I’m probably about 7 cms dilated.

After an hour of strong, rhythmic surges I was still in denial that my baby was actually coming. It didn’t seem possible after so many weeks of false starts. My husband knew that things were serious before I did; the sounds I was making sounded very distinct and familiar to him. He called my doula sisters and my midwives and suddenly it became real: the universe was shifting to make room for my little boy, and he was coming fast.

My surges started to grow into powerful waves. I remembered midwife Jenny West teaching me “It’s going to feel really big… so just let it be big.” I could feel the birthing waves rushing through my body like a force of nature, and all I could do was surrender and take the ride. The more I moved and and swayed and rocked my hips the better I felt, so I danced my baby down, just as I had envisioned. I started to feel this enormous spiral of energy swirling around me and I needed my husband to anchor me so that it didn’t get out of my control. I held on to his neck and let my knees go soft so that I could spiral my body open. I moved from the floor to the couch, to my birthing ball and back to the floor again, grabbing onto my husband at the beginning of each birthing wave, so that we could swim to the top of it together. I found that my breathing was everything. If I slowed my breathing and listened to the sound of it rushing in and out, I could feel myself surfing to the top of the wave and then riding it to shore.

My living room began to fill with sisters, doulas and midwives, each of whom joined the energy that was flowing through my body. I will admit that I remember very little about anyone else in the room besides my husband. The smell of his neck was like a drug during my surges. As long as he was close, as long as I could hear him and smell him and kiss him, I knew that everything I was feeling was so, so good. I knew I was powerful, I knew I was safe, and I knew I could do it. Kissing during surges was heavenly. It turned every intense sensation of opening and pressure into something pleasurable and sexy. I felt incredibly sensual as we kissed and danced rhythmically during my birthing waves. This was my favorite part of labor and I still get chills thinking about it.

In the midst of my relaxation, breathing and dancing, I began to feel like I had about 20 gallons of pee in my bladder. My doulas escorted me to the bathroom so that I could relieve this new, annoying sensation, but the toilet was not a happy place for me. The pressure on my bladder intensified and I couldn’t make any pee come out. My midwife suspected the pressure was a baby, rather than 20 gallons of pee, and offered to check my cervix but I declined. I already knew. I could feel my baby’s head trying to squeeze down through my pelvis. It almost felt like he stretched out his little legs and kicked himself down into position, and at that moment I knew we were getting very close to meeting each other.

After leaving the discomfort of the toilet, I decided it was time to get floaty and comfortable in my warm birthing tub. I had several more surges in my living room, doulas holding me up on either side, while I belly danced and worked my hips back and forth, side to side. Like a laboring cat who knows when it’s time to retreat to her chosen birthing nest, I felt compelled to get upstairs quickly. Making it up the two flights of stairs to our bedroom was an interesting challenge, but I knew this baby needed to be born in the room where he was created.

My midwife was calmly waiting for me in my dim bedroom, and I breathed deeply to inhale the warm, watery scent of the birthing tub. While standing at the side of my tub I felt a huge birthing wave gathering energy within my body, so I announced to everyone in the room, “Ok, this one’s going to be really big.” And it was. Huge and long and powerful. But waves of endorphins were pouring over me at the same time, and my surges felt really… really good. Chills were coursing down my spine and across my skin, a signal that my natural anesthesia was doing its job.

With my arms up around my husband’s neck, I started to feel that incredible downward pressure on my bladder again. My baby dropped lower as he rotated into birthing position. Hands were on my hips and back, and someone helped me lift my legs one at a time into the huge tub.

YES! The deep warm water made everything wonderful again. Much of the bladder discomfort was washed away with the embrace of the water, so I sank down, sighed, and melted into relaxation. My husband gently stroked my arms as they rested over the edge of the tub. Floating belly down in the water, I was softly bobbing up and down as I breathed in…. and out….  My doula, Laurel, brushed strands of wet hair from my forehead and gave me something cold to drink. Cool washcloths were laid on my neck and shoulders and someone began massaging my head and stroking my hair.

My husband was always so close to me. He never left me for even one second. It was like he was feeling everything I was feeling. He made the same noises I made, he moaned when I moaned and breathed when I breathed. When I felt like one of my birthing waves might overpower me I held on to him tightly and we moved through it together. I had a moment of pure ecstasy when my waters released. There was a very audible POP, followed by the most pleasurable release of tension. The relief was overwhelming as what felt like gallons of hot fluid poured out of me. I moaned Oh my water just broke… oh it felt so good…” 

After the bliss of the release of my waters, the first undeniable urge to push came, and I had a moment of panic: I don’t want to do this! What was I thinking! This is crazy… It felt like I was at the top of a really high roller coaster, looking down over the edge of the first big drop, and thinking I wanna get off the ride… Then the urge to bear down rolled through me, unstoppable and uncontrollable and I plunged down that drop and surrendered to the ride.

Much of my memory surrounding this transitional time in my labor is blurry and vague. I was feeling the most intense urge to bear down, but every time I tried to go with the urge and push… it hurt. A lot. This was the first and only time I felt real pain during my birth, and I could tell something was wrong. My body was YELLING at me to stop pushing. The urge to bear down became stronger and stronger, but pushing felt so wrong. I panted and did “horse lips” to calm with the intensity of the pulsations of my body.

I asked my midwife, Roxanna Maurer, to check my cervix so she could help me understand what was going on, and sure enough, my instincts to stop pushing had been correct. She found a swollen anterior cervical lip which the baby’s head was pinching as he tried to come down through the pelvis. It was stubborn and annoying and it hurt and I didn’t like it one bit.

I was getting very close to meeting my baby, but my sister was still at home recovering with her newborn, and I selfishly needed her by my side. Wendy had been present at all of my births, and I couldn’t imagine doing this without her; not after everything we had been through. I knew it was irrational, but I felt like my baby couldn’t be born until she was there to look in my eyes and hold my hand. My sister and I had walked through this whole journey together, and I wanted her to see me to the summit.

I called upon every deep relaxation skill I had as my midwife attempted to massage the cervical lip out of the way of my baby’s head. I discovered that I could use the discomfort as a trigger to turn my focus deeper and deeper within, going completely limp and loose and just allowing myself to feel what I was feeling. At this point, the most difficult moment of my labor, my sister finally appeared in my room, cradling her new baby boy. She was here! I could do it! Something released in me and I knew it was time. Roxanna told me afterwards that my cervical lip melted away as soon as my sister walked into the room. I was waiting for her.

My midwife spoke quiet, calming words of affirmation to me, almost like a blessing, and I felt my peace returning. My birthing muscles surged downwards and my pelvic bones began to make way for what I could tell was the largest baby I had birthed so far. My doulas knew from the sounds I was making that they needed to press firmly on my spreading hips to keep me grounded, to keep me inside my body. The pressure was perfect and I felt in control once again. I never pushed, I only breathed and allowed my body to do all the work. He was coming so fast, and I had to slow… slow… slow it down. I was in an altered state and my body became this primal animal that just did what it had to do without any conscious instruction from me.

The actual moment of birth is hard for me to describe in words. What I remember feeling was this: Pressure… pressure… opening… stretching… burning… can’t stop it… pressure… open… open… too much… slow it down… slow… here he comes… it’s happening… now… And just at the moment when it all became too much… he slipped out of my body and into the water. Relief! Ecstatic, orgasmic release! Roxanna brought him up and placed my slippery, warm baby in my arms. All I could do was pant and breathe and feel my heart beating so hard in my chest. I did it! I asked my midwife to check his heart rate and make sure he was breathing. I needed to know that he was really ok and that we were safe.

Once I managed to climb out of my birthing tub and back into my soft bed, my midwives and doulas wrapped me in warm dry towels and clean sheets. The lights were dim and voices were hushed as my sweet boys tiptoed quietly into our bedroom to meet their newest baby brother. They snuggled on my soft, empty belly and held their brother’s hands and asked him what his name was. The love in the room was so warm as they stroked my hair and lay against my shoulder. I was surrounded by the loves of my life as I transitioned, for the last time, from pregnant woman to new mother.