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A mother supports her daughter in labor
© 2016 by Binahkaye Joy
All photos © 2015 by Eleanor Kaufman

There is this beautiful article that just came out capturing powerful images of mothers supporting their daughters through labor. It inspired me to share some pictures of my own mother supporting me at the birth of my second son, Wonder.

I asked my mother to be at each of my sons’ births because from some ancient, intuitive space, that is where I felt my mother belonged, with me. Both for me and for her, I felt that there was a deep education, a transference of ancestral intelligence that we could only access in the sacred communion of birth.

It is a powerful and healing thing for a mother to witness her daughter in labor, and for a daughter to be anchored by her mother while giving birth to her own child. There are so many words that don’t need to be said in that moment. Instead, breath, and touch, and warmth do most of the communication. This is an essential conversation I hope every woman in labor gets to have, if not with her own mother, than with some other, loving mother-figure.

My mother wasn’t at all surprised that I wanted to plan another homebirth the second time around. She cleared her calendar for me and made sure everyone knew that in the weeks before and after my due date, she would be on call for my birth. She has always been committed to supporting me through my process, whatever it is.

For my first son, Bloom, I didn’t arrange to have his birth documented by anyone, and there are very few pictures. I also remember that I was very reluctant to share what few pictures I did take with him because I thought the woman staring back at me was not so beautiful anymore, especially the ones snapped enthusiastically by his father immediately after he was delivered. I lamented what I thought was a less-than-radiant glow on my face. After three days of labor for what I had hoped would be a homebirth, my midwife thought it was best that we transfer to a hospital. A few hours later and the attending physician thought we had proceeded as safely as we could without intervention, but that I would now need a c-section. Grateful and relieved as I was to finally meet my first baby– and nurse him as soon as we got to the recovery room (thanks to my awesome midwife!)–I was beyond exhausted from our long labor and still in shock over the unexpected surgery. I didn’t want to take any pictures until I looked like my normal self again, so I told everyone else to focus their cameras on my newborn. Only later when Bloom was a few months older did I realize what I had missed out on by not taking as many pictures as possible of those first moments with him. However your birth’s outcome, you can never go back to that singular introduction of meeting your child. They grow and change so fast! You grow and change so fast in your mothering! I decided that I had to have a professional photographer for my second child’s birth. I wanted her to capture everything, no matter what I was doing or how raw my appearance. I gave my mother plenty of notice too because she’s not so big on having her picture taken all the time. I told her to make sure she packed something to wear that she wouldn’t mind being photographed in. She’s a proud Howard alum.

One of the most challenging and liberating truths of birth is that you go through it alone. Even when you have an amazing birth team, and people praying for you, and cheering you on, it’s just you moving an entire galaxy from your womb into the world. Everyone else is there, but they are not there at the same time. You have to know you will be by yourself in the elemental birthing work. You have to be okay with the full weight of the inevitable solitude that also comes with being a mother. You have to say Yes to all of it.

We still haven’t debriefed all of what we experienced during Wonder’s birth. I want to sit with my mother and look at all the pictures and hear what she remembers too. It took me a long time to look through the pictures myself. I just needed a minute…or more like five months, before I could look at them. And even now, Wonder is almost a whole year and only my midwife and my sons’ father have seen all the pictures. I am waiting for the right moment when my mother and I can really dig into these images and tell and retell the story. I think it’s necessary sometimes for the language to ripen, for the narratives to simmer. Some words take time to find their meanings.

Initially when I had told her there would be a photographer, she didn’t understand why she needed to be in the pictures at my birth. I told her that it was really important that we document my conscious choice as a daughter to have my mother be a part of my birth journey, and that it was a critical action toward increasing visibility around the need for more women-centered support networks in mothering spaces, and especially in birthing spaces. In preparing for this post, I selected a few of the pictures that captured my mother supporting me through labor and asked her to pick the ones she was okay with me sharing publicly. She had just watched President Obama giving the commencement address at her alma mater and was happy that she had also been representing her school in these pictures.

And then there is that overwhelming gratitude you have for the woman who went through all of this for you to be born yourself! There is no thank you big enough for that work. I only know that I can pay it forward by doing that work for my own children. I know this is part of why mothering is so central to everything I do as an artist. I just can’t get over the magnitude of what goes into our existence as human beings, the miracle of every mother’s labor that makes life possible. We mothers are a part of a holy continuum. We give birth; we give life.

This is one of my favorite pictures from the collection: Gemma (that’s her grandmother name) on the phone, calling the entire family telling everyone that her newest grandchild has been born. Yes, at home. Yes, she had a midwife, Yes, she’s doing fine. What I love most is the smile on her face, the glasses folded in her hand, and the relaxed posture she’s in that shows how relieved and happy she is that, after a long night of labor, our sweet Wonder baby has officially arrived in the morning.

~~~

Binahkaye Joy is a new mommy, dancer, doula, writer, movement facilitator, and creativity coach. She writes extensively about the intersections of mothering work and the cultivation of a vibrant creative practice. She is founder and gourd keeper of the Mothering Gourd, a creative immersion community for mothering artists. She is working on several book projects, including a memoir about the meta-birth journey of her children. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband, James, and sons, Bloom and Wonder. 

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