Hold Onto Her: An Essay

Cat Ennis Sears is a writer, a doula and a mother in Richmond, VA. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and published in Printer's Devil ReviewNecessary Fiction, and other publications.  

There have been so many babies the last two weeks. They lay in their mother’s laps in the soft and gathering twilight. The mothers look tired and some are happy and some have a sadness to their eyes and I remember to be careful there, to follow up. There has been my inhale and reminder to only be as present as I can be. I have taken to repeating “hold onto yourself” every time before stepping out of the car. It helps.

 Sometimes I am too present. I leave pieces of myself behind, in their homes, in their labor rooms, in their operating rooms, in the space between their breast and their baby’s grasping lips. I try to remember to gather up each piece of myself before I leave the babies and the mothers, and allow time to put myself back together.

Births take a lot out of me. Preparing women for birth takes a lot out of me. There needs to be an inhalation, taking in what nourishes me. I used to not understand this. I used to think birth work nourished me. It does. But it also does not.

Untitled.png

There are the fearful eyes, the moaning, the thrashing and they ask is this normal, and it is. But that doesn’t make it any easier. There is the wet dark head crowning, the unbelievable miracle of it, the enormity of it. It is everything. There is nothing else. To be human is this moment. This moment contains everything, like a fat bubble reflecting the world, swelling slowly before bursting. I hold a leg and hope I can get that birth photo that everyone wants, the one with the wet baby on the breasts.

Birth has been kind lately. There was a time when I knelt in awe of birth, afraid to make eye contact with what I saw as an indifferent and powerful ancient god, this force that ripped through women I had come to care about. A birth plan ceremoniously presented to a nurse, as if she is control of birth. I felt that I could hear birth laughing at the expectation of control. There were neonatal resuscitations and emergency Cesareans, placental abnormalities, nucahl hands, hemorrhage, cervical scar tissue, third degree tearing requiring operative repair. 

Then there was a string of easier births, tired mothers with glowing eyes, out of breath, proud, relieved, happy, the glow of fresh pink on their cheeks, hungrily eating sandwiches, their babies nestled against their breast as I took my leave.

And still I am in awe of birth. A new mother’s belly, still slack with child, looks vulnerable in a cotton maternity nightgown as she holds her baby wrapped in a green swaddling blanket against her chest. She is in the midst of the shattering. And she says she is fine. But hold onto her. Hold onto her.