When the right music finds the right moments, what we see and feel is carved even more deeply into our memory.
Cognitive psychologists have studied this. In long-term memory, what we tend to remember with the most clarity in the long run are the most unusual and emotional moments of our lives. Because of its ability to mirror or even amplify those emotions, music can be an anchor that fastens those memories in place for the duration of our lives.
As I labored this past February during the birth of our second child, the right music found the right moments over and over again.
I don’t think it was coincidence.
To be honest, I made music playlists for each of my births and loaded them with songs that I would like to hear.
But as anyone who has experienced labor will tell you, ain’t no one DJing your birth when the shit hits the fan. In my first birth, we barely touched the playlist once I was in active labor. It just played on. And whatever order I had chosen when I was willy-nilly loading the songs was the order that they played.
I honestly only remember one song from one moment of my first labor. It was the song playing when our daughter was born, “I Will Be Here,” by Steven Curtis Chapman. It was a sentimental Christian ballad that I added to the playlist on a whim, and one that I didn’t even particularly like anymore. Sure, it was a sweet song. It reminded me of those first vows that we said at our wedding eight years earlier.
But it wasn’t really a birth song. And it certainly wasn’t the one that I would have chosen.
So it was surprising to me just how many times the right music found the right moments in this birth. For me, the music felt like another birth attendant.
The songs held my hand.
The songs urged me one.
And sometimes, the songs were the screams from my own heart.
Someday, I’ll share with you a written version of this birth story. I’m thinking about releasing it as a free Kindle Single, if I can make the time this summer to do that.
But for now, let’s go on a ride.
Let’s give birth.
February 2, 2017
Early Labor: 3-4 centimeters
Contractions every 3-4 minutes. Standing, hips swaying. Eyes closed.
“I Can’t Make You Love Me If You Don’t” Bonnie Raitt
Here in the dark, in these final hours
I will lay down my heart and I’ll feel the power
Contractions every 2-3 minutes. Lying on my side on the bed. Leg, dangling off the side to help the baby turn into position.
“Landslide” Fleetwood Mac
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
Contractions every 2-3 minutes and requiring controlled breathing to cope. Lying on my left side, gripping the headboard of the bed. Eyes sometimes open, sometimes closed.
“Society” Eddie Vedder
Society, have mercy on me
I hope you’re not angry if I disagree
Society, crazy and deep
I hope you’re not lonely without me
Active Labor: 5-7 centimeters
Contractions every 1-2 minutes. In the birthing tub. Blue light in the water. Legs floating. Head leaning back on the edge of the tub. Holding Doug’s hands as he sits behind me next to the tub.
Hypnotic, oscillating moments of weightlessness and heaviness. Baby pushing between pelvic bones, twisting in each contraction.
A lot of groaning.
“Teardrop” Massive Attack
Love, love is a verb
Love is a doing word
Fearless on my breath
Shakes me, makes me lighter
Fearless on my breath
Teardrop on the fire
Fearless on my breath
A.K.A Climbing the Ladder and Wrestling with God:
10:25 – 10:55 a.m.
Forty-five second, double-peaked contractions every other minute.
This part… Oh, this part. I will write about this in detail later. It was thirty minutes of my life that I will never forget because it is the second time in my life that I encountered God.
“God Moving Over the Face of the Waters” Moby
Stalled: 10 centimeters
Contractions every 1-2 minutes, but no urge to push. Although completely dilated, my water still hadn’t broken. Back in the tub for pain relief. I pressed my face into the edge of the tub and cried.
Doubt. Such deep, deep doubt.
“Last Man” Clint Mansell
Contractions every 2-3 minutes. When my midwife checked me, she told me that the baby still needed to come down farther. I tried a number of different positions but nothing helped. I asked her (okay, screamed for her) to break my water.
“Redeemer” Paul Cardall
This is another part that I will write about in much greater detail. For right now, just know there was a lot of screaming.
I mean… Yeah. A lot of screaming.
“Press On” Robinella
Life is filled with bitter music
Breeze that whistles like a song
Death gets swept down like an eagle
Snatches with our shoes still on
“Welcome Home” Radical Face
All my nightmares escaped my head
Bar the door, please don’t let them in
You were never supposed to leave
Now my head’s splitting at the seams
And I don’t know if I can
“Holocene” Bon Iver
And at once I knew I was not magnificent
Huddled far from the highway aisle
Jagged vacance, thick with ice
And I could see for miles, miles, miles
“The Wound” Gospel Whiskey Runners
The road is long and dusty and alone
I’ve got not place to rest, no place to call my own
My eyes have seen the glory of your love
And I won’t turn back this time
No, I won’t turn back this time
“Work Song” Hozier
When my times comes around
Lay me gently in the cold, dark earth
No grave can hold my body down
I’ll crawl home to her
“You’re All I Need to Get By” Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell
Like the sweet morning dew, I took one look at you,
And it was plain to see, you were my destiny.
With my arms open wide,
I threw away my pride
I’ll sacrifice for you
Dedicate my life for you
“I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song” Jim Croce
Every time I tried to tell you
The words just came out wrong
So I’ll have to say I love you in a song
“Do You Realize” Flaming Lips
Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face
Do you realize we’re floating in space,
Do you realize that happiness makes you cry
Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die
And instead of saying all of your goodbyes, let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It’s hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn’t go down
It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round
I asked Doug to take a picture of Henry’s face so I could see him up close.
When I saw the picture, what I thought was,
That’s exactly right.