What’s an Ecstatic Birth anyway?

Perhaps you imagine an Ecstatic Birth all serene and lovely… It definitely could be.
Perhaps it is a water birth with the woman smiling as the baby slips into her waiting hands…Yes, that is also possible.
Perhaps the woman is in a whole other universe, experiencing waves of bliss that she may later define as orgasmic.
Sounds good, right?

But what about being rocked by waves so strong, you lose control of bodily functions?
What about labor that persists past hours and into days?
What about a hospital birth– can that be ecstatic?
What about a c-section?

Absolutely. Yes. To all of the above and more.

You see, birth can be really GRITTY!

Just like life. Life can be really gritty.

Despite all our preparations for anything, in life or birth, we can never be sure what we are going to get, right? It is never quite possible to wrap up our desires and present them to ourselves all nice and pretty and predictable. There are always surprises along the way. The difference between ecstatic and traumatic is how we handle what comes up.

If you look up ecstasy, you can find all kinds of definitions, but what they all have in common is the intensity of emotion and a feeling of transcendence.

You see, ecstasy is about being present, not with your mind, but with your whole being. Ecstasy is about soaking in every drop of what you receive.States of ecstasy require shutting down the mind and all its judgements about how things are supposed to look and feeling every drop of an experience with your body.

You simply must read this birth story I received from a student and brand new mama, Jennifer. As you’ll see, it definitely wasn’t the birth she had planned. In fact it couldn’t have been further from it. Was it an Ecstatic Birth? I’ll let her tell you…

What’s an Ecstatic Birth anyway?

Can it include blood and belching and peeing and hot tears of disappointment? What about body-shaking tremors and chattering teeth?

Can it even include an unplanned Cesarean?

My Ecstatic Birth did.

I listened to the Ecstatic Birth Training Sessions while in my second trimester. My pregnancy was going brilliantly, and I was right on track for my planned ecstatic home birth. I savored the wisdom of the summit’s powerful speakers – from Sheri Winston to Elena Tonetti-Vladimirova, every woman further inspired my dream of a pleasurable, transcendent birth.

In the first session, Sheila wisely reminded us expectant mothers that the speakers present an ideal, and that we should use the ideal to inspire us, not as a measuring stick to judge ourselves by.

I almost ignored her advice. Almost.

At 3 a.m. on March 6th, hours after writing a gratitude list about my pregnancy, I went into labor at home. For 10 hours, I labored naturally, alone with my husband as my loving coach, riding the waves and feeling so powerful. I was sure that my labor was still very early. The two of us laughed, hugged, and breathed together – we were drenched in love and excitement. I moved as my body desired, I ate and drank when I wanted, I wandered around our backyard in the dappled sunlight streaming through the tall oak trees. And I belched. A lot.

When my midwife arrived at 1:30, she surprised us all with the declaration that I was 6 cm dilated and fully effaced. I felt like a rock star! I was shocked and over the moon that I was in active labor with such pleasurable and manageable contractions!

Everything was going as I had planned.

Then, after five more hours of strong contractions, herbal tinctures, and changing positions, I was still at 6 cm and clamping down to 5 during contractions. My birth team cried with me as my midwife told me that she thought my body needed help to fully dilate and still have energy to push the baby out, then bond and breastfeed once it was born.

I sobbed as I heard the words “pitocin,” “epidural,” and “transfer.” From all my reading and research, I knew that those interventions tend to snowball into larger ones, including a C-section — so different from what we’d planned and hoped for.

But I checked in with my body, and I listened. In that moment, I made the hardest decision of my life: to surrender to the birth I was having, not the birth I had planned. Despite all my preparations and excellent health pre-labor, my body was exhausted. I needed help.

At 11:48pm, I gave birth to Felix by Cesarean section. He was 8 lbs, 2 oz, and 21 inches long, and an immediately gorgeous, alert, healthy baby boy. My husband held him up for me after he was swaddled, and even as I shuddered uncontrollably from the epidural, I kissed his tiny lips and gazed into his bright grey eyes. In the recovery room, he latched on immediately and has been nursing easily ever since.

Don’t get me wrong – that unplanned Cesarean left me with grief and some trauma to heal from. The biggest pain came from my own mind. If having a natural, sensual, pleasurable birth was a sign of strength, was it a sign of weakness to end up with a C-section?

Sheila’s warning echoed back to me as an answer.

As a birthing mother who’d had the privilege of hearing all the Foundation Series speakers, I knew I had the right to claim my birth story as ecstatic no matter what it looked like.

It turns out that my ecstatic birth was not about pleasure – though most of it was pleasurable.

My ecstatic birth was about absolute surrender of my small, neat plans to the messy, brilliant chaos of life. My ecstatic birth cracked me open to grace, grief, gratitude, and immense love unlike any I’ve ever felt.

What a suitable rite of passage into motherhood – its own bawdy, unpredictable, ecstatic adventure of unconditional love.

–Jennifer, Proud Ecstatic Birther and Mother

Can you feel the ecstasy in her words? The ecstasy in her joy… and in her grief?

Because of what she learned from the Ecstatic Birth Training Sessions she rocked with what was, surrendered to it and gave birth to her gorgeous son Felix.

You see, an Ecstatic Birth is not necessarily a seamless birth, all pristine and beautiful and smiling, but it is about being fully in your body, connected to its wisdom, and soaking in every drop of the experience, no matter what you get. I want every woman to know that kind of trust and embrace that level of connection and surrender.

Please share this post with your daughters, your sisters, your friends. Here’s to every woman learning to create and claim her Ecstatic Birth experience!

Sheila