A diaphragm powered by an ocean wave: how singing through labor made me epic

Guest post by Katie Swindler
My Girlfriend breaking the waves

I’ve always hoped that I would one day discover that I am an epic warrior with hidden powers. If it was ever up to me to save the world, I know I’d be righteous, clever, brave and able to endure suffering and immense challenges so that Good can triumph. Thing is, my life has been sadly lacking wise old wizards with world-saving quests, so I’ve rarely had a chance to put my epic-ness to the test.

Even before I got pregnant, I thought to myself: “I bet I can make it through without an epidural. Yeah, I’m definitely going to try that.”

When I got pregnant, I took my “training” very seriously. My husband and I took the unmedicated birth class, I read the books, we watched the videos and I learned and practiced a variety of breathing and pain management techniques. It was no Dance Master Syrio from Game of Thrones, but I was still totally stoked to be on the journey to the birth of my baby girl.

Of course, this is my first child we’re talking about, and even Buffy had magicians backing her up, so I figured I wouldn’t lose any warrior cred if I put myself to the test within the walls of one of the most technically advanced neonatal hospitals in the country. That way if something, Gandalf forbid, should go wrong, the best wizards doctors in the world are right there to save the day.

When my water broke I was like “YES! Here we go! Let’s do this thing!” As my contractions started to ramp up, I started my breathing exercises, but they made me feel light-headed and weak. I started focusing on my body and how weird it felt and how it hurt. With each contraction, I found myself getting less sure of myself — I was feeling worse and worse. I was focusing on my insides, not on my goal, my quest, of bringing my daughter safely into this world. I was starting to doubt myself. I was getting scared.

So I did what I often do when I’m feeling scared — I sang:

“Whenever I feel afraid
I hold my head erect
And whistle a happy tune
So no one will suspect, I’m afraid…”

As the next contraction hit me, I pushed through. I kept singing. I focused on the words and the melody and making a beautiful sound — holding out the notes fully and filling up our bedroom and my belly with round, gorgeous tones.

I stood up straight with my legs slightly apart and a bit bent — it’s what my body wanted to do anyway. I pushed my diaphragm down like my choir teacher always taught me. I remembered the phrase that is drilled into all Sopranos: “think down to go up.” And before the first verse was finished, I found my center, my source of power. It was like magic. For me, singing during a contraction was like singing with your diaphragm powered by an ocean wave.

It was several minutes before my next contraction came on and by that time, my husband was back in the room. “Can you push on my back?” I asked him. He was eager to help. As the contraction intensified I started singing:

“Jingle bells, jingle bells,
Jingle all the way…”

And God love my husband, even though it was March, he didn’t even ask, he just joined right in:

“Oh what fun it is to ride
On a one horse open sleigh,
HEY!”

We sang rock songs, and musicals, Christmas carols and spirituals. As each contraction approached, I just opened my mouth and sang whatever song came out. If he knew the words he sang along, if not he’d just hum or press against my back. We sang for several hours at home. When my contractions were close enough together, we sang through a very uncomfortable car ride to the hospital. We sang softly in the waiting room and on into the delivery room.

As I moved from active labor to transition, it got harder. I remember sobbing out Swing Low Sweet Chariot during a particularly painful contraction and hearing my husband trying to suppress a sob of his own. I knew he was scared and feeling helpless and it woke up my inner warrior. I switched from songs to battle roars.

I let the sound move through my body, taking the pain and fear away from me. I thought “down, down, down” as I pushed the air out.

I let the sound move through my body, taking the pain and fear away from me. I thought “down, down, down” as I pushed the air out. Not pushing down, just keeping myself centered and strong, feeling the baby sinking closer and closer to the gateway to the world. I don’t know how long I was in that state. Hours I think. Standing in the birthing room shower. Roaring, riding the waves, moving out my breath laced with power and sound and raw determination. Feeling the water running down my back and my husband’s hands on my hips.

And then suddenly, the real power came. The Push. They had told me not to push, told me it was too soon. But there is no reasoning with The Push. This is primal power, ancient and uncompromising. I am Woman. I am Gaia. I am birthing the World.

I reached, with effort, for language. “I need to push,” I said hoarsely just before another contraction hit, taking me away for a while, back to The Push.

“No, Katie.” I heard the midwife say through a fog. “It’s too soon. I doubt you’re dilated enough yet. You don’t want to push yet.”

“CHECK ME.”

They helped me on the birthing bed, and I heard a surprised, “There’s the baby’s head!”

And then she told me I could push.

Fuck right I can.

Pushing is the quietest I am all night. Every ounce of effort went to The Push. I didn’t send any of that effort away on a breath. The midwife told me not to even blow out my cheeks. All the significant energy that had been building all evening is focused on a single goal now. Opening the gateway. Pushing the baby into the world.

Once.

Breath.

Twice.

Breath.

Three times. I could see her dark hair in the mirror briefly. I wanted to hold her with every fiber of my being. I didn’t know how much longer I can keep this up.

I pushed. She came through. She was in my arms.

I should have been crying — women in the movies always cry. I think Jake was crying. But I was just laughing and saying, “Hello! I’m your mommy. I love you so much. This is your daddy. Look at her! Look at her. Oh my God. We love you. We love you. We love you.”


So, now I know what kind of epic warrior I am — I’m a Battling Bard. I weave songs into power and strength.

I have tapped into the primal woman hidden inside me. I wielded her ancient magic for the forces of Good. I triumphed. I made the world a better place.

In a room with three people I made a fourth suddenly appear without the help of magic floo powder or a wardrobe or even a wand. Just a song.

I am woman. Hear me sing.

Comments on A diaphragm powered by an ocean wave: how singing through labor made me epic

  1. I love this story!!!! I’m a trained singer–though it’s been a good year since I’ve really done it–and now I totally want to try this approach whenever we have our first kid. Amazing story, and totally inspiring. LOVE!

  2. I LOVE this story! I texted my bestie immediately as we sing to each other when we’re having bad days (I’m horrible at singing but she has an AMAZING voice) and told her that she HAS to be with me for my first born so we can try the singing to get me (us really, lol) through it!

  3. This was beautiful. Thanks so much for sharing!! I’m not sure if its pregnancy hormones or what but I’m just uncontrollably crying happy tears. LOL. I’m glad my boyfriend is at work or this could be a really embarrassing situation ;p

  4. I read birth stories quite regularly. They usually will make me smile. Sometimes they make me sad. Or angry (if someone was mistreated, obviously). I don’t quite know why, but the power of your words shook me to the point of crying. It’s a beautiful story. I wish I had one like it to share. Maybe if I had tried singing . . . But anyway, seriously. Go, mama!

  5. Katie, you are an amazing woman and your story is both epic and intimate. You truly are a Battling Bard and your daughter is fortunate to have a mama who shows her strength through song.

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