'The greatness of the human personality begins at the hour of birth' - Maria Montessori
I suppose any discussion about Montessori and how we've applied the philosophy in our home should begin with Finlay's birth. Of course, it is a huge mystery to us how much impact the birth experience has on our future personalities and attitudes to life, but I do believe that by creating an ideal birthing environment we can help ease the transition of our babies into the world, and therefore start them off on a positive note.
Most of my attitudes to child birth were formed long before I discovered Montessori. When my sister had a drug-free home water birth 12 years ago I, a teenager at the time, decided then and there that that's how I'd like to do it too. It just seemed to make sense. Happily, when we touched on child birth in my Montessori training, all of those ideas aligned with my own. Dim lighting, gentle handling, soft voices, few visitors, drug-free, early nursing... what a lovely way to start life.
I went into real labour at around 4pm on Friday 26th Feb. By 4pm the next day I was still only 2cm dilated and feeling utterly devastated. I had so convinced myself that mine would be a short and (relatively) easy labour that at no point had I considered that I might 'fail to progress'. Despite our best efforts to turn him during the final months, Finlay was posterior and this was causing terrible back pain. I remember thinking a few times, "Maybe an epidural wouldn't be so bad after all..."
Though of course it seemed like the worst thing I'd ever experienced in my life (and it was!), now when I look back I can see how beneficial this struggle was for my relationship with Brent. While I sang through each contraction, Brent was there singing along in harmony, giving me something to focus on and a place to direct my breath. He squeezed my back muscles together to interrupt the pain-messages flowing to my brain, offered me sips of water and spoonfuls of peanut butter, filled the birth pool, cleaned up my vomit, ensured my favorite songs were playing on the stereo, and countless other things that told me (consciously and sub-consciously) that he would be there to protect and nurture me (and this baby) for the rest of our lives. I think this aspect of birthing can often be overlooked. Not only is this the birth of a new baby into the world, but it is also the transformation of a relationship that had been alive before, but would from now on be something entirely different. A Mummy and a Daddy.
A dose of homeopathics, some acupuncture and a long-anticipated soak in the birth pool finally got things moving and within 1 and 1/2 hours I was feeling ready to push. With this song by Kurt Elling playing in the background and the early evening light filtering through the blinds, Finlay was born into the water at 7:27pm, Feb 27th 2010.
Our midwife stood back and allowed me to lift him to the surface and bring him straight to my chest. There were no cries or screams - he just calmly opened his eyes and drank us in. Candles were lit and we enjoyed our first half-hour together in the pool. Just before we got out I took the opportunity to float him in the water and watch his arms and legs unfold for the first time.
For the following days and weeks we kept the house as quiet as possible (difficult with a trumpet-playing daddy!), dressed him in simple clothes and avoided items such as mittens and dummies which inhibit the development of movement and language. I fed him on demand and put him to sleep when he seemed tired. We spoke and sang to him as much as possible, and when he wasn't being held we lay him on his back, un-swaddled and free to move. Admittedly, after a few weeks I discovered that he actually quite liked to be swaddled so I compromised by wrapping his lower body and leaving his hands free.
When I think of Fin's personality now, so happy, calm and alert, I can't help but wonder whether this birth experience had anything to do with it. Maybe those traits are just who he is and would have been like this no matter how he came into the world? Either way, I'm incredibly grateful that we were able to stay at home as planned and that I wasn't in an environment where drug relief would have been an option. I'm not sure I would have been able to refuse! Whether or not it has impacted him positively I'll never know, but I do know for sure that experiencing the pain and thrill of childbirth at it's fullest has made me feel more powerful than ever before, and has awakened in me fierce mothering instincts that have carried me through these past months.
'All our handling of the child will bear fruit, not only at the moment, but in the adult they are destined to become' - Maria Montessori