A Shining Light Breaking Through the Storm

“But you’re bound to lose
If you let the blues get you scared to feel
And I feel like I’m just being born
Like a shiny light breaking in a storm
There are so many reasons why I love him”
Joni Mitchell, “Willy”


“I wish I could do this for you,” Vic said. “I want to give you a break.” He caressed my sweaty brow as another contraction burst over my body.

“You can’t,” I said. I loved him for wanting to help me through the birth of our first child. It hurt, but my body was birthing our child in its own way on its on schedule.

Early in the labor, Vic counted time between and during contractions with a stop watch as we’d been instructed in the Lamaze class.

“Stop counting,” I snarled. “I don’t give a shit how long the contractions last. They last too long. Timing doesn’t help. Breathing helps.” Lamaze instructors had made giving birth sound easier than it was, but I was determined.

Elaine & David 1970

Vic wiped my wet forehead with a cool cloth, his eyes and voice full of tenderness.

“I can do this, V.” I said. “My body knows how.”

“I know you can,” he said as I tried to relax between the contractions. “I know you can.”

I had climbed in the Rocky Mountains with a backpack during pregnancy. I had rafted in the Russian River and climbed back in the boat and kept going after being dumped in the water. I had taken childbirth classes. The classes made childbirth sound easy, but this was not easy. My body was being split in two.

Where was the Elaine who loved her swelling belly? Where was the woman who insisted on no drugs? Where was athletic Elaine?

“You don’t have to be a martyr” the nurse said. It was 1970 and childbirth without medication wasn’t the usual way in Corning, NY.

Vic and David 1970

“I’m not a martyr,” I said. “I’m birthing my baby, and I’m scared, but I can do what my body knows how to do.”

“Leave her alone,” Vic said gently to the nurse. “She knows what she wants.” I did know what I wanted, but after every strong contraction, I wasn’t so sure.

Then Joni Mitchell lyrics began drifting through my head, repeatedly encouraging me to stay with the fear and pain. Her lyrics became a mantra.


“I feel like I’m just being born, Like a shining light breaking through the storm.”

Every push and groan was a labor of love. There were so many reasons why I loved this baby, and I didn’t know him yet. I didn’t know it was a boy, although we’d only chosen a boy’s name. David. “Loved By God.” I was doing this for him.

The classes had insisted childbirth would be painless if I only did it right with the right attitude. They lied, but other women had warned me. I was determined to make it through without strong medication. In the end, after a day and a half of labor, David’s birth was “natural,” but not painless. I had no regrets.


I’d love to hear your birthing stories. This photo of David and me was taken on his recent visit home. Over fifty years after his birth, I’m so grateful for my two adult sons. For other posts about David’s young life and his keen observations of his mother, see Talking Back: Essential Marriage Skills 101 or a more recent piece  My Beloved Sons.

  1. Dear Elaine, what beautiful lyrics and mantra to meditate upon during labour! I loved seeing all your old photos (my favourite one is of you looking very pregnant whilst hiking!) and followed your links to the other posts. I have to say what a good-looking couple you and Vic were together, and from your ‘Talking Back’ post I concur, you were most certainly worthy opponents!

    Each of my daughter’s births were different. One was extremely long, the other, very short. One was frighteningly painful, the other, almost painless (bordering on ecstatic!) Their temperaments, interestingly, to this day are different too. Hmm, I do wonder if birth memories affect our temperaments and the way we bond with our parents, especially our mothers. Love and light, Deborah.

    • Vic and I were good at disagreeing, Deborah, although we didn’t disagree or argue often. I told my sons that when in love, it’s important to learn to disagree without causing deep wounds if they want a relationship to work. Eventually, everyone will disagree about something.

      Vic and I argued about him not taking his medicines in the last month of his life even though I laid them all out every morning with the time to make it easy, and after arguing, we both laughed. He was sick and I was tired, but he heard my point and made the effort so I didn’t have to ask repeatedly, “Did you take your medicine?” Not taking it led to frightening high fevers so it was worth fighting for. My first birth (David) was much longer and more intense. Giving birth to Anthony was much shorter and easier, but not alarmingly fast. Yes, David is still a man in a hurry and Anthony keeps a slower pace. Love and spring flowers to you. It’s warmer here, but no flowers.

  2. Your birthing story was intriguing, so different from mine. I had not taken Lamaze classes, and I expected to have my first baby with medication. Call me a coward, but I did not opt for natural childbirth. However, the whole process turned out differently.

    My husband was preparing to sing a tenor solo from The Messiah just days before Christmas. Before he left the house for church, he asked, “Are going to be all right?”

    I paused and nodded a reluctant “I don’t think so.” I felt queasy with a premonition that our little girl was coming a week early. Sadly, Cliff never got to sing his solo. Instead, we drove to St. Luke’s Hospital where my sister Jan was on duty. I was admitted with mild labor pains, which quickly grew more intense even though the doctor who examined me blithely said to the nurse (not my sister) attending, “This is her first baby. It will be quite a while before she delivers.” So, I was was wheeled into a labor room about 1:00 p.m., unattended. Very quickly the pain accelerated. Like you, I felt as though I was being torn in two. Drowning in waves of agony, I was aware on a distant shore of someone (a nurse aide?) coming into the room and gasping, apparently observing my baby’s head. I was vaguely aware of being transferred onto a gurney. Then, all went blank.

    The signature on the birth certificate was 3:23 p.m. Now I have to wonder if the doctor ever made it to the delivery room. What if my child just popped out with the nurse “catching” my precious daughter. Ha!

    Your post is uplifting, Elaine. I get the feeling that you have reached the other side of your long winter illness, feeling more “like a shining light breaking through the storm.” I hope so. 😀

    • You are not a coward. You made a choice and the world said forget it. My mom had an experience like yours when she gave birth to me. They told her to stop pushing, but there was no way. I’m so glad your daughter was well cauught and I hope Cliff got to sing his solo another time. I’m not nearly as sick as I was, but I have lingering symptoms so I’ll see my doctor again tomorrow. I hope she can figure out what’s going on and it’s not too complicated. Or maybe this is the new me. Love to you, Marion.

      • Cliff never got to sing that solo, but he had a sweet baby daughter Crista to hold on Christmas day!

        Blessings on your recovery, a full one is what we wish for, Elaine! ((( )))

  3. Wow! What a memory of giving birth to the first child, dear Elaine. It is always so amazing for me, as a man, to feel how a woman takes this event and how her inner feelings would be.
    When I was playing in theatre those days, we learned yoga for our appearances on the stage, and I had a colleague who got married in between and got her first child. I asked her later, when we’d met, how her experience was; she answered that she had got through more easily than she had feared. She had used the yoga breath technique! Thank you for this fascinating memory.

    • Giving birth is transformative for many women. I began with the Joni Mitchell song which was so important to me in the late 1960s, I had powerful experiences for both births and a mystical experience the second time. Yes to yogs breath techniques. They held me together and guided me in my second birth. It’s a gloriouw thing to birth a child, so I can’t stop thinking of the women of this world who have no medical care and no help as they become mothers. Humans must provide more compassionate care, but our selfishness if overwhelming. May all be well in your world. (I’m getting a rest whether I want one or not. The body insists.)

  4. I wonder if all or most mothers say after their first birthing experience, never again! I did. But thank heavens for the 2nd one some years later.
    While it is women who give birth to babies, giving birth can be a metaphor in ways for men and women. We give birth to ideas – eg writing a book, creating a painting – the creative process is a ‘form’ of birthing.
    Thanks Elaine, I enjoyed this.

    • I didn’t say “never again,” but when labor began the second time around I said, “I don’t want to do this and I have no choice now.” It turned out to be a relatively easy birth. I agree we all give birth, no matter what our gender and age. Sending love to you. May you have flowers and butterflies.

  5. Oh, the pictures are priceless, Elaine! Thank you for sharing this liminal time with us. I too was determined to be free of drugs and everyone was confused, why wouldn’t you? lol. I never made a peep but was so far inside Doug couldn’t communicate, even simple questions, I couldn’t come up for. We brought Enya in, the peace balancing the pain. Birth really is transformative.

    • I understand when you say you were so far in no one could reach you. I was more like that with my second birth which was less frightening and took place in a more supportive environment that allowed a mystical opening. It was the most sacred experience I’d ever had. I’d been meditating daily for over three years by then and meditation carried and lifted me.

  6. Der Friend I had six children and each was different. At one time I tried to think if their births reflected their ways of being–sometimes, but not always. Whatever it is, giving bith is such a privelege and a gift that we can choose or refuse. I have never looked back, even though my eldest son died in a horrific accident at age 11. I learned at that time that I would not have chosen to miss his living to avoid his death. Love to you, dear friend. Therese

    • Dear Therese, you’ve been through many births and one powerful tragic death which I read about in one of your early books. I’m grateful to have some contact with your FL butterfly daughter. I agree giving birth is a privilege and for me it was a mystical opening the second time. Yes, we accept death as the price of life and love even if we’d rather pretend this isn’t true. I’m glad you had your family to help you through. Florida feels so far away now and I rarely travel, so I’m glad to feel your love online. Sending more love your way.

  7. Hi Elaine, my first birthing was the opposite of yours. Julie arrived in three hours, from beginning to end. I had no idea how blessed I was until Matthew took eight hours, perhaps because he was over a pound bigger than Julie. But even then, for whatever reason, the births of my children and duration of my pain were amazingly brief compared to so many others. Like Aladin’s friend, I got through a lot more easily than I had feared. Jeanie

    • You have a comforting birthing story, Jeanie. Not many women do. My second birth was about 10 hours and I considered that easy after the first. Blessings to you and all the Jungian birthing you do (which isn’t always easy, I’m sure).

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