The cell phone woke me out of a sound sleep at 2am, but it wasn't unexpected. “Chuck, it's Angela. The contractions are about five minutes apart, so we're heading to the hospital.” I told her I would be right there. I turned on the light, sat on the edge of the bed to clear my head, and began taking in the excitement and full significance of the experience into which I had been
drawn. I am a drummer and healer, and Angela is a good friend and former member of one of my drum groups. Another friend of mine, Ed Haggard, had drummed at a birth and shared a written account of it, and I had been inspired by it. I have always loved drumming for ritual, but this was a much deeper level to which I was being called. In 2003 I had begun studies at the Barbara Brennan School of Healing,
making a more profound connection to my purpose to drum for ceremonies, as a dynamic link between the physical and spiritual realms.
At some point early in 2004 I set my intention to drum for births, and began to send this message out to the universe. When Angela contacted me in the spring to let me know she was due with another child in June, I offered to drum for the birth. She said she would think about it, and about a week later she said yes, she would like me to be there. She had played one of T.H.E.s drumming
CDs at her previous births, and it had helped her relax, so she thought the live drumming would also be
helpful. I had drummed at Angela and Chris's wedding service in 1999, and one of the drumming groups I led, the T.H.E. Percussion Choir, had played at the reception. Angela had been a member of T.H.E. and performed many times with the group. It was a bit of a risk for her to have African drumming at her reception; her family was from Iowa and fairly conservative, and Chris's friends and family were from Long Island, NY. But Angela loved drumming so much that she wanted us there, and it turned out to be a perfect way to bridge the cultural differences between the families and bring everyone together.
I'll never forget the sight of Angela drumming with us in her full bridal gown and
veil! I stayed in touch with Angela leading up to her due date, which was June 19th. She had delivered a week past the due date with her first two children, so around June 15th I began to get really excited.
I packed a drum bag and had it in my truck, ready to go. I could not remember being so strongly drawn to do something! I also began to sit in meditation to connect with the child coming in, and to help prepare the way for a healthy and easy entry at the birth. I was feeling it was a boy, as were both parents. Angela and I talked on June 23 rd. She had been up that night with her first real contractions, but little was happening that day. I had been feeling that the baby would come on June 24th, and was really hoping for that date- which was my birthday!
I was drumming for a solstice dance the evening of the 23 rd, and was in a panic when I arrived at the dance as I forgot to bring my cell phone. I called her before the dance started. She felt nothing would be happening until she laid down that night to sleep. One of the memorable parts of the ceremony was when the dance leader created a segment of the dance specifically to honor the baby coming in. Sure enough, that night was when the call came. I was on the road in minutes and met the parents at Northside Hospital in Atlanta just as they were checking in.
I was so awake and present, and prepared to serve in any way I could. Angela and I had talked just a little about the process, and we both didn't really know what to expect. I told Angela that she may not like the drumming once the birth process was actually underway, and if so to please tell me. I was prepared to do nothing at all. She joked and said she might tell Chris to tell me if the drumming was bothering her- she was so considerate that she was concerned about my feelings! I had with me a djembe, a frame drum, an ocean drum, and an assortment of shakers. She said she felt like some of the watery sounds of the ocean drum might help her relax during the contractions. I got all my instruments out and began some soft, grounding play on the frame drum, which she
and Chris both said was very relaxing. A fetal monitor attached to Angela's belly beeped out the baby's quick heartbeat into the room, and I fell into an easy groove playing along with it.
At that point I felt the sacred energy of my purpose come around me and hold me, and it felt like the adventure had really
begun. Angela's contractions were irregular at this time. She had one walking from the registration desk to the room; once in the room, the contractions were coming anywhere from 5-15
minutes apart. Chris got very tired and laid down on the long padded bench back in an alcove in the room, and I kept drumming and talking to Angela. After a while I stopped and just played the ocean drum when the contractions came. She would wince and grab the bed frame and breathe through it, and I breathed with her.
Having never been at a birth before, I only had movies and my imagination to create my expectations. I was struck by how, in a different context, the gasps and moans of the mother might be heard as cries of ecstasy; and then I also realized how both experiences are such close contacts with the divine, perhaps as close as we can come to direct contact with the spirit world. Angela worked with me to tell me what she wanted and liked in the drumming sounds and intensity, and what she hated.
Sometimes she just played CDs she brought; sometimes she asked me to drum with the CDs, and sometimes I played frame drum or djembe. At one point she was feeling sleepy and wanted to wake up, and I played my djembe, and she played shakers along with me to get energized. I played djembe rhythms she remembered from when she was in the group. I also made trips down the hall for ice chips, pillows or warm blankets.
Throughout the night, as best I could, I regulated my energy field and stayed grounded to provide a stable and calming presence in the room, and kept connecting to the energy of the child coming in. The medical staff were very friendly and competent, and having probably seen everything in the birthing room, were mildly interested in the drumming for one or two questions, and then went about their business. Chris only slept for about an hour, and when he woke up he was pretty rested and ready for the most intense phases of the labor. Angela had taken an epidural for the first two births, and really wanted to go without for this one. Having committed to that, she consequently experienced much more intense pain in the contractions. Around dawn Chris's job became much more important. Angela needed his support in the contractions, and he was right on the bed with her, putting his arm around her, allowing her to lean into him and grab his arm or shoulder, and really coaching her and helping her breathe through the pains.
The way the father and mother worked together during the contractions was a most loving and inspiring thing- a beautiful and powerful balance of masculine yang strength and feminine yin vulnerability creating a life together. Chris was there to supply that support for Angela in just the way she needed. He later told me that all the work he did came as a complete surprise, as the first two births had been so much easier for them. I didn't know Chris as well as I knew Angela, just because I had spent more time in drum groups with her. I did have a strong memory of a connection Chris and I had made at the wedding, just a few minutes before the service was to start, when I bumped into Chris sitting alone and waiting at the back of the church. He was pretty anxious, and I sat and talked with him, mostly just listening, and provided some reassurance that things were going to go well for the two of them.
He shared some pretty personal things in those few minutes, and I was honored that I could be a support for him at that powerful time. At about 11am, after a long and exhausting night when it seemed the labor could go on indefinitely, things started to shift and it was easy to tell the birth was near. When it got really close and the team of 7-8 people came in the room it got very loud and chaotic, and I moved off to one side and softly played my frame drum and really held a grounded and loving space into which the baby could enter. I felt a little like an airport runway worker with the orange glowlights guiding a tiny, delicate plane into a safe landing.
The room was loud and crazy with five voices all coaching Angela at once. It was hard for me to take all the shouting, knowing Angela was about as exhausted as she could be. (She later told me she really would have preferred to hear the djembe playing full blast right at that moment, rather than all the shouting, and wished she had had the strength to tell all the medical people to shut up, she just wanted to hear the drumming!) I played a very soft, very steady and repetitive rhythm on frame drum in that stage and for the first 15 minutes after new baby girl Patricia was in the room, and sang to her and told her she was loved and valued and wanted, and that she would be safe here.
I burst into tears when the baby's first cry hit the room, and stayed rock steady in my intention and playing. After all but one of the medical staff had left, and Patricia was all cleaned up and lying on the warming table, I went to her and repeated all the messages of welcome I had sung to her. This was such a healing experience for me, to say everything I hope we all could hear when we make that frightening entry into the physical world; and to be present when that illusory veil between the worlds is dropped for a few incredible moments.
I asked Angela to share her thoughts and feelings on the experience, and this is what she wrote:
Its funny, I was just writing my experience to my sister the other night.
She really liked your website and the article, but, wondered how I felt about the
drumming etc. I feel very comfortable with you. I love your energy and spirit.
I'm thankful you are sharing your gifts with others.
I told her, you gave me the courage to go 'natural' delivery. I really
wanted that experience- to see if I could do it- and what it was like. I have a
friend who has two children and both were natural and the births were in her
home! It was a peaceful experience, as she wanted to have her baby brought into
a peaceful home.
June 24, Once we arrived at the hospital at 3:00am, I felt like immediately
leaving (going back home) I knew on the way down to Northside Hospital that the contractions
had slowed down and I was really tired at 2:45am. I think I had even told you, "if
you want to go back home, that is fine" because for the next 5 hours or so,
nothing really happened. But, it was nice to have the extra company and help and
just share stories and build up confidence for what was about to take place....
and that is really what I needed, the confidence and reassurance that I could
have this baby. You're pregnant basically for nine months and then, after 41
weeks of bonding with your child, its time to meet the child and hold the child.
There is much anticipation, excitement- all kinds of emotions running wild. At
times, it was nice hearing the drums and other times I just wanted a different
beat, one that I knew and enjoyed- one that gave me energy and happiness.
The last two hours I didn't really hear much, I just remember the last 20
minutes were very intense. I went from 8cm to 10cm and I knew this baby was going to
be born. Being stuck at 8cm for 2 hrs was exhausting, contractions were every
minute or so. The last 20 min, like you said, there were many people in the room
giving instructions and I had to literally put my mind somewhere else. I really
had to concentrate on peaceful things- water, pool, certain colors, Virgin Mary
(Our Mother in Heaven) and needed positive feedback, when it was time to push I
did, when it was time to breathe I did. I visualized holding the baby.
Chris had great strength and really supported, coached me every step -being
a loving partner. I must have felt that outside energy, as I witnessed a miracle
and met Patricia at 11:27am.