Over a year ago now, myself and my hubby were at the neighbour’s for Christmas dinner. I was thirty-seven weeks pregnant and had been feeling like my baby was going to kick her way out through my ribs and onto my plate of turkey. Turns out, that was exactly what she had planned: I stood up and felt the tell-tale trickle. My water had broken.
Sometimes women’s water breaks spontaneously before labour, sometimes not. It’s often followed by the onset of contractions. For me, this was not the case.
My frantic, trembling rush (three weeks early! no! I had to finish up at work! the Christmas tree was still up! the baby blanket wasn’t finished! the brand new iPad I had gotten for Christmas was still in the box!) to the hospital to confirm that my water had broken was greeted with…nothing.
Over the next few days I drew on every remedy in the book to bring on contractions. Our house smelled of funky herbs and I’d been poked by acupuncture needles and prodded by my massage therapist. The bottle of castor oil was sitting on the kitchen table and I had walked and rocked and swayed myself into exhaustion. Still nothing. It became obvious that the natural birth that I had dreamed of wasn’t going to happen: I was going to need to call on the medical world to help me with this process.
The decision to venture into the world of birth intervention didn’t come easy, especially given my experience and, let’s admit, the ideals I had, coming into this as a doula. I needed to prepare myself for the journey ahead. I sat down and finished the baby blanket in a frenzy of knitting needles and brightly coloured wool that somehow calmed me as I visualized what it would take for me to bring my baby into the world. And then, I baked a groaning cake.
The ancient tradition of baking of a groaning cake during labour, as the old wives tales say, is thought to perhaps reduce a birthing mother’s pain, or make her labour shorter. I’m pretty sure that’s not the case, but what it can do is distract a woman from early labour pains and ensure that she’s got some delicious, quick-to-eat food at home for when she returns, her babe in arms and her life transformed. I had always pictured myself baking a groaning cake, leaning against the counter while I contracted, cracking eggs and stirring flour and somehow readying myself through the creation of food.
I was in a place where I needed to grasp tightly to the things I could control, to own my birth and hold the power in my process in every way that I could even if I knew that not only was this experience out of my control, but that my birth was going to go differently than I had planned. Planned. Good one.
So I baked. When in doubt, right? And when that groaning cake came out of the oven, I let it cool, cut off a few slabs, wrapped them in tin foil, and, slinging my hospital bag over my shoulder and wiping away tears of fear, of relief and of a little bit of defeat, drove to the hospital for my induction.
I’ve now returned to my doula work after taking some time off to focus on my other 24-7 job: the mom-ing. I’ve taken some time to really wrap my head around this work again. It’s different to me now – now that I’ve gone through the experience myself. I carry my own birth with me now. I carry an experience that I can share with other women, but also an experience that is completely my own, and in that respect, does not have a place in my role as a supporter of other women’s births. I decided now would be a good time to make another groaning cake. It was time to immerse myself in my client’s intentions, her fears and desires, and to think about how I was going to show up to her experience as her doula. What better way to do that than to crack eggs and stir flour, pour out molasses and measure orange juice?
While walking to the dentist earlier this week, I got a breathy, rushing call from a client to whom I’m providing doula services: “My water broke about half an hour ago, and my contractions are about 3-4 minutes apart.”
Knowing that I would need to stop everything I was doing and head to the hospital soon, I reached into my backpack and pulled out the piece of groaning cake (in muffin form) I’d brought with me that day. It was good fuel for the road ahead, in so many ways.
Here’s what you need:
2 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 1/3 cups sugar
½ cup oil
½ cup orange juice
¼ cup molasses
1 ½ cups apple (grated, no skin)
1 tsp. almond extract
Here’s what you do:
Preheat your oven to 350F.
Whisk together the dry ingredients, and then add in the wet ingredients. Stir until combined.
Pour out the batter into a greased loaf pan or into a muffin tin lined with paper liners. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin/the loaf comes out clean (muffins probably won’t take the full baking time).
Recipe courtesy of Ami McKay, author of The Birth House