We thank Rachel for returning to the BWF blog and sharing her second birth story with us. Her first birth story is here: Hypnobirth Water Birth Story with Gorgeous Pictures
So, during my whole pregnancy I refused to tell anyone an official due date, because they mean nothing and everyone pesters you about going late. I said things like “Oh, it’ll be sometime at the end of January, beginning of February. Sometime.” and “Oh, anytime in the next three weeks or so.” Everyone pestered me anyway. I don’t mind telling you the date now, as it so happened to be The Day. My baby’s due date was Jonathan’s birthday, January 29th. On the night of the 28th I noticed that I’d lost some of the uterine seal, but I didn’t have any other signs of labor, and I knew it could mean I was close or still weeks away. I told Jonathan about it and that my body might even form another seal. He was profoundly impressed and said “Girls’ bodies are amazing!”. That night we fell asleep around 2 AM. My mind was on fire with the plans I had for his birthday party later that day and I set my alarm for 6:30 so I could get up before he left for work to make him breakfast. Jonathan is very casual about birthdays and holidays and I am always very passionately determined to make them special. I want to blow his mind every time. This year, my plans didn’t work out, but I’m pretty sure I blew his mind anyway… he won’t forget this one.
I must have started my labor in my sleep. I was dreaming that I was Wendy Rush, and someone was trying to bring a birth tub already filled with water over to my house. In the dream, I was furious with them for filling up the tub first, as it didn’t make any sense. My rage was heightened by an uncomfortable tightening sensation that I was dimly aware of. Most of it just felt like normal practice surges, but the last few seconds kicked into a deeper, unexpected place, and I remember being aware of those sensations as they dragged me slowly back into consciousness. I remember shifting my body and doing all the little things I do to try to feel more comfortable; I swung my leg over Jonathan, pulled the body pillow between my legs, and then another surge came and pulled me all the way from my syrupy peaceful sleep into wakefulness in the cold room. Oh! I was having surges! I waited a few minutes to see if they’d go away and then decided to get up to use the bathroom. Moving made them stronger and I was a little shocked at how forceful they were already. I had to sway my hips and moan through them to ground myself. Laura’s voice loomed in my head: “The best way to deal with early labor is to just ignore it.” She’d suggested that instead of obsessively timing contractions and alerting the birth team, to go about your business, rest and stay hydrated, and wait until the surges were demanding more attention. I remember feeling alarmed and thinking, I don’t know if I can ignore these already! Is this early labor? It was about 4:45 AM. I staggered around the house alone for awhile, dropping to my knees and saying “Ohhhmmm” during surges. Last summer when I did yoga at the Hare Krishna temple, I’d learned that “Ohm” was the sound of the universe. It felt so good to hum the “mmm” when the surges were fading away. I didn’t like being alone but wasn’t sure where to go from here. In case this wasn’t the real thing, I didn’t want to wake anyone up, but the intensity was making me a little nervous and I wanted some company.
I started to have a lot of hysterically potent feelings. I felt sliced open by the severity of how much things were going to change. I grieved because Chai had a rough night the night before and it might have been his last night alone with us, and he spent it cranky and unhappy. I was so disappointed about the prospect of not making Jonny’s birthday happen like I’d been planning, and I even went to the freezer to try to pull out the bacon, thinking that maybe I could still pull breakfast together between surges, but no, I hit my hands and knees again and decided that wasn’t happening. Thinking of this being the starting place for other 15 or so hours of harder work seemed really daunting. The surges weren’t lasting super long, but they were fierce! So sharp that when I moved in between them my body felt slow and vulnerable, I didn’t want to jostle myself into another one too soon. I floated back to the bathroom and noticed a little more of the uterine seal had come loose.
When I opened the door, my sister Mary was standing there beaming at me (She lives with us, so it’s not as creepy as I just made it seem). My “ohming” woke her up and the sight of her and her quiet excitement cheered my heart. I told her what had been going on (it was almost 6 am at that point) and asked her if she could help me make breakfast for Jonny while I called my midwife, Richelle, and explained where I was. I asked her to come over and check if I was progressing so I could respond accordingly. Mary helped me continue to get through the surges while we waited. During the breaks, I tried unsuccessfully to wake up Jonathan to let him know that this shiz was underway, as it were. I crawled in next to him and tried three times to shake him awake and explain, but each time he mumbled and rolled over and kept sleeping (#circadian rhythm sleep disorder) and we joked later that he “denied me thrice.”
Richelle arrived, came in and gave me a big hug and said “You’re having a baby today!” A quality I so appreciate about her is that she tries to make things magical. She checked me and I tried to mentally prepare for being at a one, although I was really hoping to have progressed farther. I had another moment of magic when she announced that I was at a 6! I felt so proud of myself! My whole body was “charged with the grandeur of God” and I felt this ecstatic energy. Six felt right, I was on this, it was mine. Richelle felt the baby and said she was posterior (boo!) and I gamely twisted into the almost-upside-down position she suggested to help the baby turn. She must have either not really been posterior or turned really easily, because I never experienced any back labor and she was perfectly positioned when she was born.
I remember asking if Richelle thought I should get everyone here or wait awhile, and she said to call them right away. She said “I don’t even know if we’re going to have time to fill up the tub… once your water breaks, that baby’s gonna come right out!”. I remember appreciating her optimism but thinking… yeah right… I thought I had a long time to go.
Mary helped me alert my all-star birthing team and Richelle called her assistants and started bringing things in from the car. Katie Loveless was one of the first to arrive and I talked to her during my breaks. She said that her facebook feed was full of people talking about my birth and posting pictures of the candles they had lit for me. That touched me so much. She told me something so sweet, like “you’re going to be incredible, because that’s what you do.”
Mary and I put together a playlist with my “Yellows” (the last two weeks or so I became obsessed with various covers of Coldplay’s “Yellow”—perhaps because with the different singers I could understand the words for the first time—and I had a whole playlist of just that song, Jonathan teased me about it), some Iron and Wine and other gentle, lovely songs. Love songs for my baby. I was so excited. The sun was nearly up and I could see thick snow falling outside with a bright white sky. Even though winter is my nemesis it felt like such a beautiful, fresh day. This was the day I was going to finally meet the baby who had defined the last year for me by her inevitability and her promise. I met those surges with determination and was so happy to have my sister there experiencing this with me. I had fun laughing between surges with her and Katie.
I remember when Laurel walked through the door; I felt this huge sense of relief, that now everything would be okay. She ran right over to me and was helping support me during a surge before the door even swung shut. I was so grateful to have Laurel as my doula! She has such a warm, calming presence and every word and touch helped me relax so much.
Sarah and Julia were there too and started to set up the breakfast feast I’d arranged with Sarah to prepare for my doulas (always feed your doulas!).
I kept surging and I started to get really lonely for Jonathan. I made it to our bedroom door and called for him, only to drop to my hands and knees just as he sleepily opened the door. I think he was surprised to see our whole house full of people. As soon as I was with him and felt his kind hands on me, I started to cry. I told him I was so sorry about his birthday. He thought I was funny for worrying about it so much. To my surprise found myself expressing some old, old worries from the beginning of the pregnancy. He told me I could let go of all that. It reassured me so much. I said over and over again that I was worried about Chai and he said “She will be beautiful. He will love her. Have faith in our boy.” It felt good to cry against his shoulder while I was leaning over the birth ball. I always have to tell him all my dark, anxious thoughts and he never leaves me alone. He’s never afraid. His presence creates the safest place for anything I could possibly experience.
Sometime during that time, Richelle’s assistants Katie and Charla arrived and also my sister-in-law Emily, and my brother Doug who was going to help us with Chai while I was birthing. Everyone was bustling around setting up lamps, starting to fill up the tub. During my surges everything else became dim except for the energy in my core and the focus it took to breathe and roar through them. I was always surrounded by strong arms, affirming words. I felt cradled. Okay, doula-ing is glorious, it’s like this dance and rhythm we all fall into, orchestrated by the acute need of one body. Humming and singing. Pull back, fall together. Clench and release.
I told Laurel I was worried that being on my hands and knees was causing me to hold onto some tension because I had to support my weight and she suggested doing some surges sitting up on the birth ball. I tried that and it immediately made the surges so much easier that I was worried I was doing the wrong thing…I could relax completely and my doulas held me up, pushing back on my knees, down on my shoulders, stroking my face and reminding me to keep my forehead smooth. I kept asking if it was okay that the surges weren’t as intense, if I should do something else…I liked the relief but I really wanted to be productive. I pointed out how low my belly was and how it was just resting on top of the ball. Jonathan asked me what kind of melon my belly was and I said it was a watermelon, “because it’s the widest.
”Periodically I kept going to use the bathroom. It got more difficult to do as the baby descended (I told everyone I had “prostate issues.”) and at one point I peed in a cup (hawt). I usually had just enough time to walk there and back before we all got in position for another surge, but once one caught me on my way out of the bathroom, and as I dropped to my knees I flung open the door and yelled “Save me!” They all came running to help me during the surge and then Jonathan helped me out of the bathroom.
I have a clear memory of sitting on the ball and hearing the lyrics of “Yellow.” You know I love you so… for you I bleed myself dry… It made me cry, thinking of my little girl, my little boy, my sweet Jonathan. “I’m not in transition!” I insisted. “I just really love this song!”Richelle said the tub was ready and that I could get in if I wanted. I was loath to get in because I didn’t want to get into the water until I was going to have a baby. The idea of having to get out while still in labor and being COLD was detestable to me. Eventually, though, it seemed right and I made my shaky way over to the tub and up over the side. It seemed so far. They had prepared the tub by placing pillows and blankets inside it and covering them with a plastic sheet, and then filling the tub with warm water. It was like a reverse water bed and it felt soooo amazing when I slipped in the tub. The hot water was so relaxing.
I was still getting little short breaks in between surges and we were having a lot of fun. Someone started writing down the funny things I was saying, like thanking Jonathan for not having a mustache, telling Mary to press on my knees in “instead of creepily putting [her] hands on my thighs,” and announcing that I was having “surge-ery.” Not really that funny, but impressive for labor, I guess. Soon Aya came in and we greeted each other joyously. She cried and told me she loved me. I was so glad she was there.
My Chai finally woke up after sleeping very late through the noise and was brought out to see me. He absolutely melted my heart! I kept telling him how much I loved him, He stood sweetly by as I went through a couple of surges. He didn’t seem afraid or confused or anything, just watched me peacefully and put his hands in the water. My sweet baby. Part of my soul was aching that the next time I saw him, it wouldn’t just be us anymore. That part of me hurt every day for the whole nine months and I’d always think, “Be here now…you have time left!” and now that time was really gone. I felt so full of love and pain for him. I was happy to know he would be with my brother, who is very good and kind to him and who Chai loves to visit. They got him ready to leave and I kissed him goodbye.
I’d been sitting cross-legged with my hands out in front of me, supporting myself “like a little frog” and during surges my hands started feeling lonely, like I needed something to hang onto. I got on my hands and knees and decided to try leaning forward into Jonathan’s arms. The new position was a struggle because my arms kept going to sleep and during a surge I required so much counter pressure to feel okay. I know that women experience labor very differently, but I can’t imagine how anyone does it without someone creating equal pressure on the outside of their bodies. I needed everyone around me to hold me in there or I don’t know where I would have gone! I told them I wanted them to push me all the way into the ground. I think Laura was here by now. I was so happy she was able to come. I remember her voice when the playlist began again and they all started singing “Yellow” and it was gorgeous. I hope my baby got to hear it a little bit, although I’m sure she was experiencing a lot and maybe couldn’t pay attention. It was like angels singing to me while I was birthing, something holy and haunting and feminine and strong pulling me forward, giving me strength. I felt so connected to my doulas.
It’s indescribable, that vulnerability, that complete surrender, like all you are is your body. You can’t hold onto any bit of falseness, your defenses peel away and all you are is what lies beneath your marketable self. I needed them so deeply. I honor the brave women who confront those feelings lying still, strapped to monitors with needles in their arms, the women who have birthed in freezing weather, out in the rain, completely alone, the women who give birth in terror. I know how rare it is to have the kind of support that I did. I kept thanking them and trying to be appreciative, to the point that they started teasing me about my effusive gratitude.
I closed my eyes and went really deep during the surges, but I never really felt like I “left.” I would talk through the surges sometimes and in between I was this melty puddle of heart soup and I had so much left to say, I wanted them to know how good they were and how dear to me.
I’m proud of myself because I didn’t complain about how hard it was (nothing against people who do complain! Everyone has to release tension in a way that works for them) and I think I stayed pretty positive. That was important to me.
Soon I started to feel some building pressure in my pelvis that made me feel a little desperate. I described it to Jonathan later as someone blowing up a balloon in your throat. He was horrified, haha! I shook my hips and Laurel and I think Mary shook my thighs and that helped a little. I had a couple of surges that built, peaked, ebbed off slightly and then peaked again and again without a rest in between. They were heavy, but I dove into them and tried to let myself go completely limp under all the blessed hands tying me to the earth. Any extra tension on my part would make it unendurable. I had someone pushing on either side of my hips, on my back, on my shoulders, supporting both my arms. I was completely at the mercy of my body and those hands. They felt so merciful.
I thought of myself as a little creature inside my body, folding up and letting the storm shake me. I can do this, I can do this. I sent my energy down with my voice during each surge like lightning down a tree. Strong for three breaths, quavering a little on the last one with those final seconds of immense pressure. Then the relief crept in during the easing wave and it felt so good!
I heard Sarah say, “Someone’s going through transition!” and I mumbled, “No, I’m not, I don’t feel like I can’t do it yet!” I was conscious that although this was taking a lot of work (both from me and the doulas) I also knew that I hadn’t reached any point where it was as hard as it got last time. I was expecting that raw, desperate time to still be ahead of me. I started pushing very slightly during those long surges just to counter some of that enormous energy inside me, but I didn’t want to make my cervix swell, so I asked Richelle to please check me one more time. She told me I had about a half centimeter left to go and that the bag of waters was bulging. She said again, “Once your water breaks, that baby’s going to come right out.” She told me if I felt like it, I could push against the water bag with the next contraction, because it was probably creating a lot of pressure for me. This news made me feel empowered and with the next surge I pushed very hard. I heard a popping noise and it felt just like a tiny fist had punched down from inside me and punctured the water bag. Everyone close to me could hear it, too. I felt sooo much relief once that bag popped, I said “Thank you, Jesus! That felt amazing!” and everyone laughed. I am so glad I got to experience that, because my water had broken hours before I went into labor with Lolly, which caused him to be stuck posterior (although we managed to turn him) and made my surges a lot more difficult to get through. SROM (spontaneous rupture of membranes) FTW!
I remember feeling absurdly proud of myself that my water hadn’t broken until this point. I was soaring with increased confidence. Another surge came and I said “Here we go!” and then I was startled because immediately I could feel the baby’s head coming down. She was right there! I couldn’t believe it! How was I at this point already? I felt gleeful, like I’d gotten away with cheating somehow. I didn’t understand when transition had happened; there was no vomiting, no sick, heavy despair, no declarations of “I’m going to die!” but somehow she was already coming. I said, “Oh, I love her!” My eyes were closed; I was concentrating so hard on this most gigantic sensation. I already felt better, baby being down that low made the surges less immense and now all I had to do was ease this baby out and she’d be here, and we would be done! I remember breathing more calmly and trying to push so gently and slowly. I didn’t tell anyone how close she was, it was my secret and I couldn’t afford the words to explain right then. I did ask everyone to “talk to me about the French girl!” (this movie, which was my crowning inspiration while preparing for the birth). I know several people responded, but I remember Emily saying “She was so calm, and she was so happy to see her baby!” I felt a little burning but I wasn’t afraid of it, I just knew I had to go slowly and everything would be okay. She was almost here, almost here.
When I was birthing Chai, I think that feeling overwhelmed me and I just powered through it, used my body like a jackhammer, trying to get it over with, and this time I was willing to let it linger more (although I was still eager to finish, believe me). Pushing was also a lot easier this time—I felt like I was turning the earth over for every tiny millimeter Chai moved down, but this time it was graceful, very natural, I felt the baby working with my body without urgency or over-exertion. There was something so tremendously amazing about that feeling that trying to recall it brings tears to my eyes. It is the most vulnerable, and the most glorious feeling to experience birthing a baby. I remember that a little fragment of the song playing in that moment floated into my awareness, it was “Closer to you” by the Wallflowers, and I remember wanting to giggle with how perfect it was for that song to be playing while I was pushing. “And I remember that every day I get a little bit closer to you…” It was like magic. Jonathan said later that he could tell I was pushing by how my muscles looked, but I don’t think anyone else knew. I kept pushing—but really I was so careful it was more like “breathing baby down”—it was almost too much, but just barely not too much–and then I felt her head slip out. Richelle announced, “The head is out! We’ve got a head!” and I remember everyone around me exclaiming with surprise. I felt so much love for all of them and for their happiness and excitement. At some point Laurel whispered in my ear, “It’s okay, it’s going to burn, but just push into it—“ and I was encouraged because I knew the hardest part was already over, I just had her little body left. I took a slow deep breath and gently pushed again and then I just felt her slither out and then I was overwhelmingly, blessedly reprieved from the surges and pressure and free to greet my little one. Oh, most glorious feeling!
Richelle softly caught the baby and passed her to me underneath my body as I sat back and then I got to raise her up from the water. That is so powerful to me. My hands were cradling her as she felt the air for the first time and we looked right at each other.
I was so glad to see my sweet baby! She was squinting in the light and blinking slowly and deliberately, her little limbs jerking slightly. She was incredible! Oh, my darling!
I glanced briefly up at Jonathan kneeling next to me and saw that his eyes were full of tears. He had the softest expression on his face. He looked like a little boy. We both said sweet things to her as she took her first breath. I remember I told her it would be the hardest one and that every breath for the rest of her life would be easier (I hope that’s true!). She took a shaky breath and then started crying a little squawking cry. I loved her so much.
I wish I remembered more details, but it’s a bright blur in my mind because I was so focused on my baby. I really wanted to connect with her, in those first precious moments. Last time I was so exhausted and manic, meeting my Chai was a little chaotic. This time I felt absolutely present and I just stared at her. I remember checking to see if she was “really a girl” (my Latina clients insisted that my belly was all wrong for a girl). Everyone crowded around to adore her and pointed out her lips, her long fingers and nails and her long dark hair. She was greeted on her first morning with such love! “Look how they shine for you…”
They asked me what her name was and I said “Sparrowhawk.” Later we decided that although Sparrowhawk is a good name for such a BAMF as we expect our daughter to be, we wanted her officially to be Sparrow Asherah Strange. Her name has so much meaning for me, maybe I will write a post about that sometime. She is a bird and a tree.I heard
“Upward over the Mountain” playing, the last song we chose, and I told everyone that when the playlist started over again I had the thought that we’d probably go through it several more times before I had the baby, but we didn’t even make it through one time. My labor started in the early morning, right when it had ended with Chai, and Sparrow was born at 11:01 AM.
They started to ask me to consider pushing out the placenta and I felt uneasy about it. I tried to tell them, “I just feel kind of vulnerable…my butt really hurts…” and Laura thought that was hilarious. “Well, yeah!” Then later when I saw the pictures, I realized Laura was rubbing my scalp and it felt so amazing that I didn’t want to do anything else. I mean please, who would? I finally managed to make the magic happen and despite my relentless sugar intake the placenta was perfect and lovely with no calcification. For some reason we all thought her cord was gorgeous and marveled at it.
I managed to stagger out of the tub and Laurel helped me rinse off before Richelle surveyed the scene. I could already tell I hadn’t torn as badly as last time, and I did end up having one small tear that did require stitches, but it hasn’t even really been noticeable, so I consider that a triumph over the flesh. Laurel continued to be my faithful doula and let me squeeze her hand off during the stitching while Sarah distracted me with illustrious tales of the empire she is building.
I remember feeling so unbelievably happy during this time. I couldn’t believe how well everything had gone! My baby was born on her due date, on her daddy’s birthday. I had about 6 hours of labor and my team only needed to be there from about 8 AM to 12 PM, so they arrived after a full night of sleep and had tons of energy for me. No one had to drive late or stay up all night. My water didn’t break until the very end which made for a much more comfortable birthing experience. Compared to this birth, my first one was like being fried out on the rocks of some desolate planet of my soul (I still loved it, though). I only had two cervical checks, both at my request, and both were intuitive and timely. During every moment of my labor I was treated with love and respect and there was no one within the birthing space that I was not at peace with, no one there who didn’t believe in me. My baby was happy and healthy through the whole labor and arrived safely with no complications. She went from the water to the water to my arms and I got to hold her while she took her first breath. My body was wise and I was able to listen better this time. Is it okay to say that I was so, so proud of myself? And I am euphoric when I realize how present the relationships in my life were during Sparrow’s birth—present in the arms and hands that actually held me, held her, held my little boy, and present in the many people who held me in their hearts and minds that day and before, who lit candles for me and wrote me sweet, encouraging messages. I mean it, that created a sacred, safe place for me just as much as anyone who was physically there. On my mission I used to carry around a fortune from a fortune cookie that said “Mighty forces will come to your aid.” I was surrounded by mighty forces during this birth.
My little Sparrow weighed 8’11 and was 20 inches long. I love her so much and am excited to get to know her. This past week I have felt such joy in my two beautiful babies. In my soul, it might as well be spring already. How thankful I feel for such a dear, funny, clever little boy and a sweet coconut-oil smelling girl who curls up so beautifully on my shoulder. I’m so glad I get to live this life with my most beloved friend.
Photos by Katerine Loveless Photography
More images available on Ashley’s blog, ‘Estranged‘