Thank you Jared and Sunniva for sharing both sides of your birth story. More photos can be found on their blog: Two Perspectives of a Birth Story
Sunniva: Women have been giving birth for as long as the human race has existed. Pregnancy is not an illness. Childbirth is not to be feared, it is to be honored, respected, and celebrated.
Those words were the words that echoed inside my mind five years ago, when I chose to give birth to Gabi naturally, with no pain medication or intervention. I thought to myself, if women could do this 500 years ago, so can I today. To me, it was a little bit about proving myself – to myself. I wanted so bad to do it the way it has always been done. I wanted to be present the moment my child would come into this world, and I wanted to feel every bit of it.
After about four hours of active labor, Gabi was born naturally in a birth pool in a hospital in Norway, with only one midwife present.
When I got pregnant again, I knew that I wanted to give birth to that baby at home, in familiar surroundings. We moved to the US midway in the pregnancy, and we had to find someone that could deliver our baby. I have a deep fear of the hospital setting in America, and wanted to avoid that at all cost. No way I was giving birth surrounded by strangers that would tell me what to do!
Jared: The night that I found out I was going to be a father was one of the most emotional nights of my life.
From there it was a blur of what was next. As we were in the midst of deep plans for our future company “Solgave Animal Solutions” we had to take a massive pause and do some intense discernment on what was “best” for all of us.
Where we ended up and how, is no secret at this point, but the details of the home birth experience have not been spoken about much by either of us. Until now…
I think to be fair it should begin in Europe where we lay in bed many nights talking about having a midwife in the United States and starting to look at water birth experiences.
Listen, I have worked with kids a lot, have a passion for their personal development and growth from a psychological aspect, but I have not been around any “birth” experiences per se’. I think this ended up being really good for me, in that it created a tabula rasa of thoughts when it came to approaching the most important phase of my life.
Why would we leave a country which has some of the highest rankings in the world on prenatal and postnatal care, the amount of time off both mothers and fathers get, health statistics, etc? For a variety of reasons to be honest, and as time passes they seem less important because it’s hard to think of anything in the process being different today. Anything would have possibly changed the outcome in a tiny way.
Sunniva: We were blessed to come across midwife Maria Chowdury, who owns Birth Song Midwifery. She followed us through the remainder of the pregnancy, and both Jared and I feel like we won the lottery with finding her! Our prenatal visits would always end up extending beyond the one hour we were supposed to be there, likely because once I start talking I’m pretty hard to stop. But Maria humored me, and we’d all talk about everything from babies to business. I felt so taken care of, so understood, and so … respected.
It’s kind of nerve-wrecking you know, those last weeks of pregnancy. You know the baby can come at any day, and that you may not get any warning in advance. My mom arrived from Norway on my due date, and I think she was a little happy that no baby had come yet – this way she may be able to be in town at when the baby was born. We all went to a Solstice event at Passages Rising on Friday the 21st, and was able to be a part of the ceremony they held there. Maria was there, and I told her to tell the baby to come – NOW! She laughed and told me to show my belly to the moon (full moon that weekend). I didn’t see a reason as to why I shouldn’t do that, so Jared and I went outside that night, and flashed my big whale belly to the super moon.
Jared: As we lay on the bed so many nights that Fall looking at midwives in Northwest Arkansas we likely ran across all 3 that we now know of so well (although I don’t remember for sure). Jennifer Creel and Shawn House of Birth Root and Maria Chowdury of Birth Song are the three local midwives best known to us. I adore all three of them to be honest. They are so uniquely different by their temperament it’s fascinating. (Although Maria has a special place in my heart!) There is a reason they work on referring clients to each other, because they are not in competition. Plenty of home birth people in this community exist, and their “businesses” behind midwifery compliment each other, but are very different.
We had our first meeting with Maria around week 26 of the pregnancy. I know that both Sunniva and I felt that we were at the right place at the right time. The experience of a natural home birth is so deeply personal, spiritual, and emotional that you grow incredibly attached to your midwife. Sunniva said last night if Neo had a god mother it would have to be Maria (she wasn’t kidding).
The natural birth community is a community of like minded souls, of conscious minds, usually slanted towards what some may say “granola,” “hippy,” “earthy,” or “spiritual nuts.” Not to say that home births don’t have every socioeconomic background in it. Glancing around the room the first night of our 5 week birth class it was obvious that my initial feeling that I’d look around at a bunch of organic looking hippies wasn’t exactly accurate. Another stereotype of mine was just crushed. One of many along this amazing journey.
The people were all beautiful souls, but clearly there for different reasons. Some religious, some budget conscious, some because this primal, natural process is the only way they could imagine having a baby. Everyone in that class was a unique mixture of the new growing movement to have a home birth.
As was the case with my wife, it was the hospital setting and the chance of having to have a baby there that frightened her… deeply frightened her.
Like anything in life that I get into, I got obsessed with studying natural parenting with my wife, natural birth experiences, and kind of surrendered to this process that felt so right. There was never a moment along the journey from our initial chat in Europe until now where I had doubts about the process. Never.
With Maria we began what I would call a deeply spiritual, and transformational set of visits. The personal growth that followed it… perfectly aligned with the “physical growth of the baby” inside Sunniva. Our visits were scheduled to be one hour, and some may assume or speculate that they were more clinical in nature. Not to say that there isn’t an important clinical aspect to most every visit. You listen to the heart beat of the baby, check blood pressure, his position, mom’s urine levels of charted things, and much more. But, MOST of the visits are a deeply personal, spiritual experience. It involves her taking a glimpse into the souls of people wanting to consciously decide to have their child at home, naturally, and helping them along the path towards that powerful experience or steer them in another direction if it wasn’t the right fit.
Even by examining the details of her house a few miles outside of town, it’s clear you are not in a clinical setting. Her botanical business and herb knowledge is out of this world.
The rustic wood floors, the quiet and attentive assistant, that is always quick to grab clients fresh tea in a mug made from local artists as soon as you walk in, are all part of the charm. Her herbal tinctures, special supplements to naturally alleviate heavy cramps, reduce stress, allergies, you name it! I am one who believes in holistic remedies but was just entering the action period of life where “practice” came in over the years of research. Trust me in that, these things work remarkably well and the body has a unique ability to recognize natural versus unnatural when it comes to things we ingest.
If you believe it’s possible for energies to be different in certain rooms, homes, or even parts of the world, then I can tell you the energy of the setting is as zen as one can get. All of that is created with intent, her calm and quiet voice while doing our visits always sets the energy tone, if you will. Natural home births involve a lot of things, primarily women trusting their bodies, but also trusting their partners and trusting, if not surrendering to the energy around them, that acts as a natural medicine of sorts for the birth experience.
My fondness and admiration, my sincere respect for our midwife is so deep… and I don’t impress easily. I’m an observer of human nature and love watching how she handles situations. Acutely aware of “feeding energies” she won’t be one to predict pregnancy dates, or have any sense of “alarm” in her energy when something goes awry. We had a bit of a scare on week 34 and after Sunniva’s final risk assessment was told she was 2-3 centimeters dilated and the head was fully engaged. Sigh…
Our world flipped in an instant. What if? Why? Sunniva was preparing me now for the baby coming any day, but wait! We were not ready! We had 6 more weeks to go! One more week of good lung development to happen and by law Maria could not assist us until week 36 even if she believed it would likely be “safe.”
Immediate bed rest was called for two weeks. Our peace of mind, as well as the momentum of our business was shattered by an intense need to balance all things we needed for the home birth: birth pool, birth kit, extra sheets, towels, washcloths, receiving blankets, on and on (this list is deep) and the rest Sunniva needed to not push this baby out for a week or two.
We hit the magical day (week 36) and could relax a little. We had help from my mom rushing down one day a week to assist in supply gatherings, cleaned the house for us while I was doing landscaping work on the side to keep our business afloat during this pre birth period that started earlier than we thought.
Sunniva was walking now some, moving around and assimilating back into culture – but ready to get this baby out! She carried all the weight right in front and it was riding very low. I know my wife was uncomfortable. Getting up every two hours to pee and the constant cramping was wearing on her. But now we’re actually prepared, we through the force of the early scare had most everything we needed. Just a few of these include Popcicle holders to make natural juice pops for her, frozen meals, herb baths, flashlight, candles, extra batteries, along with all our cloth diaper supplies were finally accumulated. We were ready!
The final night of our birth class had what was called a Blessing Way. Both of us would likely admit that at 3 hours per class, by the end our attention was fading, BUT on that final night of class, something magical happened.
It was as if for 5 weeks a flower was about to bloom and finally did. The group was so candid, the energy was so powerful, it’s a night I won’t soon forget. We talked about our fears, and not allowing them to have power over us. We talked about our dreams, to remind us why we chose this path. We shared deeply personal feelings in a trusted room full of people all traveling the same road, nearing the end..or should I say the beginning. Because of Gabi’s bedtime approaching, and her need to be with us at most events, Sunniva was allowed to go up first and begin the ritual. At that time I grabbed Gabi out of the spare room and we all three set and experienced something so powerful, so healing, so perfect it gives me goosebumps just thinking of it.
We all went out and got 10 beads to present so that each mother to be could present it to the one being blessed (they alternated one at a time). With her feet in a huge, native bowl of some sort.. filled high with corn meal, Maria started the process of massaging her feet in the soft mixture that symbolized fertility, and looked up to Sunniva in the chair giving her personal blessings and wishes for this birth. I know my wife is loved, appreciated, and understood for her wisdom, her deep mind…but it’s really cool to see her hear powerful things about her that her humble self just often doesn’t believe to be true. She clearly had an impact on many of these women, as they did on her.
I also got a special part of the ceremony by Maria as the women were presenting Sunniva with their beads, and blessings for the birth. She had her apprentice pouring water slowly over my hands into a bowl and with her incredible energy was able to not just symbolically, but literally (it felt this way to me), was able to wash away much of the old residue in my life, the old pains and hurts.. so that I was left with a feeling of cleanliness, and as she said preparing those hands for the time when I would be able to help catch our child. That time was coming soon.
Sunniva: Gabi was staying with my mom at her hotel, so when we woke up on Saturday morning, we had the house to ourselves. We spent a couple of hours in bed, talking, having fun, cuddling and soaking up our moment of peace. I went to the bathroom (and I’ll spare you the details of it), and oh yes – no doubt that something was up. Came back into the bedroom and calmly announced that I couldn’t go to the Farmer’s Market, because we were going to have a baby today or tomorrow. “Are you serious?” Yep.
We had no idea of how long labor would take of course, but number two has a tendency of coming a lot faster than number one (and Gabi came in four hours!). We decided to take it easy though, but started slowly preparing the house for birth. I had never imagined having time to do this! My dream labor would start like this, and surely I wouldn’t have it that way? Labor never happens as planned! I don’t know exactly what I had been imagining, but anything but the way I hoped and dreamed for. Maria is so good at preparing you for the unexpected, that I had completely pushed aside all expectations.
Jared: With Sunniva’s mom in town and us now at full term we were approaching every day with a balance of attempting to get the most out of her visit and preparing for what could be “the day.” On her second day here, we went up to my parent’s farm in Southwest Missouri and swam in the pool, relaxed in the hammock, and had a nice meal. We went to bed Friday night planning to hit the Farmer’s Market and show off one of Fayetteville’s greatest treasures and then hit the Springfest festival downtown (delayed from spring due to weather).
After the dogs were taken out and I came back in, I saw something in Sunniva’s face I had not seen before. “We’re not going to the Farmer’s Market today,” she said.
“What do you mean? Are you okay?” I asked. I was a mix of holding back elation and a practical disappointment of my mother in law not getting to see something we had planned so much for.
“We’re having a baby tonight or tomorrow at the latest.” She calmly said. It was the final physical signs of discharge that said we’re approaching. After weeks of her being dilated 2-3 cm and the head fully engaged, we were now ready to start the real journey.
I can’t explain how or why things went so smoothly that day, but I think deep in my heart and soul it was a karmic payback to us, a kiss from the sky if you will, for the scares we went through at week 34, the bed rest, the worry of losing our business. We started at a calm and very focused pace of cleaning the house. At this point we knew we had time and with so many things in place ahead of time it was just time to act.
With her mom at a hotel near here with Gabi, she let them know of the change in plans for the day and I told my mom she better get down and grab her hotel room.
Sunniva: Contractions started an hour or so later, and I was excited to feel the first real “tug” of pain. Yes! Finally! Baby’s coming! They were short and about ten minutes apart, so we still had plenty of time ahead of us. I texted Maria, and got a smiley face back. She knew – and she also knew this could take hours, so she was probably pretty chill about it.
I kept hugging and kissing Jared, smiling and laughing. Our baby was coming! And it was all happening so slow and steady. We had time to think, plan, put out candles, get some music ready, put the birth pool up, notify grand parent of our needs and of the situation, talk to Gabi (she would stay with the grand parents until labor had progressed, and would join us later in the game), walk the dogs and clean the house. Wowza! It was perfect.
Time quickly became non-existent to me. It all flowed together. A sweet mama friend came by with some food for us, and she was so excited for us. Contractions slowly got longer, closer together, and more painful. At this time they were painful enough for me to have to focus on them and breathing through. It was awesome! I felt so in control, compared to Gabi’s fast birth. While the wavelike contractions with Gabi kind of threw me around and pulled me under, I was surfing the waves now!
Jared: We swept, mopped the floor, cleaned out the fridge, got all the dishes done, sent out a list to each of our mom’s on items needed to close out any gaps. More candles, food for the birth team and myself to snack on in the event labor goes long.
I got the hose in place and hot water heater temp turned up a bit to prepare for filling the pool when the time was right. Candles were put in place all over the house and we picked out the music we would play through most of the next 24 hours.
It was a Native American inspired meditation track.
My final checklist was ice cube trays dumped and filled ten times to make sure we had plenty, the crock pot out and turned on with wash rags in the hot water, the pads put under the sheets that would be the “throw away” set. I would review my list and check that receiving blankets were accounted for, things were indeed in order.
At 12:06PM I started documenting the contractions. They were probably began close to an hour before this and were around now about ten minutes apart. I have that sheet of paper I took notes on as the day progressed and I was manually clocking the contractions. Later in the night I would move to an Iphone App but I have to admit writing them out by hand in the beginning was better and gives us something to look back on to see how that Saturday progressed.
Progress it did, as the contractions would increase in frequency and length of time. There were periods they’d get farther apart but all through Saturday afternoon we had this slow, beautiful time together alone. We sat back on the bed reflecting on everything leading up to this point, and I don’t think I ever felt so deeply in love with her, so connected, or so prepared for something like that night.
Sunniva: At about 8:30 Gabi got dropped off. Some of our family members were worried that Gabi would get scared at seeing me in pain, and that being present during labor would be too much for her. Jared and I felt confident however, after months of talking to her, watching videos and slideshows, plus her attending Maria’s birthing class, that Gabi would do just fine. She was a little wary when she came in the door, somehow I felt like she expected to see me on the floor writhing in pain. When she saw me sitting smiling on the bed, seemingly normal (between contractions!), she immediately relaxed, and even sat with me through a contraction or two before Jared put her to bed.
A friend of ours had asked to be the photographer for the night, and arrived around the same time as Gabi. Once she got here, contractions started slowing down. I tried to not be bummed out by it. (Surely this wasn’t false labor?)
Jared: We had a friend of ours that is also an assistant at the Birth Song who volunteered to take photos that night and we had to say yes. Both of us had watched probably every popular home birth video on youtube that had powerful imagery of that special event and thought it would be a dream to have somebody capture ours. There is a bit of trust involved, and some logistics to work out because of our 725 sq foot apartment we share with a 5 yr old and 3 dogs. But I have to admit, as we thought based on the energy of those in the room and their ability to work so well together it was almost as if they were not there. That’s the only kind of people I would want in our place that night and was an easy decision for us. Family members are too close to not have “anxiety” that passes around and effects animals, children, and others.
Even though I think both my parents and Sunniva’s mother likely thought Gabi would not handle it like she did, we trusted our months of conversations, the videos we would watch, the classes she attended, and just a deep “knowing” of her little spirit. The plan was, if we pulled off a dream birth, to have Gabi brought by the grandma’s around bedtime that day so that I could put her to bed, and then we’d wake her when it was getting closer to having the baby.
Our birth team consisted of Maria the midwife, Rochelle her apprentice (who is also an amazing doula, Simply Supportive Doula Services), and Derrica, Maria’s assistant at the Birth Song and our photographer that night.
Gabi knows them all very well. She’s played with their kids, she trusts them deeply, so our backup was to have them assist if there was a situation she got scared and quietly get her to the grandmas who were now both staying in a hotel just a few miles down the road.
Derrica showed up around 8PM as contractions were getting more intense for sure, but I knew we were still looking a ways out before the midwife and apprentice should be called. I actually forgot she was there to capture the “emotions” even in the those early stages of labor so when her husband, a friend of mine, texted to see if she could come over it struck me “Yes, yes she should.”
8-9 hours of very slow and steady progressing of labor had me very comfortable with the pace and pattern. She was clearly going through pain as they increased but we had great talks in between, even taking the dogs out for a final time together around dusk.
As fate would have it, the contractions slowed back to 10 minutes from about 4-5 and we made a decision at 10:30PM to send Derrica home. I texted Maria and she did suggest we try and get even a little sleep (as she was doing when I texted) knowing that this could go into tomorrow.
Sunniva: She went home to get some sleep, and Maria suggested we try to get some sleep as well. I managed about an hour and a half of interrupted sleep before the contractions became too painful. It was awful sleeping with contractions, I kept waking up scared, because I was hurting so bad. Then reality hit and I dozed off again, only to wake up ten minutes later in the same “panic.” During a particularly bad one I woke Jared up, and we decided to text Maria an update.
This is when things started amping up a little. I still had no concept of time, but Maria’s papers show that she arrived at 3:40 AM, and that my contractions were 3 minutes apart. This was also the one and only time she checked my cervix during the entire birth – I was 6 cm dilated and 50% effaced. I didn’t care. If there was one thing I had learned throughout this entire process, it was that dilation has nothing to do with when the baby is coming. It’s merely says “it’s coming!” The one thing I did mentally take note of, was that I was not yet in transition (7cm – 10cm), and from what I could remember from Gabi’s birth, that was the worst part. I shook that out of consciousness. I was aware that if I focused too much on what was ahead of me, I would want to back out. So I took it one contraction at a time.
Jared had been supporting me through practically every contraction up till that moment, by standing behind me and applying pressure on my hips. At this point though, the pain was becoming so intense, that I asked him for an enormous amount of pressure each time, and it had to be in just the right spot. (The only thing I could say was “press!” “higher!” or “lower!”) Again and again I caught myself thinking what would I do without him now? Not only was he a wonderful support emotionally, but his physical support was unlike any I had ever hoped or dreamed for. I leaned on him in between contractions, and he helped me through each one. He held me when I was tired, and warmed me when I got cold.
Jared: It was 11PM when we lay down and shut off the lights after she left, and I remember feeling exhausted based on the intense focus I had for 12 hours and could only imagine where Sunniva was in the journey.
At 1AM she woke me and it was clear she was struggling with contraction pains. She had them probably every ten minutes through sleep but was able to fall back asleep herself as she intuitively knew how much that couple of hours sleep would mean. I was do deeply asleep it took a lot to get my attention back to the fact I had to get up quickly, and regain focus. Coffee back on, contact lenses in, and a text to Maria to let her know we’d gotten our two hours sleep, they were definitely increasing in pace again and getting heavy, so look for a call likely soon. I wouldn’t have to wait long, because she called me right then to check in.
After a brief visit she said she’d just slowly start to get ready and plan to head on over. If things escalated quickly call her, but otherwise just plan to see her in a bit. I then texted Derrika to see if she was ready to rise from sleep and begin the photos that would capture this night in a way we now won’t ever forget.
According to the notes our midwife gave us after the birth, Maria and Rochelle arrived at 3:40AM. The contractions were steady, and 3 minutes apart. Sunniva was using me for some time now as a pressure point, to help alleviate the pain from the sharp contractions that now lasted around a minute or more each. As the hours passed, I can remember her words “Lower. Push harder.” I pushed with everything I had in the specific points she needed pressure, as the arms started to wear through the night I would put my body between the bed and use my own weight to continue to lean in and alleviate as much of the pain as I could to help her get through.
Sunniva: We went outside an hour after Maria got there, and walked around a bit – it was the night of the super moon after all! A lot of people had said they thought my baby would be born on the super moon, June 23rd. So amusing to me was the fact that I had insisted that the baby would NOT come on the 23rd, three days after my due date the 20th, because it was statistically impossible that I would have two kids both born on 40+3. I mean, NOONE has two kids born on the same number of gestation days!? Turns out that what I needed to learn from this pregnancy can be summed up in a few words:
Surrender, humility, patience and trust.
We humans try so hard to control our surroundings, in whatever way we can. My theory is that our need to control everything stems from our need for time management, which again stems from how we live more in the future than we do in the now. This has even gotten to the point that some women don’t want to wait until their baby is ready to be born, but schedule C-sections so that they can plan around the birth.
It isn’t easy, not knowing when your baby will come. When I was 34 weeks pregnant, I was still working and being very active. My gut feeling started telling me it was time to relax, but I didn’t want to! In my first pregnancy I was practically on bed rest from week 20 due to heavy pelvic pain, and this time I wanted to move! Starting up a business and being pregnant turned out to be tougher than I thought though, and I was feeling like I needed rest. I started having pretty regular contractions, and the baby’s head had engaged in my pelvis. Maria advised me to follow my instincts and rest. As the contractions didn’t stop, I had to eventually go on semi bed rest. After all, I wanted to avoid having a premature baby – and equally important – I did NOT want to give birth in a hospital (home births are only legal after week 36)!
My body and the baby seemed to be happy with me resting, so contractions slowed down. From week 37 on I started with daily, regular contractions each night, but they would always stop after a few hours. I slept very little, and was really ready for the baby to just come, I was so tired and frustrated. But as Maria said “there’s only one guarantee with babies – they will come. Nobody’s been pregnant forever!” I had to surrender to the fact that the baby’s pending arrival was out of my control. It was humbling to me to be left with no sense of control of the situation. It had looked for so long like the baby would come early, but the due date (which is just a date people!) came and went, and still no baby. I had to learn patience. I had to accept that he/she would come when he/she was good and ready. I had to trust that my body and my baby would know when that time was.
So, the super moon. We walked around a bit, but after awhile I had to get back inside, I was too tired to stand up. I ended up sitting on our bed resting, leaning back on Jared in between the contractions (that just got worse and worse), only to stand up for each one. I somehow felt like I dealt with them better when I was standing. I felt really empowered at this stage of labor, because I knew I had reached the transition stage (I was shaking with cold, and had covered myself up with a sweater and a fleece blanket), and I was still alive. I mean, transition is no joke! I desperately wanted to get in the pool, but I knew I needed to throw up first (vomiting is a particularly nice “side-effect” in labor), so I patiently waited.
Jared: I worked now on making sure the temp was right in the birth pool we had filled earlier in the evenings and the team worked silently around me getting everything together. Like midwife ninjas, I vaguely remember seeing everything out and in place around the pool, meticulous detail and order was seen but done so gently and quietly you would not even know they were there. We had candles going all through the house, incense burning, and beautiful tribal music that maintained this mystical energy that was so peaceful, so calming.
According to the timeline at 4:40AM we walked out to see the super moon that night in our yard. The contractions were still at least 4 minutes apart, but definitely intense. Enough so, that I felt I had ran 6-10 miles based on the pressure for so many hours placed on her lower back. Along with the emotional and mental focus you need to keep. It was a neat moment, all of us outside staring at the powerful moon, knowing that the time was approaching.
She went into the cold shivers around 5:30AM and she was gently covered up or a warm cloth used on her to ease the pain. This was followed by the vomiting around 6:30AM. Through so many classes with Maria, paying so much attention to our candid conversations I knew this was “the moment all midwives wait for” because they know we’re about to start pushing a baby out.
Sunniva despises throwing up, and she worked through this uncomfortable human reaction with as much grace as one can and I would hold the bucket and stroke her hair as Maria quietly moved out to dump that load. Like a well oiled machine, we were preparing for the final stage.
Sunniva: Sure enough, I vomited – again and again and again. Interesting to me was how aware I was of each stage of the labor. Thanks to Maria’s intensive birth classes, I knew way more about birth this time around than I did with Gabi. In fact, I feel like knowing more detailed about everything that could happen, helped me deal better with each stage. Instead of being shocked/fearful at some of the things that would happen (like the vomiting), I knew at what stage of labor I was in (vomiting being transition phase and “you’re getting closer to the end!”).
Most of the time Maria, her apprentice Rochelle, and Derrica our photographer, left us alone, because they knew that’s how we wanted it. Sometimes though, Maria would see me through a particularly painful contraction, and she’d exclaim “good!!” One side of me really wanted to just punch her at that moment, but another side (the sensible one) knew she was right – this was good, because it meant I was getting closer to the end result – that little baby in my arms.
Gabi got up around 7:30 I think, and at this point I was starting to struggle to maintain my “Zen” that I had had throughout the labor so far. I had asked Maria several times if I could get in the pool, but she had said “not yet” every time. In the end I said to Jared, I’m going in, no matter what she says – and I asked (more like begged) one last time if I could please get in the pool. This time she saw that I was serious about it, and she agreed. At 8 am I was in. Thank God. That felt so good. It took the edge off the contractions that had been getting so painful, and I felt like I was able to regain my balance(/sanity) for a little while.
Gabi came up to me several times while I was leaning on the edge of the pool, and she’d grab my hands, look me straight in the eyes and just smile… So calmly, so on top of things, so grounding – I couldn’t help get teary at that moment. She was like a little nurse. I also remember thinking to myself “we were right! I knew she could handle this” and “I can’t wait for my family to see the photos of this, hah!” She’d stay for like ten minutes (ok, to be honest I have no idea how long, it may have been shorter or longer), before she would tell Jared to hold my hands instead, and she’d get back to watching her movie. So proud of our little (big!) girl!
As luck would have it, Gabi slept in until 7:30AM and calmly came out with her hair in a cute mess like she always does. Since the daylight had come up, we knew she’d be rising soon and I was preparing myself for that. One of the girls got her cereal ready but she insisted to come in and see her mama. Sunniva was in intense pain during this period of contractions so I knew she put her game face on as best she could as Gabi held her hand and stayed with her for a moment before we got her distracted into her morning routine. Cereal, and a movie on the Mac was put on up front so that we could prepare for the real pushing to begin.
My wife had been quietly whispering to me between contractions to “Please ask Maria if I can get in the pool.” It’s natural for a husband to want his wife to see relief, and the warm water provides a decent amount of comfort for the natural home birth after gutting out hours of contractions. I knew though, by reading Maria’s body language and energy when Sunniva had asked earlier in the night that we should not move into the water until we were really close. I stayed by my wife, I kept pushing on those pressure points on her lower back with everything I had. I told the other two in the house she’s really wanting in the pool. It was not their role to decide that. As Maria would tell us later, she likes the woman to be so ready she nearly climbs into that pool herself. Well, Sunniva was there. “Maria, I NEED to get into the pool” were the words, but the energy said “Maria I’m getting in that fucking pool now!” And so she did.
If there is a sports analogy that seems appropriate from the male perspective when she hit the birth pool we were late in the 4th quarter and the game is tied. My energy needed to be confident, calm, and focused. Luckily, I was.
It’s hard for me to imagine even two weeks after the birth just how at peace I was through the entire experience. I had heard stories so extreme that women had hit their husband, wailed in screams so loud I should warn the block so I was prepared for anything. Most people said that whatever side of you is repressed comes out during this period of time, so Sunniva was right in that she would handle this birth with inner determination, quiet ferocity, and a remarkable ability to focus her mind….to surrender to the pain.
8AM my wife entered the pool and just under an hour later the real pushing began. It was a relief for me to see her gain some comfort from the warm water and how it made the tough contractions somewhat smoother.
According to Maria’s notes, at 8:45 I started getting the pushing urge. I remember this very well, because I was so surprised when I felt it – I still felt like I had a lot to go on, and the contractions never got quite as bad as I remember them with Gabi. I shouldn’t have thought that, because the pushing contractions hurt like hell. I went from zen to – well, I guess I still seemed zen to the outside, but I struggled. I started doubting myself, and all kinds of thoughts flew through my head. I remember looking up at one point (now they were all in our bedroom), and saw Rochelle with her head in her hands, Derrica’s head was hanging down and she looked kind of asleep, and Maria was yawning. Jared sitting next to me was looking tired, and I was like “hey guys, I’m sorry it’s going so slow, I kind of wish it would go faster too!”
I did that a lot. I thought I was talking out loud, but I wasn’t. My brain was moving fast, but no words would come out. It was like the connection from my brain to my body wasn’t fully functional. At one point though, I managed to voice out “I don’t think I can do this anymore” and they all chimed in with “yes you can, you’re so close, pretty soon you’re going to hold that baby in your arms!” Maria was assisting me with hot cloths on my back and wiping my face with cool cloths in between. My God I love that woman. I only have flashes of memories of what happened next. I remember looking into Jared’s eyes, and it comforted me that he didn’t looked scared or fearful, not even tired – he just looked strong, confident and excited. I must have looked near death, but I love that he stayed strong for me – it was just what I needed.
Jared: Seeing Gabi drift in and out of the room to support her mom was something so powerful for us. Her calm and confident nature shined through with no energies around shifting it their direction (which happens easily with her) You have to believe me when I say there was something in Sunniva’s eyes as she left “here” during this end phases that was familiar to me. I’m not sure if that helped me to stay so calm or not, but I know that through a process so intense, it surely didn’t hurt.
To describe to a friend what it might have seemed like when she was near the end and in the water that morning, I would describe it as very much a trance. Very out of body. Intense pain and intense control. To see her eyes meet Gabi’s and know as close as I possibly can where she “was” mentally at that moment, had me in awe.
Sunniva did a tremendous amount of processing through this labor internally. I had little idea what her mind was “thinking” during the time, but I did see the outward reflection that was very much what I expected it to be. An incredibly strong, an incredibly brave, an incredibly gifted women who knows her body well enough to trust it, and not just trust it, but rely on it to work as nature intended. When I say that she would have refused a hospital birth UNLESS it was a severe reason needed I’m not kidding. We both talked half jokingly about how confident we were we could have this baby unassisted if this took place in another time. It just felt so right.
During the last phase of labor Sunniva hit one moment she would talk about later as being a defining one in her feeling like she could not go on, but you have to realize to everyone on the outside she seemed to be as confident and in control as one could ever imagine. “I’m not sure if I can go on.” She said quietly.
The words startled me. I think we hit a phase where she had been in the water for almost two hours and I wasn’t sure how long we’d be in there. “You can do it” I remember all of us chiming in with a bit of shock she even needed those words as support. Her birth, unlike so many I had watched on Youtube was so inner, it was so calm and controlled for the most part.
I had on swim trunks during the final hour or two, and was kneeling beside her to place a hand on hers and just be ready. We were now 24 hours from the moment the first words came “We’re having a baby tonight.”
Shortly after that moment of her expressing doubt that she could do it, the water broke. Sunniva was the one who said it, I never saw anything because she was in a pool and just trusted she knew what she was talking about. This was a sign we were really getting close.
My mind is forever locked on the next moment I’ll describe. After almost 24 hrs of intense focus, Maria told Sunniva to make sure she realized just how close this was to finally being the moment she could hold our son, “Reach up and I bet you can feel your baby’s head.”
Sunniva’s hand moves down in the water, her sweaty bangs and look of exhaustion are suddenly able to be replaced with a look of exilleration…because she felt the head of her baby boy for the first time. It was not crowned yet, but she FELT THE HEAD. I was sitting in a position to see her eye’s at this moment and they screamed loudly that “I can do this” and I could sense her energy shift from a feeling that it could go on forever, to one that resonated “we are almost there.”
Talk about turning up the volume in my head! For 24 hours I had not thought yet about the moment I would hold my son for the first time. I would get too emotional, too overwhelmed. I had to be in Jedi mode of organization and 100% supporting my wife. With the head being touched, every essence about my own energy shifted as well. Elation, bordering on frantic happiness that I cannot fully describe in words. I had waited my entire life for what was fast approaching.
Sunniva: Just when I was about to announce that I would like to have this baby pushed back up, and that the sound of an eternal pregnancy wasn’t that bad after all, my water broke. Maybe this was nearing an end after all? Maria said “I bet you can feel the head now!” I reached down, and sure enough – there it was – my baby’s head… All of a sudden I felt like I could do this after all – I was so close… The next contraction was really painful, and I told Jared to get in the pool behind me and press on my lower back as he had previously. He had barely placed his hands on me when I felt the baby come.
From here on it’s a bit of a blur to me, just intense stinging and pain as the baby’s head was crowning, and Jared and Maria talking excitedly, Jared in tears as he could feel the head himself. I never did much active pushing, I pretty much let my uterus do all the work for me, but now at the end I felt I had to hold back. Slowly I felt the head be born, the baby rotated by itself to easier let the shoulders and the rest of the body be born. Jared and Maria both caught him/her, and I reached down and lifted the baby up out of the water while leaning back at the same time… My baby was here… Our baby! I looked at Jared, and saw tears streaming down his cheeks. Finally… The purplish little body, covered in vernix, and with the newborn swollen face. The most beautiful little boy on the planet was born
Jared: The next phase they refer to as the “Ring of Fire” as I had been taught, or overheard many times. A very painful period where the body is doing final stretching as the head crowns to prepare for his arrival.
Sunniva had asked me to get into the pool probably ten minutes after the water broke and ten minutes before birth. I kneeled beside her with hands on her back putting pressure again. Gabi was now in the room as we all prepared for this amazing new addition of our family.
When the head crowned and Maria was leaning over talking to Sunniva and letting her know she asked if I wanted to feel it. “Of course” I had waited months for the possible experience of catching my son, or feeling any part of this final part of the birth. Grabbing my hand and placing it over the surface of the head I could feel what felt like hair and the softest skin you can imagine.
Oh my f’ing god. What I had suppressed for 24 hours was dangerously close to erupting….emotions of love, emotions of fulfillment, emotions of healing. With my hand and Maria’s on his head I felt it slowly move out until Maria announced to Sunniva “The head is out, the head is out” and I remember vaguely repeating with such excitement “Yes SUNNIVA, THE HEAD IS OUT!” You can do it honey! You can do it!!
With my hand now cupping his head along the midwife, we were minutes if not seconds away.
Jared: “How long could he breathe” I remember irrationally thinking after months of education on this type of birth. At the same time that those questions run through your head, I was still at peace with Sunniva and our son’s well being. I just knew.
As you read about in all the birth classes we had, and stories I had read I knew the final action was the rotation so that his little body could come on out and see the world for the first time.
When I felt the rotation, it was AWESOME! Maria said “The baby’s rotating beautifully” and I echoed it right back with excitement “He’s rotating honey, he’s really rotating! We’re almost there!
Now the emotions are rising up, adrenaline is pumping through my veins intensely. In one motion he came out, Sunniva lifted her son from the water and gently rested back into the pool. Our first moment as a family.
Now I could let it go. Tears, happy tears. Sunniva’s smile and his beautiful little newborn body sitting on her chest was finally more than I could bare. The miracle had happened. “You did it baby, you do it.” I remember telling her through tears. “Hes so beautiful.” “He’s so beautiful.”
Sunniva: So much adrenaline was pumping through my body at that point, I felt great! I had birthed our son into the world, and I was so proud of myself. Proud of having just given birth in the most peaceful way imaginable, surrounded by friends and my family, supported by my husband for every bit of it. Gabi had been in the room for the last part, she saw him come out, and she also saw me deliver the placenta. She saw the cord that had tied little Neo to me for over nine months. One of our wishes, which is a standard home birth procedure, was a delayed (or optimal) cord clamping. The cord was cut almost an hour and a half after he was born. He got all the blood from the placenta first. Everything was just…perfect.
When we weighed him he weighed 9lbs1oz (about 4127g), and that was after he had pooped an impressive four times! He measured 21” (or 53.5cm), but I thought he was so tiny.
It’s strange you know, the first moments after birth, it’s so…primal in a way. I found myself in the need of cleaning the baby and myself up, and as soon as everyone left, it was all about resting. I immediately felt the need to pull back from the rest of the world, and just take care of my baby.
Jared: There aren’t many moments in your life that can compare to the birth of the child. Our story had some scary moments, some pauses along the way, but ended in the way we dreamed. We were allowed to cuddle with him around ten minutes and then needed to move to the bed prepared for the next stage.
With all the blood getting to him from the placenta, we did have another birth to give that I was prepared for. With Gabi in the room to see her brother born, we now all lay on the bed as a family. Sunniva never looked prettier. I have no idea how she can pull that off after what she endured, but you can see it in her eyes.
The birth of the placenta took place probably an hour or more after he was born. I got to feel the umbilical cord after all the blood had long been gone, examining it like a doctor along with Gabi. We were all so fascinated by this beautiful process.
Maria had to coach her a bit to push out this large placenta (and it was large to match our large baby boy) and after several contractions she did indeed.
It was then I got to clamp and cut the cord of my new baby boy. Even the placenta after it was delivered was examined by myself and Gabi with Maria educating us on the healthy look of it. We had all seen one in birth classes and knew a lot about this important part of our son’s development and health while protected and fed those nine months.
By now the grandma’s had been texted and were on their way over. We wanted the placenta to be delivered before anyone was contacted, but I can tell you the cell phone was blowing up with very curious and anxious family. We slowly shifted Sunniva and our son into the herb bath prepared for them, and I lay in the bathroom with them as we soaked up the last period of alone time before others arrived.
You have to understand that choosing and having a natural birth at home, is part of a tribal wiring in some ways. There is just something that needs to be very primal in my opinion to desire and trust the body.
This primal nature and aspects to natural birth don’t end that day. It involves a sacred period with the baby, an intense focus on breast feeding, time alone with the nuclear family, and a need for bonding that some in my middle America culture may find odd or even think it’s extreme. But I think it’s really about protecting the energy of the new baby, building the trust, love, and connection within the home tribe, and taking this time for ourselves to root our new tradition.
Photos by Derrica Conklin.