Juniper Joy: A Birth Story (Part 1)
My precious girl, I sit here and write this with a full and weathered heart. You my darling, are the greatest gift I have ever received. You are love and peace and joy and beauty wrapped up into one smiley, brilliant and remarkable child. It is my joy to be your mother. It is my honor to raise you, to learn from you, and to grow with you. If your birth has taught me anything thus far, it is that you are so incredibly resilient and I hope that I mirror that resilience as your mother.
I have had great angst in how to begin this story, in how to write it well and to do your story justice. I loved reading the small details my mom wrote down about my birth story, even if the details were limited. I looked forward to writing you your own story, fully detailed about the ways of physiologic homebirth, about your mama and daddy together and the midwives who are your aunties, about the moment that we found out you were a girl, after waiting all those months. I do not want my words to feel tainted, or unholy. I do not want to make you feel that your birth brought me trauma or pain. But, I know that one day you will grow to be a woman and it is my duty as your mother to be honest and speak my truth in love, to teach you how to face your fear and your pain with openness and to trust the work that pain does in and ultimately through you. Lean in my girl. Lean into the hard and the sad and the beautiful and the scary. Lean into life with everything you have and trust that it will see you through to new and miraculous things. It has for me through each and every hardship I have endured and this story has been just that. This is not the story I had planned to write to you, but this story is filled with many of those things I had hoped to give to you. So for that, I am pleased.
When did my labor begin? Thats a really great question!
How long was my labor? Another great question.
Was it several days? Or was it 17 hours?
Both? Who even knows!
I can tell you that I waited patiently and trusted my body and the process, with (of course) a few moments of meltdown in between. Haha. Because what is pregnancy if you don't have moments of overwhelm in releasing into the unknown? Especially when your unknown looks like the teasing of many days of prodromal labor.
I prepared and invested into my body and mind in the weeks and months before those days came. Meditation, yoga, walking, journaling, birth art, listening to birth stories, envisioning my baby coming, writing out what I wanted, reading, nature, baking (who knew I could bake?!) talking to my baby. On some Sunday's, Ryan and I would read birth stories or talk about the pending birth and meditate together. We briefly discussed the possibility of a hospital transfer, but we never talked about a c-section or what that would look like. I didn't ever really let myself go there. The thought or fear would arise and I would replace it with an affirmation or visualization. I didn't ever let myself dive into the fear or into the possibility of that being our journey together.
There was one time that I looked at my pregnant belly in the mirror and held that area and I heard intuitively, "you're going to have a scar here." It was a quick thought, I didn't stew on it, I didn't play it over and over. It was just something that came and went and that I thought of occasionally after that. But I decided that fear of a story I did not want was not an option, I was choosing to trust my body and believe in its ability to birth my baby. That decision was both good and beautiful and also a disservice to myself. Instead of leaning into that possibly intuitive moment, I skirted away from it. Instead of diving into the possibility of a cesarean and making room for that in my mind, instead of making a mental note of the things that are important to me if that happened, instead of choosing to focus on my strength and courage if I did have a cesarean, I ignored it. Which completely catapulted me from my birth plan and vision and left with me with heavy grief to deal with. I will say that one of the biggest things that comes from any type of trauma, loss, or grief is the list of "what if's." The "what if's" can really mess with your head if you let it. The "what if's" used to come at me very often in those first few months of healing and could really drive me crazy if I let it. Now, outside of the depths, I see that there are no answers for the "what if's," there is only "what is," and here in the what is I can find my healing and move forward.
WORRY IS THE WORK OF PREGNANCY
"Worry is the work of pregnancy" is a quote I read in Birthing From Within by Pam England. That quote resonated with me and has stayed with me even today. As I reflect now, I realize just how much I had gone through before and during your pregnancy, how much I had to process, how much I had to let go of. Pregnancy is the most wild journey of release, of reconciling who we are and who we are becoming, our upbringing, our own mother relationship, and for me the added layer of becoming a midwife and even unlearning parts of who I was through my midwifery journey. It felt like a blessing to have so much wisdom and so much experience walking with others through their own journeys. But it equally felt heavy to know so much information and to be a heavy handed researcher, sometimes making myself my own case study. *If you're a midwife or a student midwife, I do not recommend this.*
We had come through so many highs and lows of pregnancy. I had some spotting in my early first trimester and had so much fear of losing you. I tested myself-because midwife & research brain- and discovered I had low progesterone and really had to walk through what I wanted to do with that information...to supplement or not to supplement. I was coming out of a lot of really painful experiences of losing loved ones throughout the prior year. Friends, friends babies, friends husbands and client babies were passing away all around me. My mind was a spinning mess, my heart so incredibly heavy and burdened. The fears that may arise every now and again before were smack in my face and manifesting all at once in the lives of those I cared for. I was extremely sick until about 18 weeks and at one point I even told your dad, we are not doing this again. haha. In those early moments of spotting and cramping, Lindsey encouraged me to find a moment of stillness and to connect with you. That day I laid on my couch and asked..."are you here? are you ectopic? are you staying?" An overwhelming peace came over me and I suddenly felt released from fear and connected to you. Instead of choosing fear, I moved toward trusting the fate of my journey, I leaned in. In the moments that I could lean into peace, my sickness would subside. When I started spinning again, i'd start to get really sick. Around 12-13 weeks pregnant, I had an acupuncturist come to the house and she told me that my spleen was exhausted and overworked. She explained that the spleen is the seat of worry. I knew what that meant in my life and I knew I had work ahead of me to let go of other peoples stories, to let go of the heavy worry that weighed on my heart.
Over the course of my pregnancy, I had several dreams of you coming early, around 32 weeks. One dream was so clear and vivid. I was 32 weeks pregnant and gave birth to the most beautiful baby girl, on the toilet. She came fast and furious and needed space and time to breathe. I was strong and intuitive and told everyone to give her a minute to acclimate, that she would be just fine. And acclimate she did, she was so resilient and strong...the dream felt so incredibly real. Real enough that I was mentally preparing myself that you may come early. When Auntie Lindsey palpated my belly at 34 weeks and we discovered that you were breech, I had a whole new layer of release and trust. "What if my baby comes early and breech?" Sadly, licensed midwives are no longer able to attend planned breech births. For me, it wasn't a matter of would I birth my breech baby at home, it was who would attend and would I do it alone? With little effort and lots of meditation and love, you turned head down again, and another concern was behind me. No preterm birth, no breech, no change of plans.
As my guess date came and went, I leaned into rest and enjoyed the days before you came. I loved carrying you in my body, I loved my pregnant belly and I knew that our world was about to be rocked. So I chose to absorb as much alone time and free time as I possibly could. I read through three Harry Potter books, took lots of baths and spent many hours and days at the beach, connecting with the ebb and flow of the waves and grounding myself to the earth. We spent evenings in the garden watering and chatting, washing diapers, folding clothes, making space in our hearts and our home for this new person. We would talk about who you might be, what you might look like, which features would you get from each of us? It was wonderful and simple and so incredibly full of magic, presence, and love.
STRENGTH IN VULNERABILITY
When I hit 41 weeks, I started to process out the emotions of waiting, leaning on my journal for support. I hadn't imagined I would get that far into pregnancy, remember all those early birth dreams! The ups and downs of waiting during that week were so much work. It requires a lot of spiritual, mental and emotional presence to stay positive, trusting, open, ready to surrender at any and all moments. And yet, I still trusted the work that this journey was doing in and through me. I knew that surrender and trust were key elements in birth and I trusted that there was work still to be done in my heart in the waiting. At this point I also understood, on a whole new level, why many of our mama's who went "post dates" lost their minds in the waiting....it is NO JOKE! Swollen, heavy, hot as hell as the spring began to turn into summer. Every single family member, friend, client, and stranger texting and messaging me, asking about labor, asking if baby was here yet, asking when you would come. "Your guess is as good as mine!" Became a frequent response I used, because seriously. I have so much empathy for tired, swollen, heavy and heavily interrogated pregnant women. I started to just leave my phone at home when I had Ryan with me, I wasn't on call anymore, for the first time in 8 years. Instead I was on call to my own heart and transformation and that required shutting the world out.
Each day I worked on surrender. Ryan encouraged me that it was ok to not always feel zen and positive about the waiting game and the unknown, which brought me relief to know that it was ok if I didn't always feel peace and that I didn't always have to keep my shit together or appear to be so strong. I found comfort from the friends who had been here before me, who wrote me and told me I was beautiful and doing a good job. Who wrote me and told me that it was ok to cry that my baby wasn't here yet and that it was ok to sit on the couch for a day of rom com's and ice cream if I needed it. In those days I was feeling alone and watched all at once and texted my midwives. To which I received:
"I see the deep sea you are swimming through, you are not alone, you are so safe."
For the first time, after reading those words, I was finally able to cry, to really lean in and release. I needed to hear those words, I needed to be seen and given permission to not be so strong all of the time. I needed to be carried and know that I was supported. It felt so good to cry, it was good to feel the depths, it was necessary to allow myself the space to be vulnerable, just as I gave permission to so many other women over the years, it was my turn. Its interesting to read through my journal entry from that day and to see that the same struggle I had in that moment is the one i've been dealing with postpartum. The need to be so strong all of the time, the picture of composure and wellness. I am a woman, am I not? Just because i'm a becoming a midwife does not make me exempt from this work or require me to be untouchable. Midwife means WITH woman. The very definition of the name requires that I too enter those depths. That I learn the lessons of motherhood, of the divine pregnancy. It requires that I know these things not only for myself, but also for my baby. It requires that I know these things so that I can really be "with woman." When we are in the depths of the pregnancy journey, we don't only need an ear, we need someone who can know with us in the truest sense of knowing. I learned this at 41 weeks, I learned it deeper at 42 weeks, and I am here learning it all even more deeply in my postpartum processing and in my journey of motherhood.
I spent a lot of time envisioning my birth. I asked several of my friends & clients, who had my ideal birth, what they thought it took to have a quick and wonderful birth. I sent out my dreams to the universe...6-8 hours long, in the wee hours into sunrise where I would birth my baby into my hands with my husband behind me in the tub. I would bring that baby to my chest, we would stare at you in awe and laugh and cry as we examined that sweet new face, we would finally discover who this person was and be overjoyed at whomever we met, and then we would all have breakfast together on our oxytocin high. I could taste it, I could see it...I can still taste and see it. I had been there for those moments for so many other mama's, and I so looked forward to that for myself and for Ryan and I together. It was my dream scenario.
THE LABOR DANCE
And so...the journey began...
On May 4th, at 41 weeks and 1 day, I had started having strong, consistent waves that lasted for several hours. I laid in bed, breathing through each one that came, so excited! And so hopeful that it was finally (maybe) happening! But I also knew that I was a first time mama, and that first time mama's need to SLEEP! So I put my meditation YouTube's on (haha- there was a lot of that throughout pregnancy to help with the insomnia) forcing myself to sleep in between the waves. I had hope that I would eventually have to get out of bed because they were too strong and hoped this would be the day my baby came just as I had so clearly visualized...in the wee hours, sunrise birth, breakfast.
Saturday May 5th, I awoke disappointed. No labor. No baby in my arms. Dang. I talked myself through the disappointment... "ok, its ok, time to enjoy another day in the waiting." I went to see Dr. Brittany Cicon, my dear friend and chiropractor, to get adjusted and see if that would kick labor into gear. She greeted me with great joy and brought me a baby she had just adjusted, to snuggle and bring comfort to my aching heart. The baby was born on my guess date, and I sat there snuggling that sweet love, tears coming as I held them. Those poor new parents probably thought I was insane, haha. But I just wanted to have my baby, I wanted to get to the other side of waiting. I hadn't really cried up to that point and was doing the best I could to be patient, but the levy broke with that sweet babe in my arms. I cried on Brittanys table and let her see me vulnerable and soaked up her words of encouragement, as I always do. She is one of the wise ones.
Being in the in between was one of the most challenging things i've ever experienced. The German word for that time is called zwischen, which means between. I read this article The Last Days of Pregnancy: A Place of in Between many times over the course of that week (ironically, the author of this article happened to be one of my teachers, my last semester of my midwifery student journey). It brought me great comfort to read all of the things I was feeling so presently and to know that many of us get to this place in our pregnancy. So swollen, so round, so heavy, so ready, and SO weepy. The evening of that first labor tease, I sobbed with Ryan and shared with him my disappointment. We talked it out, had a beautiful night together and went to bed ready for whatever may come. I was hoping that if labor wasn't going to come, that I would at least meet my baby in my dreams again. But I was no longer having any dreams about you. Those early preterm dreams had gone and brought no new revelations. Instead, I received countless texts and messages from other women who dreamt about my birth! Literally, once a day someone new would tell me that they dreamt of my birth, some that I never usually talk to were dreaming about our journey. It was an incredibly beautiful collective energy of women surrounding and supporting me, with me. My very favorite kind of powerful energy.
On the evening of Monday, May 7th, I lost my mucus plug. I was SO relieved and so excited. Finally a sign of change! I texted Lindsey "I'm a real woman!!" haha. I went to bed with contractions again, but fell asleep and awoke at 2:37am and they were gone. I got out of bed and this time I was unable to fall asleep and mentally spinning! I was 41 weeks and 4 days and struggling to trust, ruminating on the nearness of a midwifery regulation. I went into the living room to journal my feelings away. "I NEVER IMAGINED THIS WOULD HAPPEN! I NEVER DREAMED OF THIS" are some of the words I wrote. It's interesting to read those words from that time, because they are the same ones i've repeated to Ryan multiple times in my postpartum healing. I was so torn. I had been listening to the Freebirth podcast from the time that we decided to conceive this baby and was beginning to shift my whole perspective of midwifery and unassisted birth. One side of me completely and wholly trusted my body and my baby to come in the time that it was meant to. I trusted that 42 weeks was perfectly safe to reach, a variation of normal, one that we just have lost in our society because of the choice to control birth outcomes. There were so many stories of women who had gone far past that gestation in the Freebirth Society. I was learning so much and It was blowing my mind that women were going up to 44+ weeks and having perfectly healthy and normal physiologic, unassisted births at home. It was challenging everything I knew about midwifery regulations on gestation. Yet, I also knew that in our practice we rarely saw mama's go to 42 weeks. The baby's always came in the days before we hit the 42 week mark, and the stress surrounding that regulation line was not very present. It has been a gift that the babies in our practice so often came without any manipulation or induction measures, we trusted that they would come and come they did. So I grappled with the thought of "why would my baby be any different?" But also, "but why is my baby no there?"
Yet I thought about that 42 week line and what it meant for me. I was clear on the fact that if I hit that mark, I would still want to move forward with a homebirth, because I believed it was still a safe option for me, and because transferring care to an OB and hospital birth was not something I wanted. I was not afraid of declining transfer, but I was worried about what that would mean for my birth team. I did not want to be alone in the process, I wanted my friends there with us. But I also knew the place that it would put them with their license regulations. I talked with Lindsey and told her that I was coming to peace with having an unassisted birth (just as I had when we were presenting breech) and I wanted her support in the way that she could offer, but that I also understood the predicament that it would put her in. She simply continued to encourage me into trust and presence and reassured me that my baby would come before then.
That dark night of the soul, as I journaled out my spiraling thoughts, I questioned whether my baby was engaged and correctly presenting. I questioned my pelvis. I reviewed myself as a client, all in midwife thinking and not as a surrendered mama. I had surrendered so many times and was struggling to do so again in that moment. I wrote about my fear of a c-section for the first time. Questioning what I would do if that happened. I challenged the fear. Was it fear from my Grandmothers womb? Her first baby, my mother, was a c-section from a breech and unengaged baby. She was alone, and afraid and completely unknowing of her body and of birth. I connected back to my body and asked you if you wanted to come. I reasoned that I could feel you moving and wiggling, working to find the right position. I could feel that you wanted to be here, but then was unsure what that meant for our labor and birth. Going in and out of connection with you, wondering if a baby was really going to come, was I really about to be a mother?! I thought about a few of my friends who had reached this point of gestation. They each had been told that their babies would not come spontaneously and that their bodies would not birth, all induced at the hospital, all c-section deliveries. I was edging towards the 42 week mark, but I wasn't as close as it seemed in the moment. Maybe it was intuition. Maybe it was just the work of pregnancy. Regardless, it was one of the most intense moments of my life up until that point.
After processing all of my racing thoughts, I picked myself up off of the floor and out of the chaos of my mind and I changed my dialogue. I wrote about the trust I had in my body and the dream I had of a homebirth, surrounded by my people, my baby coming out of my vagina.
Lindsey came over that morning and let me pour out my heart. She laid with me as I wept and told her my thoughts and fears and my struggle to surrender to the unknown. She put essential oils all over me and rubbed my painfully swollen feet and let me be the most vulnerable non composed mama I could be. And then, when I was done weeping, she made me laugh and rubbed my belly and talked and listened to my baby and told me that she was still here by my side. Sigh. Ok. I am not alone. I will not be alone through this.
That evening, Ryan and I spent our time out in the garden, watering our plants and being fully present together. I was grounded yet again as I observed our garden and thought of the time that it takes to invest in its growth from seed to harvest. The work that must go into it, the patience, the trust, the nurturing and tending. I was fully immersed in the knowing that this process of growing a baby and waiting, just like my garden, was going to teach me of trust, of surrender, of what it looks like to truly release into the unknown.
"Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace"
In the late evening of May 7th, peaceful and all sobbed out, I went to bed with contractions, yet again. "Ok, here we go, here comes my baby," I thought. Sweetly surrendered..."come sweet baby, we are so ready and excited to meet you."