It’s about 48 hours after birth that I am fortunate to sit here with my sweet babe and reflect on the last days of pregnancy and her birth. Different lessons come in at different stages of reflection but I always prefer to get the story out, fairly fresh, before the sensations leave my body and my mind.
So much of this pregnancy experience was beautiful; I captured much of it for myself in journals and daydreams and even podcasts I recorded! The short version is, I was sure this baby was a boy and because I had never been wrong for any of my other 9, I didn’t doubt myself. In the end, I think what I was feeling from this baby (that I do believe is “correct”) is that there was and is a kinship with the baby boy we lost; Sable Sage. There are more detailed thoughts and experiences around this relationship between these two souls that I am keeping to myself for now; but I never doubted their connection and somehow that equated to both of them being boys in this life! Not the case, obviously and not only does that not matter but it does not change too much of my perspective on these crafty karmic relationships our own children have with each other. In reading Sable’s pregnancy journal, I read that his name was perhaps going to be Cove River. Just weeks later, he told me differently and then also left his body.
When I saw Cove’s name in his journal, I knew it was this baby. Boy or girl really didn’t matter. Then, weeks later, before I knew I was pregnant with Cove, I tattooed my hand with the word “love”; funny, the “l” ended up looking very much like a “c” and days later I realized this babe was growing within! This baby was all blue and green and nature and water to me. “River” was a prominent part of this soul’s identity and continues to be (she was born during a rare rain in the desert here in February). For being over 40 years old, my pregnancy was easy physically (not that I believe any of that age nonsense!) but it was hard work keeping up with all of the kids and feeling healthy and nourished. I was definitely feeling “done” sometimes weeks before but definitely in the days prior to birth.
The days leading up to this birth process were hard. We had constant sickness in the house; several variations on a cold and even a stomach virus. These things, along with the unknown of the anticipated birth was giving me serious anxiety. I did not feel emotionally or physically ready for this baby to come and so she did not. I passed the earliest dates I had and moved on through the latest. Margo arrived and soon I worried she’d have to leave before this baby arrived! I knew she would be my latest and it was new territory even though it made sense and I had also asked for it! As many grand multips (women who have birthed many babies) experience, I had several days of sporadic, on and off contractions at random times. There was even some mucous to get me excited even though it didn’t feel like too much was happening. I knew eventually it would turn into labor but didn’t know when or how.
I was lucky enough to get mostly good sleep in the nights prior, and when I woke up at 1 am on February 3, I thought today might be the day. A beautiful, stormy and rainy day in the desert. A Sunday. At first I wasn’t sure what had woken me, but realized I was noticing very sporadic tightenings. I was glad I could go back to sleep, and did until 4 am when I woke up again to tightenings and also needing breakfast! I made myself some oatmeal really quietly (not wanting to wake up any kids yet) and hung around the house, using the bathroom more frequently but still wondering where this would go or not. I was prepared for it to stop or continue. I’ve seen it go all ways and was truly prepared to wait days or a week if need be.
In the next couple of hours, I found that laying down resting on my side was the most comfortable because I was really able to almost sleep. This seemed odd! I have never had a labor where laying down was nice or relaxing but somehow it was. I listened to Trevor Hall’s album “Kala” as I drifted off between tightenings that felt good! SOOOO tight and squeezing me and baby but I could feel them open me up and her wiggle into place; pleasurable. I realized half an hour was going by at some points without any tightenings…which seemed strange for “labor” and maybe not labor-like at all, and I doubted maybe even being in this process. However, the tightenings were easily lasting 90 seconds to 2 minutes which I knew made this more “serious” than not. I checked up inside my own body (something I have not done in my own labor for a decade!) with my fingers (barely reaching around my huge belly!) and felt a bulging amniotic sac. Huh, interesting!! I texted Margo (sleeping downstairs) around 6: 30 am that things had started and went back to resting. I didn’t even have another tightening until after 7 am!
Margo came up around 7:30 am and I gave the report. They were STRONG but super sporadic and far apart! I had also had some bloody mucous and was generally calm and relaxed which also seemed like it didn’t “fit” the picture of birth happening soon. I didn’t feel much different than I had yesterday. But my midwife brain knew it was possible; these tightenings were changing my body and I knew deep down it wouldn’t be long even though it wasn’t feeling all that hard. I kept on keeping on of not being bothered and enjoying this process. It almost felt like I had a secret because I did not say much to either Jason or Margo at all. I was enjoying this being my own private little project and was also in disbelief I think that I would be birthing soon. As a result, there are about 2 photos of the birth process before it was birth time!
(Side note and disclaimer: What I am about to say is my own experience and not a comment or judgement on myself in any other birth; or of any woman, in her own experience! I can only speak for myself and I know that birth isn’t something we fully control (although I think we do have more control than we think over our thoughts and intentions!) So…..Yes, this was my 9th live birth and 10th birth altogether. I have experienced a lot and learned a lot and each birth has been a stepping stone for me in so many ways. Mostly each time I have sought to understand myself more fully, and the process more fully. This pregnancy I had begin to question more of what I believed about the birth process; specifically how we interpret the sensations, about pain vs. pleasure, about WHY birth would be painful (or not!) and in general about my own remaining fears that might cause what I would call “pain”. I had decided to NOT ACCEPT that it needed to be painful, or even “intense” or whatever I had called it in the past. I decided that I could choose that birth was simply the sensations of a baby in my body coming out; and I could accept those sensations as normal and desirable. I did experience pleasure during this process; I imagined each tightening as spreading pleasure and joy throughout my body and also for my baby. Many times in this labor, I repeated outloud the mantra “it’s just pressure”; and saw the pressure for what it was; no more, no less. A mysterious force to bring my baby here, through my own power. I told my brain and my body that there would be no spiraling away during this birth (in the way that it has felt less positive to me personally, in my other births) and that I would not need anything that could not be found within myself. In fact, I had everything I needed and I could feel that. This is the first birth I did not look to anyone or anything to make it better, to distract myself or to be anywhere but IN My body experiencing this awesome process. I had done a lot of “work” (thinking, reading, reflecting, studying; even Danielle LaPorte had an influence as I considered “what I wanted to feel”) around the concept of birth as pleasure (not new! but something I had never taken seriously!)) and also the concept of birth as being inherently painful. I was influenced by the ideas of what we believe as most powerful, and questioned how many of my other birth experiences were the way they were because I had believed it needed to happen that way. What if I believed something else this time? What if I could truly believe that birth is meant to be powerful but not painful? What if I didn’t believe that any “suffering” was necessary to be powerful? What if I could choose a “painless” birth? (And “painless” doesn’t seem accurate as that uses pain as a reference point when it does not need to be at all!) I had to think through what that even meant; in choosing no pain, is there less transformation? Instead of “no pain” what was I choosing instead? Was there a reason I felt I needed intensity and breaking myself open in birth? Is it because I DO believe that birth is also a spiritual “walking across coals”? Needless to say, I thought about this all a lot prior to birth. I also have been humbled, regularly, by the women I serve and their own variations on these ideas which have allowed me the immense privilege of either witnessing easy, quick, painless births or even just being privy to them (because I missed it, or was never supposed to be present). More and more women seem to come my way that want this for themselves and have also done the work, and so I hold so much gratitude for them allowing me to have been influenced by their own deep processes. I am always considering the new paradigm of birth and how I can take this further in my own life and practice and surely all of this is part of my own evolution, as well as the collective!)
I also thought a lot about my own fears; specifically my own dislike/avoidance of the place in labor when “things fall apart”. What was I actually scared of? I knew I would not die….so, what? I realized it was just the decision to accept that I “Had” to be destroyed in this way, for one. And also that regardless the baby would come through me and it was my choice in how I wanted to experience it. I decided before birth that I was in control of my attitude. But simply to let the sensations pass through, with the ease that surrender brings.)
With that all in mind and in my heart, I labored alone in my room that morning. I have not had a birth during the daylight hours personally, and having the kids up and really present was too much. This baby and I needed to be alone, and when we were, things were peaceful, calm and beautiful. My only objective was to be and stay present. I went out to the kitchen a couple times to get food or whatever, and immediately would retreat back into our safe space. Truly private, safe and unobserved. It was the most intimate and self-contained of my births, for sure.
Around 9:30 am, I ran a bath in the bathroom in the other part of the house and stayed in briefly. I was on hands and knees when I felt a slight pop, and saw a brownish fluid dripping into the water. I recognized it as (old) meconium (which can be super normal and not a sign of distress as meconium has the reputation of being!), and got out of the water, waddling into my room and dripping fluid the whole way. I continued to drip fluid around so I set up a bunch of blue pads on the floor. My midwife brain knew birth would happen soon now, and I did a momentary check in with Margo about the meconium and also took a quick listen to my baby with the fetoscope and felt reassured. A variation of normal I have never personally experienced!
Within minutes of that whole thing, my waters truly opened on the toilet and of course, more fluid. I didn’t feel impatient necessarily (and didn’t feel physically super close to birth even though I knew both instinctively and intellectually it was close) but yet spoke to my baby about coming out soon. I’m ready baby when you are! Let’s do this.
In the next 45 minutes, I suppose the tightenings did get stronger and closer but I was no longer paying attention to time. I left my room one last time to grab a date for a snack. About 15 minutes before she was born, I stood in front of the bathroom mirror in my room and just started chanting “we are so blessed”. The tightnenings ramped up and I stood there in front of the mirror, watching my huge tight belly, saying “we are so blessed”. I was in this magical bliss state where I was IN it; I Knew birth was imminent but yet couldn’t leave the room or even voice it to anyone. I was breathing harder and faster and knew this baby was in a perfect very low and anterior position, literally right there, waiting to come out. I had felt my bones open up inside without any conscious effort. I didn’t feel any pushing sensation though, and told myself just to wait and see what my body needed. I was in a trance of the best kind.
About 5 minutes before birth, I was brushing my teeth and had just texted my sister, saying I think I was about to push and also that I thought this baby was a girl! She said she loved me and I put the phone down. I walked into my bedroom from the bathroom and gave the SLIGHTEST bearing down pressure with my breath.
That was it!
It was as if a flame had been lit or a rocket had been launched! It was the signal to my body and baby that it was time. The breath initiated the fetal ejection reflex in the most powerful way I had ever experienced; my body was very strongly pushing her out and I got down on the floor to just let it happen. It was not calm and breathy like my last birth (Deva’s) and I don’t think I was smiling through it either; but just going with the tidal wave. Overwhelming yes; yet somehow I had where-with-all to throw down a towel over the blue pads; I thought that would be so much softer and prettier! I was kind of writhing around; I recall getting in a deep squat and then knowing I needed to lean back to birth her head. I remember thinking I wanted to call for my family, or maybe make it to the door to open it (not going to happen) but instead had to surrender. Instead of calling them, I talked outloud to myself. At first I said “I can’t do this”. I quickly replaced it with “I CAN do this but I don’t need to “do” anything. Relax, let it happen.” I told myself I did not need to add to the pushing, to just breathe and let it all go. I did just that and she literally came barging through my body with all the strength and power in the world in that one contraction.
Within seconds, I was holding her beautiful, slimy head outside my body. I opened my mouth and words barely came out; “You guys!! Come in here!” I think I tried to scream this 3 times before I heard my son Rune tell everyone I was yelling! Within seconds, people had entered the room ( I had no idea who) and I was still holding her head in my hands, completely and magically blissed out. For real! I said outloud something about being able to be patient and wait one more minute, even though I really had the urge to push the rest of the body out without a tightening. But, I waited, kind of arched my back with my one hand behind me and of course when the next one came she twisted out of me, perfectly and beautifully right onto the towel I had laid down in front of myself seconds before.
Slimy, covered in meconium stained fluid, with amniotic sac over her face, she was so beautiful. I enjoyed the longest “birth pause” that I ever have with my babes. I looked at her, stroked her, removed the cord from around her neck and the sac from her face, rubbed her back several times and slowly lifted her up and embraced her with all the kisses. The taste of amniotic fluid in my mouth was so welcome, I kissed her little face and lips and was genuinely in awe and bliss.
A few seconds in, my daughter Belgium reported “it’s a GIRL!” (although the baby was still laying belly down on the towel!) and sure enough when I peeked between her legs I realized she was correct. THAT was a moment of complete shock and happiness and just….again, bliss. WHAT had just happened, how? And a girl?! Even so, it was Cove River.
I don’t know how magic works, but her birth was as close to magic as I have experienced. It was truly everything I had imagined but even better; it wasn’t devoid of feeling but yet there was no pain, only a deep presence and awareness. It was as ecstatic an experience as I’ve ever had in birth and I’m so grateful to this sweet creature for leading me down the path to the birth she desired.
This story is so simple; immediately after birth I thought, there isn’t much to say! However, I know there is a deep message here that is not unique to me nor is just one that I can spread. (I also never thought I’d experience such a fast birth; in hindsight, I don’t even know how to classify her labor as far as time. Active labor? It barely happened. My perception of tightenings definitely happened over a few hours but was that “labor”? I am still questioning all of the labels and descriptions!)
It is our mainstream conditioning that would even have me second guess that her birth had profound teachings, as does every birth! Cove has shown me that birth is power of the rawest kind but it is also the gentlest teacher of our awesomeness if we let it be that.
We can create our experiences to the degree that we believe that we can (and to the degree we are supported, educated and in line with our baby’s own wishes!). It is possible. Birthing on your OWN terms is possible. Birthing in bliss is possible. Birthing without any pain is possible. Having a birth like this with a midwife that respects you and honors you IS possible.
I want everyone to watch Cove’s birth and know that what they desire is achievable and go for it!