As I soak in the last few weeks and adjust to our new reality, I’ve been trying to find a way to succinctly describe Indie’s birth while doing it all justice. So many words come to mind when I think about how it all went down- intense, raw, beautiful, empowering, funny, fast, extreme, harsh, animalistic, powerful, did I mention raw? But I keep coming back to one word. Surrender.
In order to fully understand how the word surrender came about, I’m going to take you back. Surrender is an accurate description of the past 10 months really. I feel guilty admitting this since I know so many yearn for it, but in an effort for complete transparency, I hate pregnancy. If you know me personally or have been around me while pregnant you know what I’m talking about. I get sick. Sick to the point that in the first 3 months I lost over 15 pounds. At my lowest, I was 95lbs, with Golden it was even lower. I prayed so hard this second time around that it wouldn’t happen. I tried to eat healthy and frequently to curb it but like clockwork, as soon as I hit that 6 week mark, it was game over. I began an intimate relationship with the porcelain God that lasted way too long and took too many sacrificial offerings. I’ve become a pro at vomiting and was always mapping out the nearest bathroom, rubbish can, or bush. Even 2 days before going into labor I lost my Korean bbq for no apparent reason. The universe/God/my children were trying to teach me patience and endurance.. not that I really had a choice, but I surrendered. (Not without a lot of tears and whining though!)
So as I inched closer and closer to my due date, I had prepared myself to experience another long, arduous labor like my first. After all, the pregnancies were pretty identical, right?! Half of my prenatal care was done in Italy, which meant only one option- the local Italian hospital. They use mostly midwives, but in classic hospital fashion, still have doctors that attend and oversee births. My care was as normal as could be for a non native who didn’t speak the language, the staff was nice, and I never had an issue. My favorite part was living within a mile or 2 of the hospital so I would walk to and from the appointments, enjoy the fresh air, beautiful architecture, and bustling street life. By the second half of my pregnancy we had moved here, to San Antonio Texas. The options and choices for OB care were endless. It was a bit overwhelming to be honest. So many hospitals, so many midwives, so many birth centers. But before we even got on the plane back to the states, I knew who I wanted- Nikki McIver-Brown. I chose Nikki, a certified nurse midwife who attends home births. I love her, love her office where I went for all my prenatal appointments, loved everything about my experience leading up to birth. If you have read Golden’s birth story then you know how I feel about doulas (I love them so much so that I actually took a class and became one while we were in Italy. Surprise!). Again the options were endless and luckily Nikki gave me a few recommendations. I spoke with a few and found Desiree. And of course the photography! I found a local photographer I had been following on Instagram for awhile who’s name also happens to be Vanessa. So I had my dream team lined up, and tried to get in the right head space. Although my body took a bit of time getting there as well. My last trimester was riddled with disease: a nasty staph infection, a couple of colds, and an ear infection to be specific. Again I admitted defeat and surrendered. And with the help of a few urgent care trips and tons of antibiotics later, my body was FINALLY prepared.
On March 10th (my due date) I had been having very minor cramping on and off after a family walk. My mom had come into town since she only lives 3 hours away and had the week off of work. She made a hearty chicken and rice soup for dinner and we stayed up too late talking (AGAIN. The night before went to bed at FOUR am.) I finally settled into bed a little after midnight. I awoke maybe only minutes after falling asleep to a tiny, baby contraction. I kept tossing and turning due to the mild discomfort. But I tried to ignore it. By 1:30am I couldn’t sleep. In an effort to slow everything down so I could get some rest, I quietly tiptoed into the bathroom, ate a banana, and drew a warm bath (Josiah had a big test that morning that he REALLY needed to pass. So I tried to be as quiet as possible). By 2am I started to feel antsy. The contractions were most definitely NOT slowing down. I texted a friend who’s labor was imminent as well, letting her know I might just beat her to the punch. Then in my restless, anxious state, I texted my midwife Nikki at exactly 2:07 saying “Been having consistent contractions since 12. They’re not too long, but close together.. maybe every 2-3 min. Been in the tub to try to get sleep for over 30 min and it definitely hasn’t slowed down. Just wanted to update you! Trying to hold off until around 5am at the soonest to call everyone in.” I even typed out “I think I’m gonna try to go for a walk around the neighborhood at 5:30/6am to get things moving.” But quickly erased that after realizing I couldn’t even finish the text before I had to stop and focus on the next contraction. HAHA. I was in denial and still preparing myself for a long labor (in my mind I was hoping for a short 8-9 hours). Within just a few minutes of sending Nikki the text I couldn’t stay silent any longer. I began letting out low, slow “ohms”/groans. Josiah woke up and busted through the door all confused and groggy, “are you okay? What’s happening? What can I do?”
Me: “um.. it’s fine.. OHMMMMMMMMM.. uh… um I think I need to get out of the tub.. get me a towel.”
Joe: “should I call Nikki?!?”
Me: “OMMMMM.. uh.. just get me the towel!! I already.. OMMMMMMMMMMMMMM… texted her. Told her not to come till 5..
But maybe go wake my mom up and we should start cleaning/setting stuff up”.
Needless to say, not even a full 20 min later I was on my hands and knees on the floor and every sound coming out of me became deeper and louder than before. At this point, Joe calmly told me my mucus plug came out (just minutes after getting out of the tub and putting underwear on… of course). After scrapping my undies, I was crawling around and panting trying to tell Josiah what to do between contractions. In my head I was like “DAMN I NEED TO DO MY EYEBROWS. And make sure the bathroom counter and mirror get wiped down Josiah! F*** dude I forgot to shave my legs while i was in the bath. Did we eat all the bacon yesterday?? Josiah’s wearing those god awful Ed hardy looking board shorts.. he better change before our photographer gets here. BAHHH.” But really what was coming out of my mouth was more like this- “AAHHOOOMMMMM… okay. *panting* get.. the.. pool. *panting* blow it up. But..*panting* put the tarp down first……AAAHHHOOOOOOOOOOMMMM… *panting* okay.. ya actually call Nikki. Tell her to come”. Josiah called Desiree and then Nikki at 2:31am. Luckily my birth team is so well connected they had already called Vanessa by the time he got around to it. Only minutes after that I was crawling between the the bathroom and bedroom when my water broke (thankfully on the bathroom side portion). Nikki arrived by 3 and I think Desiree was already there by the time I even consciously knew anyone was actually in the house. I was trying to focus on my breath but waves of contractions were coming in strong and crashing hard against me. I pictured a choppy, churning ocean whose current was getting stronger and the waves colliding intensely into a rocky sea coast. If I could just ride the waves a little longer. I was gripping the carpet so hard I thought I might rip some up by the end of it. I remember telling Josiah at one point, “HOLY SHIT THIS IS SO INTENSE.” A lot of it was a blur. With Golden I remembered things a bit more distinctly and I felt a little more, I don’t know, in control? But this time was different. My body seemed to be taking over and every thought went out the window so my mind was only focused on getting through each second. I could hardly talk, even in between contractions, and unlike like last time, I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone or barely look up from the floor (which gave me a great view of the tiny poop pellets that I was leaving behind.. yep, just being honest here and staying humble!). I remember asking Nikki what I was dilated to. She responded, “you’re so close Vanessa. Almost there. You got this. Try to feel the baby’s head” It suddenly dawned on me that she didn’t give me a number, nor had she even touched me besides taking my blood pressure at one point and checking baby’s heart rate. But I trusted her and realized I actually didn’t really want her fingers all up in me at that moment anyways. And then I decided to use my own fingers to feel the baby’s head. And sure enough I felt it. I was getting so close. Around that time a long and insane contraction ripped through me and I literally felt baby shift and move down. It was BIZARRE but incredibly empowering. Even my doula Desiree felt it as she was giving me counter-pressure.
Between another intense contraction I asked if I could get in the pool. I couldn’t hold back the urge to push any longer and I almost felt frantic. They told me “almost” I heard muttering about possibly just filling up my bathtub since the pool was taking too long to adjust the temperature and fill up and they didn’t think I could make it. Nikki asked if I could go pee. I sat on the toilet and let another contraction or 2 crash through me. I could not pee. The urge to push deep however could not be avoided any longer. I surrendered and let out some animalistic sounds I didn’t know I was capable of and worried everyone in the room that I was about to give birth on the toilet. It was then I decided no pee was coming out but a baby was about to and my toilet was not clean enough for that. So up I got when I was hit with another powerful surge. I remember that one distinctly. And luckily Vanessa captured it on camera. I remember thinking I was going to rip the door frame off I was gripping so hard. It wasn’t feeling quite like intense waves in the ocean anymore.. it was starting to feel like a full blown category 5 hurricane.. no one rides those waves unless you want to die. But I let go and let my body do the work. I surrendered yet again. And then it was pool time!
I had a very welcome break in between contractions as my body prepared for the crowning moment (yep I got birth puns ;). In the stillness I realized music was softly playing in the background (Joe had put on an old playlist I made for Golden’s birth) we laughed as the Enya song came to a close. Then a beautiful instrumental version of Amazing Grace began playing. My mom teared up as she held my hand and told me this was one of my grandmother Suzette’s favorite songs. I felt chills since this grandma, who was on my dad’s side, had passed away when I was a teenager. It was such a serene moment. Josiah took this time to get in with me to give me support from behind since my legs were cramping up and a few contractions later I looked down and there was baby’s head.. RIGHT THERE, not going back up into my body but just.. sitting there. It stung but I was so happy to see it. Nikki grabbed a mirror for Josiah to see. I tried to breath short breaths and remember uttering, “it burns. Wow it burns so much” but I didn’t want to tear so I tried to calmly wait for another contraction to push. Then it came with full force. I mustered my strength and listened to everyone cheer me on as I roared that baby out. I felt like a badass lioness in that moment. When I finally caught my breath and looked down, Nikki told me to reach down and pull my baby up. I saw baby’s shoulders and head just chilling there as I reached and lifted her up out of the water. I was in awe of what was happening and what I was doing. I just birthed my baby and caught her with MY own hands. Totally supported by the most loving and positive team I could ask for. That moment will always and forever be seared into my memory and heart.
Nikki immediately helped me untangle baby’s cord and rubbed her head to get the lungs and reflexes going. Not even seconds later baby let out a few waterlogged squeals and quickly started crying that cute newborn cry. I finally could see “its” genitals and at the same time my mom excitedly cried out “IT’S A GIRL!! Oh my goodness IT’S A GIRL!!!!” I burst into tears of shock and excitement while Josiah laughed in surprise and glee. We had thought “she” was a “he” almost the entire time. Needless to say I think I’m forever sold on surprise gender at birth!
The next few hours were full of laughter, good food, bonding time, and of course, the placenta. My birth squad came in clutch with a fantastic breakfast that I munched on while enjoying the relative ease of 3rd stage labor. Josiah and I had a few quiet moments for ourselves but most of the time was spent chatting with everyone and feeling like I was just hanging out with some great girlfriends. After birthing my placenta, Vanessa and Nikki had fun arranging some pics of it on my belly next to my “9 months” tattoo (in case you didn’t catch it, it’s temporary.. no need to get your panties in a twist!) We even got my mom to grab a marker and cross out the “9 months” and write “born” underneath. Josiah helped weigh and cut Indie’s cord before he had to promptly leave to take a microbiology test (yes, in his PT uniform.. it’s weird, I know. Their rule, not ours. And yes, the army doesn’t mess around, that micro test was important!!). With only a few hours of sleep that night, he ended up making his highest score up to that point in the class.
By 7am everyone had cleared out and my mom, Indie, and I got some alone time before I went back to sleep. We processed the past four hours together and were both in awe of what had just happened. I could not stop beaming as I realized my entire labor from start to finish was hardly FOUR hours long. Four people. This coming from the lady who’s first baby took FOURTY SEVEN hours to get here. We both cried as my mom told me how happy she was that I had such an excellent, supportive, and FUN birth team. She began telling me about a memory from when she birthed me. At the tender age of BARELY 18, my mom was rocking her natural (not by choice, I came relatively fast!) labor and began making low moans to cope when a young, ignorant, and highly insensitive male doctor in residency began to sharply ask her “why are you making those noises? It’s not going to make the pain go away.” My mom immediately felt shame and embarrassment. Luckily she had her supportive mother by her side and the sweetest nurse from South Africa who kept making positive comments like, “wow! You are doing this naturally! You are SO STRONG! WOW! Do you all see this wonderful woman!” However, that didn’t take the sting away of the resident’s comment. Clearly that has stuck with my mom all these years. I cried (angry and deeply sad tears) as she told me this and she cried tears of joy and expressed she was SO glad I had such positive, supportive women around me to cheer me on and let me birth how I needed to. You guys. THIS. This is what it is about. I know home birth is not for everyone. I know an unmedicated birth is not for everyone. I do not ever want to come across that I am shoving “natural” down your throat as if it is the ONLY RIGHT way to birth a baby. But what I wish I could shove down everyones’ throats is the reminder that you should feel COMPLETELY supported by those around you while you go through such a life altering event. Labor and birth IS hard. There is physical pain involved, no doubt. But there should not be emotional pain. EVER. This moment should be one of the most joyous, epic, and empowering events you will experience in life. Take charge of the divine goddess you are, find your inner lioness, surround yourself with those you trust fully, and surrender to the process. You deserve that and you can do it!
P.S. Joe did in fact change his shorts (without me saying a word!) and no, we did not coordinate the pink hair and pink swim trunks for baby girl. Like I said, we thought it was a boy… maybe subconsciously we both knew we were wrong 😉