Monday, June 22, 2015

The Birth of Reba Jane

This story really begins back in 2007.

I was 21, I had 2 kids, my oldest wasn’t yet 3, and I was staring at that double pink line on the positive pregnancy test.  I was in shock.  I was scared.  I was overwhelmed.  I didn’t think I could handle another baby when I already had 2 to take care of.  After a long and faithful discussion with my husband, Jake, we decided that 3 was the perfect number of children, and in June of 2007, Jake had a vasectomy, effectively stopping our family at 5 people.  It was perfect.  It fit well and we were completely in love and in control of our little family.

4 years later, I had a dream.  Do all life decisions start with a dream? In my dream, I was folding laundry.  I know, life changing.  Bear with me.  I’m sitting on my couch folding laundry, and on the floor in a baby bouncer, is a little baby.  My dream self things “huh, somebody’s baby.”  Then the baby starts to fuss, and I keep folding laundry, waiting for this baby’s family to come and start taking care of it.  Nobody comes.  I keep folding.  How big is this pile of laundry?  The tiny little baby, in it’s tiny little seat starts to cry, and because of the kind of person that I am I just can’t stand it.  With one last exasperated look around my empty living room, I see that no one else is coming for this baby, so I go and pick it up.  I sit down on my couch with this little baby and out of instinct or habit or dream logic, I put the baby to my breast, because that’s what you do with crying babies.  The baby latches on and I wake up, flooded with awareness.  Is there a word for that feeling? Everyone has had it, but no one can describe it.  A wash of light and understanding that was overwhelming to my senses.  I awake knowing that this baby is mine and it is supposed to be in my home and with our family.  Uh, but one problem.  We can’t do that anymore!

I tell the dream to my husband, tears rolling down my face.  He takes it in as only a man who has had surgery on his man bits can, consoles me, and says he will think about it.  Knowing this is a huge thing for us, monetarily as well as eternally, we give it some time, waiting for the feeling to be overwhelming.

In the winter of 2013 it became overwhelming, and in March of 2014 we used every last cent of our tax return to have the surgery reversed.  Recovery for Jake was harder than before, but he healed beautifully, knowing that this was something that would bring so much happiness to everyone’s life.  In the end I know that we were incredibly lucky and blessed to have conceived as soon as we did, and in July of 2014, I was once again staring at those 2 pink lines, a positive pregnancy test.  This time the tears were good ones.  Happy dances ensued, hugs, more tears.

Before our 20 week anatomy scan was even scheduled, I knew who this baby would be.  This was Reba Jane.  She was a feeling that had come to me years before.  After the dream, before the reversal.  It was like a tickle in your throat, it wouldn’t go away, and I knew that this person would be the one to join our family next.  A strong spirit full of patience and wisdom, but with enough conviction to keep bugging us until we made a way for her to come.  I never doubted it, this baby was Reba.  Jake tried to deny it, and thought maybe a boy, but never doubt a mothers intuition.

At one low moment, I was worried that the baby was too still, that I couldn’t feel her moving enough, and again, Reba spoke to me in a dream.  I dreamed I was attending a tropical paradise.  There was a large pool where people could swim with dolphins, but instead of dolphins, these were baby sharks.  Harmless, but aggressive and energetic, full of movement and verve.  I waded into the pool with apprehension, not really sure I wanted to swim with sharks.  The water was up to my knees, and warm and clear, the sun was hot on my face, and I felt a small rustling along my ankles.  I look into the water and see a large, rusty colored catfish.  The size of a large child, this catfish had long whiskers and soft fins and it slowly circled my body and it gently brushed against my legs over and over, then it just as slowly swam away.  I left the pool and told the men in charge that no sharks came, just the catfish.  The men exclaimed “The Catfish! It never comes to anyone! It must really love you!”.   I woke knowing Reba was my catfish, strong and gentle, not full of vigor, but not weak at all.  Just a gently swimming being who didn’t need large, splashy movements to celebrate life.  From that dream on, I settled comfortably with the knowledge that my daughter was fine, and gentle, and didn’t worry anymore.

On April 3rd, I began to lose my mucus plug.  An exciting moment for any pregnant woman, knowing that the end (and baby) is near!  There were some contractions, but they were sluggish and irregular.  Excited to get things going, Jake and I went on a long walk up my favorite hill.  And kept walking and walking.  We watched the sun set and timed contractions the whole time, excited to keep them going, afraid to go home and have them stop.  Eventually I got too tired, and it got too dark, to go on and we decided it would either happen or not, and returned home for a hot bath and some sleep.  I sent a message to my birth team that I was in the early stages, and to be ready.  My doula prepared to come while Jake called into work.  My sister charged her camera battery and my sister-in-law drove home early from a party.  Around 11pm, my crew started to arrive.  Strangers introduced each other and hugged, knowing they would share a life event together before the sun rose.  My sisters arrived, some nervous, some elated, some pregnant themselves.  I was so glad to not only share my birth with them, but to help normalize it, to share my knowledge was well was something that was powerful to me.

I had tried to rest, but there’s that feeling of early labor.  Excitement, nervousness, wisdom.  It’s like your mind expands and you connect with the universe, but you can’t completely let go, because the 7 year olds wants a PB & J, and you need to replace the toilet paper roll, and your husband is vacuuming your birthing space to make sure you’re comfortable while you labor.  The universe is only so close.

I mom’d, and would simultaneously stop and breath through a contraction, sometimes swaying my hips if it was a good one.  One of my affirmations was “This pain is not stronger than me, because I am the one creating it.”  Therefore, every time I would have a strong contraction I would exclaim to Jake “This is a good one!” knowing that it was doing good things in my body, moving and expanding and opening.  That mindset is easier to keep in early labor, and not so much near the end.

Once my people began arriving, I primarily stayed in my birthing space.  I had created a cozy little nest in our master bedroom.  There were banners of affirmations, and bits of cloth that I had received at my baby shower.  I had asked the women attending to bring a bit of cloth and a story of a strong/powerful woman to share, so that I could sew the fabric into a banner and remember the strength of women while I labored.  If nothing else, it made the room very festive.  The fabrics I received were beautiful, and the stories even more so.  We don’t hear a lot about strong women.  The stories are all about men.  But the world is full of women who worked hard, tried hard, did hard things, and succeeded.  I kept their strength with me, tucked in a special pocket of my heart.  I liked to think that their spirits were watching, cheering me on, and I didn’t want to let them down.   Wanting their approval gave me strength.

I knew from past experience that I liked to stand when labor got hard, and I knew that since I was approaching this thing in the middle of the night, I would be tired, so I decided early on that I would sit as much as I could.  The most comfortable place to do that was on the birthing ball.  I would sit on it, rest my torso on the bed, and tell jokes to my adoring audience.  They laughed in all the right places.

I had invited 5 women to my birth.

My sister Hope, halfway through her first pregnancy herself, pulsed with maternal light.  I was (and am) honored to guide her down the maternal path as we shared our pregnancies.  She was both excited and steady.  And surprisingly her husband tagged along and was very welcome. 

My baby sister Winter, a budding photographer, came with her camera, and was so prepared.  She immediately started snapping shots of this and that, both respectful of my space and still capturing tender moments.  I was a young teenager when I watched Winter born at home.  It felt like completing a circle.  She is a woman now, and I was joyous to have her there.

My newest sister, Emily, is married to my brother.  She is a nurse and works in the office of the Dr. I saw for my prenatal care.  Emily, despite her fantastic medical training, was incredibly supportive of me following my intuition.  I was apprehensive of having her there only for her own comfort.  I give birth in a way that most people will never know, and I did not want her to fear at any moment.  She and I had a chance to connect during my pregnancy, and I am so glad that we had this reason to grow closer together.

My dear friend Ellie has been my friend since Paul, now 10, was a baby.  She had recently been training with a local midwife, and has a tender and strong soul.  I knew she would bring a beautiful energy to my birthing space.

My new friend Megan, is a woman of power and compassion.  She uses her talents to aid women in labor and birth as a doula.  From the moment I met her I knew that I wanted her at my birth, I tentatively extended her an invitation and she readily accepted.  I am so honored that she accepted my friendship and came to honor my birthing time. 

With all these women, I worried for a space for my husband, the most important person in this whole process.  All of our children had been welcomed earthside in his hands.  He was, and always has been, my main support and guide during childbirth.  Would Jake feel pushed out with so many other people to share our space?  We came up with a code word that he would use if at any point he was uncomfortable with the situation.  If he asked me “Do you want some spaghetti?” that meant that he needed me to clear the room so he could focus on our child and I.  Bless him, he never asked me if I wanted spaghetti.

As the contractions grew stronger and the power my body was using intensified, I would stand off my ball, sway, vocalize.  The children were in the other room playing video games or watching T.V.  Occasionally they would come in and whisper encouragement to me and pat my back.  I reveled in their sweet love.  I had tried to prepare them for what birth looks and sounds like, and I had hoped that they wouldn’t be frightened by what they saw or heard.  The fact that they would offer me encouragement tells me that they understood the power of the situation, and held only respect and love, not fear.

Our room is large, but there were 8 people trying to fit into it comfortably, some of them moving around, and it could have felt stifled or cramped, but it felt cozy.  Whatever space was left in the room was quickly filled in with all the love.  It was as if a soft mist of peace oozed into every possible cranny, and I soaked it in like sunshine. 

Early labor comes with so much excitement and anticipation, but a woman knows when things start to get heavy, she recognizes when the real work is happening and when it’s time to focus.  As my body started to make the long, slow, uphill climb that is the second stage of labor, I found many ways to cope that were helpful.  Vocalization was important, low deep moaning pulled from the depth of me.  The deeper the sound got, the more open my body became.  Unconsciously I visualized guitar strings during the peak of contractions.  When the contractions were small and stirring it was the smaller strings, they would vibrate softly in the void of my mind.  As the contractions got bigger, so did the strings.  Deep, round, steel vibrations buzzing in the darkness of my mind.  The string would buzz until the end of the contraction, and then it would fade away, and I would focus on my lovely people, tell a joke, have a laugh, and then it was time for another one. 

When the feelings in my body were so strong, and the power so great that I felt it couldn’t be contained, I tried to channel it through my body instead of fighting it.  I was standing, lowing, pulling on the arms of my husband for support, receiving counter pressure on my back, loving caresses on my arms and legs, gentle fingers in my hair, and sometimes it still wasn’t enough.  The only way to expel the giant pressure building in me was to let it wash through my body, and let it leave, like waves in a cave.  Every part of me had to be open for the pressure to wash out of me.  My mouth hung open with air and low tones, and I held my palms open, facing the sky, channeling waves of energy through and out of my tired body.  It became my go-to pose, standing, supported on the bed, one hand hooked on Jake’s arm, the other lying on the bed, palm open and up, head thrown back.  There is nothing like the power of labor.  The power you create to expel life, it’s the power of the universe, and it isn’t small, and it isn’t simple, and it isn’t easy.

Someone would remark “You’re doing so good.” “Great job, Abby!”.  I would realize ‘I am doing good! Look at me go, I’m so great at this! Good for me!’.  I would pulse in a high squat during contractions, and they would tell me how strong I was, how amazing I was.  Positive affirmations can come from more than just you.

Laboring through the night made me tired, but labor is also hard work! I knew I was getting tired, and I was looking forward to the time when I could push out my baby, hold her, smell her, stare at her.  Occasionally at the peak of a contraction I would give a little push, to see if it felt right, and I was so discouraged when it didn’t. But finally, after a couple of tries, the feeling was right, and I bore down.

The tricky thing with pushing out a baby, is all your pushing muscles are used to pushing out one thing, and you push it out daily, so naturally, that’s the first thing to get pushed out.  I was focused on visualizing being open, and channeling the vibrations of my body, but a small part of me was aware enough to think “Dammit! I just pooped in front of my friends!”.  I heard a gentle exclamation “Oh, OH, ohhh.”  And I heard a flurry behind me, a soft rustling of chux pads being replaced on the floor, gentle hands wiping my legs and bottom.  I didn’t ask which of my friends wiped my butt, and I like to pretend it didn’t happen, but now I know that they truly love me.

It took a bit of time, and I pushed with every contraction, sitting down in between on my birthing ball.  All through my labor it was someone’s special job to push the ball back underneath of me after a contraction was over so that I wouldn’t have to bend over and roll it in to place.  I would sit on the ball, hoping to feel pressure in my birthing canal letting me know that the baby was moving down and ready to crown, and it was both comforting and disappointing to sit down comfortably after each pushing contraction.  But It finally happened!

I tried to sit, I was so tired, but I couldn’t, it was uncomfortable and full of pressure and before I could even tell that to the people around me, another contraction rolled over me, and I was off to the races again.  Pushing, vocalizing, pulling, opening, breathing. I felt her head descend and engage, and I felt myself stretch to accommodate her crowning.  Knowing I didn’t want to tear, I took a breath and tried to slow down, allowing myself time to stretch around her, letting my skin find it’s give.  Try being the operative word.  When I eased up, I thought her head would stay where it was, engaged, but waiting, but both my body and baby had other ideas.  I felt the head still tumbling out of me, with a small rumble.  I kept trying to slow it, to stop it, to hold it in with kegels, and all of this happened in a split second.  I had enough time to utter the words “I can’t stop it”, and her head was out.  It surprised everyone.  We all thought we had a bit of time! Jake jumped off the bed, preparing to catch the baby, as he had with all the others.  As he rushed around the bed, Ellie exclaimed “ She’s in the caul! Come take a picture of this!”.  Of course! She was in the caul! I realized my water hadn’t broken yet, but during labor that thought hadn’t processed to the point of realizing that my baby’s bag of waters was still intact.

Elation came at the realization that I was almost done, and I anticipated the next contraction with excitement, ready to meet my baby.  The next push and she was there, Jake caught her behind me as she came out with a rush and a splash of water.  The moment a child is born is a magical thing, no matter how that baby is born.  It’s like the whole room, the whole world holds it’s breath while the universe rushes into the room and time freezes while all hearts begin to beat as one.  My bedroom wasn’t any exception.  The whole room exploded and froze at the same time as she entered.

And then there was a collective cheer when she gave her first gurgled cry.  Euphoria.  I stood at the bed, like a proud president after a rousing speech.  Triumphant and separate from the celebration behind me.  It was my own moment to revel in my power and triumph.  I breathed deep, my chest heaved, my legs shook, power filled my skull, my lungs, my hands, my throat.  I had done it! Tears and smile were my medal, I was triumphant. 

I cried “You got her?”, “Oh my baby!”, “My sweet baby!”.

And when I was ready, I turned, and lifted my leg so that her intact umbilical cord could pass beneath me.  I knelt and Jake passed our new daughter to me.  She was covered in white, waxy vernix.  It plastered the dark hair to her head, was stuck in chunks in the soft curve of her ear, it slid from her eyes and she slit them open to peer at her Momma.  She twitched her fingers and worked her mouth, using her body for the first time outside of her soft, watery world.  She let out the occasional cry, working the fluid from her mouth and lungs gently, naturally.

Despite reveling in the power of the women filling my bedroom during labor, they could have not existed at this point.  It was me and my baby, the two of us had done an incredible job of getting her on this earth.  We both worked hard.  I kept telling her what a good job she had done, rubbing her head, counting her toes, smiles leaked from my face, full of joy.  After her cord had emptied itself of all its blood, giving the last bit of myself to my baby, her big brother Paul cut her white limp cord, her last link to me.

I passed my sweet baby back to her Daddy, and knelt to pass the placenta.  It came out with a squishy plop, done of its job, ready to retire.  We stayed there on the floor for some time, Us and Our Baby.  Congratulations and kisses were passed around, and the crowd parted to let the children through, eager to greet their baby sister.  Elated, the hours passed, and the adrenaline left my body, and I began to feel tired again.  I could tell it had been a long night for everyone as my beautiful friends began to leave.  Birthing is hard work on everyone, and I admire the people who make it their living, however they attend it.  Tired eyes and joyous smiles gently said goodbye and my home was soon full of just our newly grown family. 

It felt a bit deflated to have my group leave, they had brought so much energy and joy to my home, and I wasn’t ready to the night to be over.  But I was glad to send some of the magic home with them, like party favors.  I hope it sits on the mantle of their hearts, a cherished memory, as their presence does for me.

Sweet Nona had fallen asleep while my labor was still progressing and she was gently carried to bed.  Paul and Beau both took a minute to kiss and hold the baby, but soon their exhaustion caught up to them, and they too went to bed.   Jake gently dressed the baby in her first pajamas while I washed myself off, and we tucked into bed in the early morning hours of April 4th.

I didn’t want to sleep, I just wanted to stare at her.  Sharing in the elation with jake, we lie there together, following her fingers with our own, tracing the curve of her ears, the length of her foot, seeing how well she fit into the curve of our arms.  Eventually we did sleep, full of love and possibility for our new daughter.

We named her Rebecca Jane Rae, Reba for short, and she was born at 2:18am on April 4th, under the Blood Moon Eclipse, a sister of the Full Moon and the Universe.  She weighed 8 pounds 2 ounces and was 19 ½ inches long.  A perfect baby, she brings peace and happiness and hope to our family.

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