Before I begin telling the fairy-tale-like perfection that was Serenity’s birth, I want to honor women who have had completely different birth experiences. Whatever the choices or complications, the very act of bringing life into this world is beautiful, powerful, and an incredible work of body and soul for every woman, regardless of the interventions that were necessary for either her health of body or of mind, or that of her baby’s.
In addition, I want to mention that my choice to birth at home was extremely difficult. Daily I would waver between birthing in the hospital with my OBGYN or at home with midwives. Although I tend to prefer that which is more organic in nature, I also believe that medicine has developed with great wisdom and life-saving practices that have kept mothers and babies alive and healthy. I believe that scientific methods and studies inform most of what many doctors do, and I trust that. But so much of a woman’s birthing experience depends on which doctor or which midwives she chooses. Many doctors can be unwavering or intrusive, and many midwives can be misinformed or less evidence-based.
This was my struggle. Hospitals tense me up and many of their policies, though often well-studied, seemed unnecessary to me. However, I knew that if anything tragic happened, care would only be seconds away. On the other hand, I felt so much more in control, safe, and relaxed at home.
I experienced a big turning point when I brought up these struggles with my midwife. “We support whatever you decide,” she said. “We want you to feel the most comfortable and empowered that you can, so wherever you choose to birth, we support that and support you.”
Those words were all I needed — for a care provider to support ME. In the same way, I support every woman in her choice of birthplace. I want her to birth wherever she feels the most comfortable, safe, and empowered — whether it be home, tub, birthing center, or hospital.
Up late busily preparing for a farmer’s market at which we planned to sell our tea in the morning, I started feeling tightness in my lower abdomen. Braxton Hick’s commonly contracted my uterine muscles in the months prior to this birth, but these felt more real, reminiscent of the day Clarity came into the world. These squeezes weren’t long in duration, but they were too consistent to just be practicing.
While packing up our tea packages for the next morning, Shiloh started telling me a story about how someone was wrong on the internet. I only heard the first couple sentences. The contractions were beginning to intensify, and my lack of paying attention to the external world indicated to me that something could happen soon.
“Hey Shiloh, I think these contractions are real this time. I think tonight might be the night.”
“What?? Really?? We’re gunna have a BABY??” and he turned to Clarity, “You’re gunna have a little SISTER!!”
He immediately switched modes from Tea Man to Preparer-of-the-Birth-Environment.
Clarity was different, too. Normally an emotionally-outbursting handful during her sleep-fighting moments, our little toddler played, laughed, and happily accompanied me, giggling, throughout the evening and into the night. Even past 1 am, she stayed awake, sensing the bigness of an approaching moment.
Scrambling to tidy up our room, “Help me change the sheets?” Shiloh asked me. I leaned over on all fours so frequently to both welcome and endure the contractions it took us about 10 minutes to actually get the new sheets on.
Only days before, some dear friends of mine created a Mother Circle for me. Sort of like a “hippy version” of a baby shower, a mother circle allows the mother to be celebrated and honored with deeply meaningful and personal gifts and symbols to help to encourage her, affirm her, empower her, and honor her baby to come. It involves a coming together of women to celebrate the mother’s specific journey as well as to honor all mothers, past and present. Rain, storms, rainbows, and coastal images were all powerful metaphors during this pregnancy and these dear friends represented and gifted all of these symbols to me during this Circle.
While I continued to labor, Shiloh gathered and displayed these special Mother Circle gifts around the room: He hung up the rainbow of affirmation flags and brought over a handmade fairy garden that represented beautiful places and our daughters’ new freedom. He displayed a spectacular painting of a stormy coast a friend painted just for this moment and laid out a gorgeous necklace compilation of meaningful beads from the Circle. He brought in some more indoor plants (one of them a succulent plant in a glass teapot, meaningful for me), brought down the chalice from our wedding, brought in some flowers and displayed a vase of the first roses he had given me, now dried but well kept. He dimmed the lights, turned on some beautifully composed relaxing music, diffused a mix of orange and ginger oils into the room, and opened the window. It was raining outside, trailing the end of a week of storms.
I tried to stay on top of the contractions but it was getting more difficult. I climbed into bed around 3 am and Clarity, still her wonderful happy self, followed. Laying down eased my uterine muscles so my contractions slowed. Clarity nursed quickly to sleep, but I continued to cuddle her close to me. Then the magic happened. Relaxation came easily as all of my senses were actively engaged in this pristine environment:
Touch: Snuggling with my favorite little human sleeping peacefully on me. Her quiet breathing soothed mine. The cool breeze accompanying an early autumn rain drew our cuddling closer underneath a quilt.
Smell: Orange and ginger oils mixed with the sweet coolness of rain.
Hearing: the rhythmic dancing of raindrops as a backdrop to meaningful instrumental songs Shiloh gathered to be played for me.
Sight: Warm, soft red light of a himalayan salt lamp and a white light behind one of our indoor trees illuminated the rainbow of flags stretched across our western wall, the painting, and all of the wonderful birthing and life mementos given to me. My husband busily preparing for our home birth. The glow of my soon-to-no-longer-be baby girl’s cheeks, her peacefully closed eyelids, and the rising and falling of her chest.
Dozing for a minute or two here or there, my relaxed self enjoyed slivers of sleep but was frequently interrupted with more contractions. Around 5am, I decided to call my midwife to come see me and my sister-in-law to come watch Clarity. Still not feeling super urgent, and after only 4 hours of labor at this point, I didn’t want to bother them so I didn’t sound too rushed.
Labor intensified. My midwife arrived and went straight to work checking me and baby. Though I had very little awareness of what she was doing, or anything surrounding me at this point, I overheard her tell Shiloh, “I think this baby’s coming soon.” I told Shiloh he should probably go pick up the birthtub (which was at the midwife’s house), as we had planned on another water birth.
Everything became more powerful over the next few minutes. I had felt weak, lightheaded, and sweaty off and on throughout the night, probably indicative of low blood sugar. This intensified and I began to shake all over. My midwife gave me some oxygen to help regulate baby’s heartbeat and to keep me breathing through the contractions. I clung to the bottom of the mattress, an external grounding point as I dove deep within myself, remembering techniques of empowerment in labor. “Serenity and I are in this together,” I said to myself. “I can do this,” I remembered that this part passed quickly with Clarity and tried to stay in the moment as each one came and passed.
Relaxation nearly disappeared at this point, though I tried. My main goal became to endure the contractions, but I felt strong in them and knew from experience that I could handle it. Shiloh, on his way to get the tub, called me to double check the address. “Just come home,” I told him. “But I’m almost there,” he said. “Come home” I could barely speak for my body was so much louder than my external awareness. I didn’t even say goodbye or hang up the phone. This baby girl would come just where I was, no water this time. Ten minutes later, Shiloh laid down in front of me, continually encouraged me, told me how great I was doing, and I used his hand and arm as another grounding point. Clinging to him during the most intense moments, I moaned and groaned in rhythm to my muscles squeezing. I wasn’t very aware of Clarity at this point, but I knew she had woken up and felt very nervous. Shiloh told me later she was scared and extremely clingy to him during this point, too. Both she and I found strength in him.
My midwife and her assistants had been busy with me during all of this time, but I was in another realm mentally so my awareness of their activities and monitoring was minimal.
The urge to push finally peaked. She checked me and said my dilation was ready at a 10.
When Clarity arrived, I had pushed twice for a total of 7 minutes. Serenity came a bit more slowly, mostly because I was aware that her arrival was imminent and I wanted to give my body more time to stretch and open to allow for an easier recovery later.
My water broke as she descended in the birth canal. Shiloh moved from his spot in front of me to welcome Serenity into the world, as we both wanted him to be the one to deliver her.
Serenity’s head emerged like a turtle and her eyes opened. Even with the rest of her body still inside mine, her very first sight was that of her Papa and she stared at him. “Her eyes are open! She’s looking at me!” What beautiful first words for me to hear. She remained peaceful and calm as I pushed the rest of her tiny body out into her Papa’s arms.
Still on all fours and leaning on our mattress, I took a few moments to breathe before I held her. With her cord still attached and placenta still in utero, the midwife and her assistants helped me turn over and Shiloh passed her to me. Beautiful, perfect, healthy, I held her tiny 6 lb body skin to skin against mine. No cries, no sounds, just her gentle breathing and glistening newborn blue eyes observing a peaceful room and love-struck parents. The perfect Serenity Storm.