A birth story doesn’t begin with the first contraction. (It also doesn’t end when the baby emerges, but that’s another day’s story.) To really grasp the scope of a conscious and powerful birth, one must know the history of the mother, especially in the pregnancy. Birth itself is a culmination of events leading up to it, and it is not merely a physical experience. Birth is primal, and spiritual.
I became pregnant with Sienna Moon in September of last year, four months after the second trimester loss of our second baby, Phoenix. To say it was a turbulent time in our lives does not do justice to the truth of the matter. My heart was in pieces, only starting to come back together. I was lost, spiritually and emotionally, and Dustin and I were consciously training to find ourselves again, and to mend the strains on our relationship from all the emotional and spiritual wreckage of the previous year. A new life is never bad news, but it was daunting for a myriad of reasons, and we were not ready. At least, not right when we found out. It was terrifying, the anxiety of possibly losing another baby, of maybe having to reconcile more heartbreak, of having to redouble all our efforts to thrive as a couple and a family because now we were creating another little soul who needed us both well, with love and balance and open arms.
Once my pregnancy had passed the 15-week mark, my fear of loss diminished, but only slightly. In the last year, my heart has shattered for not one, but two childhood friends who lost babies full term, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t haunted by their sorrow. I was also intimidated by memories of my first delivery, which was beautiful and powerful, because a part of me did not believe I could be so lucky as to have anything quite that spectacular again. My head was getting in my way. I knew I had to focus on my plan, on my intentions, and I knew I had to manifest my will for the pregnancy and birth if I was going to have any spiritual and emotional fortitude for the homebirth we wanted.
I prayed. I’ve never been a prayerful person, although I have always been somewhat spiritual – my spirituality has grown a hundredfold over the last few months. I chatted often with the Universe, with God, with my own inner child. I spoke daily with my tribe – my husband, my sisterhood, my family. I gave all my fears a voice – you can’t change or fix what you don’t acknowledge. I educated myself on the physiological process of birth, co-taught childbirth education courses, watched endless birth videos with Lily Rose. Most importantly, I VISUALIZED, I repeated affirmations, and I set conscious intention. I made a powerful effort to release expectations – THIS. IS. HARD. Scenario-building, daydreaming, comparing and overthinking – these things can destroy your plans if they run away from you.
I very deliberately chose a powerful birth team. My husband, who is such a phenomenal partner in labor (and in life) – truly. My midwife, Kathleen, who delivered Lily Rose, of course. For my birth photographer, I invited Brandi of Kindred Photographer, a woman who has been my soul sister since my first pregnancy, who has captured moments of beauty in me that I didn’t even know were there, and is an aspiring midwife and understands and respects the processes of labor and birth in ways that awe me still. And as my doula, I invited Nova of Honey and Sage Company, whom to call a friend seems extremely unjust. She and I, along with Brandi and a few other powerful sisters, have navigated some deep and fierce spiritual waters, as women, and as mothers. She inspires me to be a better version of myself every day. As a student midwife, future naturopath, childbirth educator, and soulful anchor, I knew I needed her in my camp.
The last couple of weeks before Sienna was born, I was DONE with pregnancy. The physical was bogging me down, the discomforts and the hormone surges were making me miserable and whiny. I could feel my intentions slipping. Every day required a little more conscious effort to remain positive and forward-moving. The anxiety levels would creep, the self-doubt would lurk, the emotions would run rampant. Every cramp had me begging for a rhythm that indicated labor was nigh. So naturally, it was during this time when my meditations and visualizations became more frequent and intense.
Labor and Birth
On Monday morning (May 23), I woke up and went to pee, as ever. I checked my toilet paper, as ever in a pregnancy following a miscarriage, and was stunned to see blood. At first I panicked, as you do, but then I remembered I was 38 weeks pregnant and that a “bloody show” is an indicator that baby is coming soon. I was understandably ecstatic, but also nervous – cue insane nesting and prepping. However, a quick visit to the midwife assured me that I could still have plenty of time… Great, I thought. (Read: sarcasm.)
Tuesday, May 24 – I had thought yesterday was mucus plug loss day. I was wrong. It was this day. Still, no contractions. So let’s have a date night, we said, and off we went to our favorite hibachi for some quality “us” time. It was awesome, actually.
Wednesday, May 25 – 3 a.m. found me having frequent contractions, but with no noticeable rhythm pattern. I tried to rest, but my burning anticipation to finally go into labor got the best of me. I was up at 6:15, chatting with my doula and photog, suggesting they be ready to head out. I made sure to eat fuel food, start a load of towels, and inform Dustin that we were probably having a baby today. Nova suggested a warm bath, during which contractions stopped completely. I spent the rest of that morning wondering what the hell had happened to my labor. Off to the midwife’s again – no dilation, no signs of labor. I went home a bit broken hearted, more than anything disappointed that I had sounded the alarms for naught. Prodromal labor drove me to buckets of Rocky Road and a Harry Potter movie marathon (like it’s hard to get me there…) That night I spent longer on affirmations than ever, assuring myself that I was calm, safe, and ready – whenever she was.
Thursday, March 26 – I had solid contractions for the whole day. My friend Sarah was here most of the day, which helped keep my mind off things. Some I could talk through, some had me stopping to breathe through… Nesting kicked in again, but mostly I was concerned about why I seemed to be spending so much damn time in early labor. Nova suggested perhaps the baby was ready to come down, but was having trouble getting her head into optimal position. To this, I remembered Kathleen saying baby was in the Right Occipital Posterior position. I went to spinningbabies.com, and found a series of exercises and stretches I could do that might help the baby. It gave me some sense of accomplishment to know I was at least doing something… By bedtime, the contractions were starting to become more regular, and I could hear myself moaning low and slow during some of them. Dustin and I blew up an air mattress and threw it in the living room to watch the new Star Wars and eat ice cream, because I knew I wanted some rest and a distraction. (We fell asleep in like 9 minutes.) Prodromal labor is not just physically exhausting. It is a mental battlefield. Days of contractions, but no baby. You wonder if something is wrong, if you’re actually moving further from having your baby, because you just aren’t seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. It can lead to very self-defeating thoughts, physical exhaustion by the time active labor sets in, and then be followed by a series of undesired consequences if one overthinks it.
Friday, March 27 – Around six a.m. I woke up for good. I had been quite literally mooing through contractions for several hours, but refusing to wake up lest it be more ‘false’ labor. I timed a few contractions and noticed a pattern.
I at first told everyone I would be resting a bit longer, but by 7 or so I was ready for them to come. It felt real this time, but I’m not sure I can say exactly why. Maybe because I was a bit afraid, because the intensity of the rushes felt ominous. Maybe because I could feel the baby much further down, and my body recognized the change. Brandi arrived around 8 or so, and Nova a bit after. Kathleen was at another birth, but was ready to come when we gave the shout. Lily Rose and Dustin were awake at this point, and I was in the bath when Nova arrived. She and Brandi and I had a brief conversation regarding a self-check for dilation, which I performed in the tub – about 1 cm. This was not what I wanted to hear. The contractions were enough to silence me at this point, to require my absolute focus on breathing down and surrendering to each wave.
Dustin worked on my hips and back a while with Lily Rose and our little bear Murdoc nearby, always. After a while, he passed the torch to the women while he made food for Lily Rose and took care of a few last minute things. Nova and Brandi took turns massaging my back, my sacrum, squeezing my hips and sharing their stories. We drew cards from my Mother’s Wisdom deck and took lessons from the spirits we drew. I listened, some, but mostly I remember just breathing with intention, because I didn’t want to lose the rhythm of the rushes, and because they were gaining in strength and challenging my resolve. Just before 11 a.m., Dustin ran out on an errand, as things were not gaining any sort of momentum. I made my way into my bedroom, my sanctuary, where my music was playing and my oils were diffusing. I had spent the last thirty-something weeks making this space MY BIRTH SPACE. I felt good here. Nova and Brandi were in the living area with Lily Rose, and I was breathing through rushes on my bed…. and suddenly they were closer together than before, much closer, and then closer and closer. My breathing changed.
Nova took notice, and came back in right away. She began her work of soothing me as I worked to surrender to the process – something which is much easier visualized than done in practice. I could feel the pressure on my pelvic floor, the writhing pain in my lower abdomen where my baby was pushing down on my cervix making her way out. I knew that the speed of things would be picking up.
At this point, I asked for Dustin to take Lily Rose to my sister’s – I originally wanted her present, but I lost faith in myself to maintain composure so as not to scare her, and also decided I needed Dustin’s undivided attention. I needed him to be able to focus on me. In retrospect, I think this is my single regret of this day. I wish I had trusted myself more, that I had kept my darling beastie there to witness her sister enter this world. But, I followed my gut in the moment, and I can’t ask more of myself than that.
This was the point of no return. The moment of escalation, when we realized that perhaps all the prodromal labor and the mental preparation had been silently moving things along in a way we could not perceive. Dustin’s call to my sister regarding care for LiRo was at 11:23 a.m. He returned minutes later, as my sister lives across the street. During his momentary absence, I had moved to the floor, with my elbows on my bed. The rushes at this point were so fierce that I had a lapse in resolve. I remember whispering to Nova, in between the low, steady moans, that I was intimidated by the pain. I didn’t remember this magnitude of pain so early with my first birth, I said, and I was afraid of being subject to it for much longer.
Nova asked me something which changed the way I felt immediately – she said, “What are you worried will happen?” And, although I know I didn’t answer with words, I remember the train of thought vividly. “I wont be able to do it. Wait – baby is coming, whether you think you can or not. So don’t be negative. What, you wanna call an ambulance? Hell no, you don’t. So what? So breathe.” She reminded me to be soft, to open up the channels that would bring my baby earth side. I moaned, repeating those reminders to my body out loud. Be soft. Open. It was terrifying, because as I felt each rush come, I knew the agony that came with it, but I also knew that I had to surrender to it. I said, “I’m worried I’m not handling this well.” It’s a funny thing to think, in active labor. But I knew that if I lost my conscious surrendering, I would only make it harder on myself.
The next contraction found me pushing. I needed to. I couldn’t help it. The urge was primal and powerful. I told Nova one minute too late – that push broke my waters, right there on my bedroom floor. Dustin and she were in the bathroom, filling the tub and calling Kathleen to tell her I was pushy. She was on her way. I remember Nova saying the rupture of membranes would likely cause things to pick up even more quickly. Dustin was holding my hand then, trying to help to the tub. I said, “Baby, I’m afraid.” “Of what?” he asked, “You’re doing it. This is it.”
Around 11:30, I made my way into the tub. I immediately said “I have to poop.” And then I realized, and they realized, that the need to push was present and real, and that I would not be able to wait for Kathleen. There was another contraction, but I resisted the push. I didn’t think I was ready. It was agony, going against my instinct. My mind got in my way for a split second, and all I could do was utter one very loud and guttural profanity. I wouldn’t resist again. I would push. My body was doing the work. I needed to SURRENDER.
I could feel it coming, and I knew I had to let go of control. I needed to push, and so I did. With the whole of my pelvic floor, I breathed out and down, and I felt her move. “IT STINGS!” I cried, and Nova looked down to see my daughter’s head emerging.
With one deep, primal, and powerful roar, I pushed further, and felt her body slip out of me and into Nova’s hands. It was done, my hands reached down to take her, and as Nova slipped the cord over her neck and passed her into my arms and onto my chest, I breathed a deep and cleansing breath of relief to see that my surrender had won, and that my beautiful girl was well and covered in vernix and crying LOUDLY, shouting her arrival to all of us. We did it together, my baby and I.
It was 11:36 am, we think, as everyone scrambled to find a timepiece. For a few moments, we all looked at each other, stunned at the explosion that had become of this birth, processing the fact that we had no midwife, no prolonged pushing, and no problems, just a healthy, pink and perfect little girl who was suddenly earth side. “SARAH. Holy shit, dude!!” I know, dude. I know. WHAT JUST HAPPENED?
All I could feel was gratitude. Thankful she was well, grateful the pain was over, thankful that Dustin had made it back in time. The cord pulsed for what seemed like forever. I sat in the water, starstruck at meeting our baby. Dustin’s tearful smile, Nova’s awe, Brandi’s joy, and my utter and complete empowerment filled the room so full of love that I know Sienna felt it. She was peaceful after her initial displeasure at being displaced from her cushy womb. It’s as if she knew she was home.
Kathleen arrived about 15 minutes after, out of breath and so sad she’d missed my moment. It had all gone beautifully, but we still needed her cool and steady hand for all the proceedings after the birth itself. We delivered the placenta on my bed, after which they took it into the kitchen for examination and packaging (encapsulation, baby!!) That golden hour after delivery was a whirlwind of all of us attempting to process what had just happened, all the while making sure mama and baby were well and helping her nurse, and going over all the necessary precautions with a newborn. As my proud birth team sipped mimosas and toasted our health, I got ready for my big girl to come back and meet her sister.
The meeting was beautiful. Lily Rose knew it was her sister. She arrived bearing cookies and a smile, and she immediately hugged and kissed the baby (but did not surrender her cookies to the new kid.) A mere hour after birth and I was in my sanctuary, in my bed, next to my husband, holding both our daughters and surrounded by love and awe of the feat we’d just accomplished, basking in the pure and intoxicating joy that comes with an oxytocin rush and the knowledge that you’ve just exceeded all your dreams, that your soul and body worked together to bring new life to your world. It was, without doubt, the most heart-burstingly happy moment of my life.
Our mothers and my sister came by shortly after, as they had when Lily Rose came. They had been apprehensive about our decision to birth at home, and the relief about them was visible once they saw everyone was well and happy. Slowly, the birth team trickled out to give us space and rest, and then the family, and by early evening, there were only the four of us left to reconcile the events of the day. I think Dustin and I were just so stunned by how it all happened, that before we knew it, we had all four unceremoniously fallen asleep together in bed, still swimming in the deep waters of oxytocin, and the smell of new baby, and the multiplication of love that had taken place inside our home.
Even now, a week later, we are still floating on a dream. The images of Sienna’s birth have been seen by literally thousands at this point, and we have received so much love and support for the beautiful work everyone did that day. Even through achey muscles and sore, tender breasts, through sleep deprivation and the acting out of one semi-dethroned toddler, and the surge of postpartum hormones, every day has been so incredibly beautiful. The bonding has been strong, the family rarely leaving the sanctuary of our home, choosing instead to bask in these early moments, and let our new normal sink in. There is as much spiritual, physical, and emotional work to adjust postpartum as there is in preparation for pregnancy and birth. We are doing this work together, and it’s so heart-changingly empowering to reflect on and surrender to this journey.
Written with love by: Sarah Carlock