Homebirth. Home. Birth. We actively sought it out. And we got it. But truthfully, we had no idea what it is that we had asked for. And so, we went into this whole thing like a couple of blind bats. Though I’m not sure that’s an appropriate analogy, because I’m certain that bats have a good sense of direction and are not just blindly flying into cave walls. Because when all is said and done, that’s kind of what it feels like right now. We flew into wall after wall, breaking every bone in our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual bodies that it’s truly a miracle we found our way out and into the light.
And that’s what this is. A story about a miracle. A beautifully heartbreaking, soul wrenching story about love.
My baby boy, all cute and chubby and swaddled, lies next to me asleep. Sometimes I see in his face an expression of sadness and fear. Mostly he lies open eyed, chubby faced, calm. I look forward to seeing his smile. I know he must have the sweetest smile. But now, the look I recognize is the look I wore on my face for most of his birth. Sad, confused, drained of hope and laden with fear. Is it possible that all that energy, such heavy energy, was imprinted on this little guy, and he’s still shaking off from it? Or is it just that it’s so incredibly fresh that it’s merely my own projections onto his sleepy face?
For a few years now, I’ve taken on Ixchel as my last name. Ixchel is a Mayan Goddess, a medicine woman. Since encountering her for the first time, I’ve felt such a magnetic pull to her, and since the last name I carry holds no special meaning to me as it belongs to an absent father, it felt so right to claim my space in the Ixchel lineage. Ixchel, as it also turns out, is also the goddess of childbirth, and it is to her that we built an altar as we prepared our home for the birth.
And prepare we did. We infused the space we dwell in with prayer weeks leading up to the birth. We knew that of all the ceremonies and prayer circles we’ve ever partaken in, this was THE ONE. Everything we had ever done had prepared us for this. That’s the only thing I’m certain got us through the birth: the deep faith in something much bigger than us helping us through. Everything else now seems like a naive joke. My conception of some orgasmic-hypnobirth filled with pleasure has surely been humbled to what labor really is: a journey into the bowels of humanity, into the wilderness of pain, love, fear, and power, deep deep down into the caves of the most traumatic experience that only love can heal.
I labored for 36 hours. In the most miraculous of ways, my partner and I manifested an extraordinary birth team who showed up for us with such open-hearted courage the likes of which I’ve never experienced before. On the morning of the second day, I woke up to mind bending contractions and felt just about ready to call it quits (which of course, is impossible because once this starts the only way out is through). Since it had been over 24 hours since my water broke, and the risk for infection was increasing by the moment, I was given two choices: pack up and head for the hospital, or get down to it and start labor boot camp. I looked listlessly at my midwife and in my head screamed “hospital!” (which, if you read part one and two, you can imagine the degree of pain I was in to even consider that as an option). But that word never escaped my lips. Maybe because I was too weak to speak. My partner, who knew I was determined to avoid that place at just about all costs, made the decision for us that morning: labor boot camp.
As I was getting hooked up to an IV and forcefed runny eggs, sitting on the edge of the bed, hunched over, head hanging, staring blankly at the floor, there was really only one thing I could do: I began to pray. I called on every goddess, angel, ancestor and spirit I could think of. I asked each of them for strength. Minutes passed, painful contractions came and went, life was intravenously fed back into me. It was at that moment that my guy leaned in and asked if I would like our housemate to play the accordion for us. I nodded once. Moments later, music flowed into the room as I heard this magical musician climb the stairs and enter the room. My heart broke and tears ran down my face. This man is no mere musician: his life work revolves around creating music for prayer and healing. As he channeled this energy and poured it through the mystical sounds of the accordion, my prayers for strength were answered. I took deep breaths and allowed the music to give me the strength I had asked for. It was enough to get up, and get moving.
Against the wish of every bone in my body, the midwives kept me moving all day. Apparently, despite my deep agony, I hadn’t even technically begun what is called “active labor”. Not what you want to hear when you’re about to collapse from exhaustion and pain. And if contractions weren’t enough, we soon learned that the baby’s head was turned, making it impossible for him to proceed further down the birth canal. Days later, as I asked one of the midwives to explain exactly what his head had been doing, she shared with me that in her experience, every time the baby’s head is in what’s called a “military position”, a cesarean was the outcome. I managed to avoid that thanks to whom I shall always refer to as our ninja acupuncturist, who showed up soon after, worked her magic and got the baby’s head in the proper position.
The day wore on. Labor boot camp intensified. All I wanted to do was get in the tub, only to find out there was exercise after exercise I needed to do to keep contractions going. Until finally- finally, as the sun began to set, I was told that the baby’s head was close enough for me to get into the tub and start pushing. And I did- even though by then I was completely drained and had so very little left. I remember gazing into the eyes of the midwife assistant, into the eyes of my partner, drinking hope and strength from them. They looked at me encouragingly, telling me I could do it, even though by then all I wanted was the strongest pain killer and for this baby to be cut out of me. I kid you not.
So yes- there I am, nothing left, pushing with each contraction. It felt like forever, and I felt like nothing was really happening. Our head midwife came into the room at that point. I begged her to help me. She offered to do one more internal exam and then decide the next best protocol.
I got out the tub. Walked to the bedroom. Lay down. And it was at that moment that I began to wonder if any of our prayers had really been heard. The midwives stood over me, worried looks on their faces. I heard one of them say, “I’ve never seen that before,” and when I looked up, I saw another one paging through an encyclopedic book. “I’ll take a picture and send it to a colleague,” she said. I looked over at my partner and it was the first time I saw fear in his eyes. Fear enveloped us. An eternity passed. I was told that my belly looked like it had split into two halves. “Twins?” Someone asked nervously, and I don’t think I’ve ever shot an evil eye as hard as I looked at the person that said it. Turns out my bladder needed to be drained, and before I knew it i was being catheterized. You know, because being in labor for almost two days wasn’t enough. And that’s when I knew we really were being watched over and Ixchel really was present: it’s a miracle nothing ruptured when I had been pushing earlier on.
“There’s nothing standing in your way now,” my midwife assistant told me. I believed her. I heard that a lot throughout the day: “you got this,” “you can do this.” But it seemed far fetched, unreal. Until now. I believed her. Her, who had slept on the floor beside my bed the night before, cleaned up my puke, let me hang from her shoulders during contractions, gazed me straight in the eye and told me I could do it. I believed her. I got help getting up, and step by step was led back into the tub.
The water offered some relief. At one point I remember looking down at my knees, which felt like shattered glass. “Fuck it,” I thought. If it takes breaking them so be it. I’ll fix them in Bikram in the future. I’ll fix this whole body in the future. For now, I was willing to break myself completely to have this baby.
And then it happened.
A contraction came. I leaned back into my guy, pushed as hard as I could and kept pushing even after the contraction had passed. Next thing I knew, I had a baby in my arms. And it’s true what they say: all the pain dissapears, and you are left in complete awe.
His name is Luca, which we found out means Bringer of Light. He was born under water, with eyes open and heart beaming. It’s true. You should see the way he opens his arms sometimes, fully exposing his heart and feeling completely safe to do so. He was worth every second of pain, and now as I write this, sleep deprived, I simply can’t picture my life without him.
We didn’t really know what it was we had asked for when we chose a homebirth. It was one of two alternatives, yes, and in that sense it was a no brainer. For some ungodly reason I also assumed that if we had the baby at home it would automatically also be easier. One thing is for sure: at home, I felt safe to let go into the journey that is labor. And I had incredible support around me. I am forever grateful.
My body is still healing. It’s heartbreaking how little I recognize it. My days of a limber, tall-spined yogini feel so distant. I’m getting pieced back together and I just know I’ll emerge a thousand times healthier and more powerful than even during my most dedicated periods of yoga practice. Till then, I shall love my bruised body and fall deeper in love with the one who bruised it, the one who brought even more light into my life.