As you might remember I have been expecting the birth of my daughter this spring and she made her arrival on May 23rd! What a beautiful birth and beautiful little girl she is. This pregnancy has been a roller coaster ride for me and it’s taken a while for me to put my thoughts together about how I would like to share this story to the world. In my work as a Doula and educator my main goal is always to empower women, mothers and families to care for their children. In light of that continued commitment I feel that only full disclosure can really give this story the power that it deserves.
My husband and I planned the pregnancy of our daughter shortly after my son, Nettle’s, second birthday. Our relationship had been a little rocky, but we knew that our son would be miserable being an only child and that we wanted another child in our lives. When I became pregnant in September I was really happy but our relationship continued to suffer and didn’t get better as the pregnancy progressed. From the beginning I felt a strong energy from this little person, almost a whispering telling me “Mama, you don’t have to be unhappy. I will love you, me and my brother are strong. You have to be happy to be the best that you can be.”
When I found out I was carrying a little girl from an ultrasound done in January I literally started to cry from happiness. I have such a strong connection to women and have always dreamed of having a little girl to love. But inside I knew that if I wanted to raise this little girl to be a strong young woman I would have to model that behavior myself. I knew that I couldn’t continue to be unfulfilled in my life and that some serious changes had to come about before she was born. In March of this year I made the decision to separate from my husband. We are friends, we care about one another but it became obvious that we aren’t meant to be married. We made the agreement that we would continue to live together until after the baby was born and for a couple of months after, to give me time to recover and get on my feet.
I have always dreamed of having a homebirth. I studied for a period of time as an apprentice with a homebirth midwife. I was determined to have a peaceful homebirth for my little girl. Even with the cards stacked against me with a less-than-ideal living situation, an impending divorce and a history of preterm labor I did everything that I could to minimize my stress and focus on my baby. I spent a lot of time just talking to her, asking her to stay in until 38 weeks so she could be strong and healthy, letting her know that she is absolutely safe and wanted and loved, feeling strength and peacefulness coming from her. At the end of my pregnancy I don’t think I have ever felt like a more full and beautiful pregnant woman. I took time to take care of my skin and dress up when ever I could, just to pamper myself. I would go on long hikes in the woods and spend time playing with my son, giving him lots of extra love and attention.
Since my son was born at 36 weeks, it was like I had 2 due dates. Her actual due date was June 4th, but I had to make it to May 8th to have a homebirth and make it past the 36 week mark. May 8th came and went, with a big sigh of relief at first and later impatience. I had strong contractions on and off for those last few weeks and I felt in a constant holding pattern, waiting for her to make her arrival at any moment. I got to have a beautiful Blessingway with my close girlfriends. They brought beautiful food, candles for me to burn during my birth and everyone brought their own piece of fabric to be sewn into prayer flags with wishes of empowerment and strength. I spent time talking with my midwife, crying when I needed to and opening my heart to welcome this little girl.
The week before Willow was born I got really impatient and finally gave into the thought that I could stay pregnant for another 2 or 3 weeks. I finally relaxed into that thought, readjusting my expectations. Then at about 12:30 am on May 23rd I went to the bathroom and noticed that my thighs were wet. I wasn’t sure if my water had broken or not and went to lay back down. Once in bed I noticed another gush of fluid and light contractions, so I thought I would get up and see what was going on. I was home alone with my son and I wanted to be sure that my birth pool was ready to go in case everyone got there too late to help set it up. I stayed out of bed until about 2:30 blowing up the pool and filling it 2/3 full with hot water (something my midwife, knowing me well, told me not to do myself). My labor hadn’t picked up by then so I went to lay back down in bed for a while. I laid in bed having light, but regular contractions until about 5:30 and I decided to get up and drink some water, and make some coffee. I puttered around the house, listening to Neal Young’s album Harvest, watching the morning sun come into my windows. I lit some candles and got in the pool. My son crawled out of bed and got in the pool with me. Finally around 6:30 I called my husband Clay to let him know my water had broken, called my friend Julie who would be attending my birth that it would be today and finally my midwife Kathi to tell her what was going on. Even though my water had been broken for a few hours at that point, no real labor had started yet.
At about 9 Clay had been home and taken our son to daycare (he was scheduled to go that day anyway) and Kathi called to check in on me. She said that another women was in early labor in Petoskey and that I should really start trying to get things going if I could. I started to feel frustrated. The relaxed environment I had been enjoying that morning now seemed to disappear, Clay seemed nervous, I was frustrated that my labor hadn’t started yet. What is wrong with my body, I thought. Why does my water break and then nothing happens. I tried to go outside for a walk to get labor moving and the weather had turned nasty. It was down right cold with wind and very cold rain hitting me in the face. My attitude turned worse. IT”S THE END OF MAY! Why is the weather so bad. I told Clay I needed to go to Meijer to pick up something for my birth kit that I had forgotten and to walk around because the weather was so nasty.
We went to the store and my tension seemed to grow. I was irritated to be walking around Meijer in almost labor. Urgh I thought, why can’t the peaceful feel I had this morning just continue on. Clay’s nervousness seemed to grow. On the way home I sort of melted down. I started to cry and feel really sorry for myself. I decided I would take a shower and try to calm myself down. I stood in the shower beam and had a good cry about things not being the way that I had dreamed of them being. It didn’t seem fair. Then I had a moment of clarity, thinking back to all those birth stories I had read in Spiritual Midwifery, about allowing emotional release to happen. I cried about what I needed to cry about and then decided to change my attitude. This was about me and my baby. I was so excited to meet her, it felt we had such a strong and peaceful connection that I knew I had the power to get that back. I decided that no matter what the circumstances, in this moment I needed to focus and create the birth environment that I wanted. I got out of the shower and went to my room to lay down. I lit some candles and cuddled into bed at about 10:15 am with still no real contractions happening, but I made the decision to rest and meditate on how I wanted my little girl to be brought into the world.
At 11:00 am I woke up and felt revived. I felt calm and determined and with strong contractions about 5 minutes apart. I got out of bed and called Julie to come over and asked Clay to help me warm up the pool. The contractions were taking all of my focus now, but weren’t painful. I got in the pool and started holding my breath and floating underwater. It felt nice to be suspended there, welcoming the contractions as they came. I could really feel downward movement and pressure now, I remember being able to very clearly feel cervical dilation happen. I felt as though I put up this protective barrier around myself, breathing with each contraction and welcoming them to come, talking to my baby the whole time. About 12:15 pm the contractions were coming really strong and about every 3 minutes, but I was handling them very well. Julie had arrived and was helping clean up the house and spreading good energy. I turned on more Neal Young and lit candles again. I remember telling Clay that the contractions were pretty strong, but I really wasn’t ready for the midwives to be there yet. 5 minutes later after a couple of contractions that I had to vocalize through, Clay told me I should call the midwives that these contractions were coming right on top of one another. With a snort I agreed, feeling like I didn’t need the help yet.
I called Kathi and told her that yes they were coming every 2-3 minutes and were pretty strong, I said I thought I was probably about 5 centimeters dilated, but I didn’t think it was serious yet, I didn’t feel the urge to push and I didn’t feel frantic like I was in transition. Kathi calmly said “Well I’m going to come and check on you, things could go pretty fast from here. If it’s not time I can always leave again.” I agreed that would be okay. I got back in the pool and as soon as I did I had three very strong contractions right on top of each other. I felt so lucid and aware of what was happening in my body that I could distinctly feel my cervix stretching with each one. During the third of those contractions it started very strong and just at the peak I could feel my energy shift, suddenly I could feel my eyes dilate, my vision became very clear, my consciousness seemed to shift to a different and more primal place. I just hit transition, I thought. I suddenly felt the urge to pee and got out of the pool and walked to the toilet, I tried to sit down and it felt way too deep. The contractions were coming one right on top of another. This is it. She’ll be here soon. The only comfort came from holding on the door jamb and allowing myself to dangle. I breathed and moaned and let my belly hang loose. I finally stood in the shower to go pee because I couldn’t sit and Kathi walked in the front door. I came out and said “you have to check me right now” she had no supplies set up yet but agreed, rushing to get a pair of sterile gloves. I made my way to the couch for her to check me, having to lean over the back for a contraction in the process. My whole body felt taken over and I could continuously feel myself opening. Kathi checked me at 12:50 and said “Jonelle, you’re at 8 cm but very stretchy.”
Immediately after that cervical check I got a strong contraction that made me bend over and brace myself on my knees, at the peak of the contraction I felt the uncontrollable urge to push and I bared down hard with the urge. I realized at that moment that if I pushed with this I was going to push an entire baby out at once. When the contraction ended I moved back to the pool and got ready for the next one. I was very vivid about what was happening in my body and could feel Willow moving down between my bones, and I thought I have to breathe this baby down so I don’t damage my bottom. Everything felt calm and very collected, I felt completely in control of the process. When the next contraction came I took deep breaths and allowed my body to move my baby down, giving a tiny push to get her through the bones. When the contraction ended I allowed her to move back up a bit, giving my bottom and birth canal time to stretch. As the next contraction came I felt her move right back into place and reached down to support my own perineum, I breathed slowly and steadily, controlling how much she came. I could feel her being close to crowning and let her go back in once more. I could feel her head between my bones and breathed through the burning. As the next contraction came I breathed with it and cradled her head as she crowned and then birthed her head myself. I check around her neck for cord and waited there, on my knees in the tub, for the next contraction to come. As the next contraction came I gave a small push to get her shoulders out and caught her myself, with my midwives looking on. Julie had a complete look of amazement and I brought Willow out of the water and onto my chest. She gave a little tiny squawk to let us know she was there and snuggled into my chest. Kathi and Katy, the midwives, busied themselves checking her breathing and covering her with blankets.
A few minutes later I birthed my placenta and cut the cord myself. I felt so empowered and whole! I had done it exactly the way I dreamed. Just me and my baby, I felt this peaceful aura surrounding us. We had worked together and birthed her on our own. It suddenly felt really important that I had been so in control and aware of what was happening in my body, that I had caught her myself. Making the decision to leave a relationship while pregnant is very hard, but the power that I felt in that moment, holding the baby that I grew, and birthed and caught myself, her calmly looking up at me, I knew that all was exactly as it should be. She was just perfect.
Willow Anne was born at 1:04 pm at 38 weeks gestation, just 2 hours after my real contractions started at 7lbs 3 ozs on the first day that the lilacs began to bloom. I felt wonderful and from working with my body and breathing my baby down I my bottom wasn’t torn, bruised or even swollen. The next few days I spent snuggling in bed with my little girl. Kathi and Julie brought in fresh lilacs that I put in my room, I burned some special candles. Friends trickled in and spent time on my bed with me, laughing and eating food. I introduced Willow to her big brother and rested. Feeling protective love and relaxation with my little girl.
Willow in Celtic symbolism represents strength and flexibility which is exactly what I have needed in my situation. The ability to bend really far, but not break and to maintain my integrity. I know that it sounds funny I but believe with everything that the energy of this little person gave me the strength that I’ve needed to make some very positive changes in my life. I have finally been able to see that in order to empower any woman, to give her strength and support, to see her as beautiful and worthy of love that I must first do that for myself. Most importantly, to teach my daughter all of those things, I have to live them. Willow’
s birth has made me feel a special connection to single mother’s, to really see the strength that they hold, how much
power can live in that decision. I feel stronger and more beautiful now that I ever have.
I know there is a lot of talk about birth mattering, but it does. The way we birth our babies, the way we FEEL after we birth our babies, matters. No matter how our babies are born – through c-section, homebirth, an epidural – whatever it may be, the important thing is that we feel supported and powerful in that moment. That we feel loved and cherished and beautiful for the hard work that we’ve just done. What makes an adventure is not the destination, but the journey itself. It’s the challenges we face and the grace we find in meeting and over coming those challenges.
I feel after this birth I am coming back to my work with birthing and pregnant women with a whole new outlook, a more clear way of being with women. A way of really seeing the process for what it is and just being able to simply be there to support their process, whatever that might be. I hope that sharing this story in its honesty and intimate detail can help other women find clarity and strength in their births as well.