“Oh, and there’s one more thing,” I tenuously asked our future long-term Airbnb host. “I was wondering if you would be comfortable with us giving birth at your property?…I promise a home birth isn’t as messy as it might seem!”
Her birth story is now a story. Something that actually happened and something I can share. For nine months I thought about the day; how it would feel, when it would happen (her due date was “coincidentally” my parents’ anniversary, March 10th) and where. I now hold all of those details in my memories; there is such relief in that. Especially because the details are both beautiful and impossibly hard, and most of all; ended with a healthy baby in our arms.
Labor began early on Sunday morning, March 7th. Surges had been off and on for a few days, so I wasn’t sure if these waves were a warm up or the main event. I hadn’t slept well in a couple of nights and my anxious mind was starting to wear.
I walked my pregnant self up to the ocean lookout just a few minutes away from our Airbnb in Leucadia. My sister Michelle (Meesh) sat with me on a bench and spoke beautiful prayers to help me feel more centered and connected; the exact shift I needed to come home to myself. As the day wore on and the surges held steady, I began to realize that I was definitely in “real” early labor. Mental strength was my biggest challenge during this early phase, unsure of how long I would be here before progressing to active labor.
Ryan and I watched a couple of movies on Netflix, walked up to the ocean again and did a lot of resting. Meesh and my mom had been watching Maisley and Coura and brought them back home for bedtime. Before they went to sleep, Maisley and Coura came into my room and kissed my belly. They asked why there was a towel underneath me and I told them it was there just in case my water broke. They looked at my water bottle on the bed next to me and said, “It’s okay mommy, if your water breaks, you can borrow Mimi’s (Meesh’s).” They told me to take a big, deep breath and to be brave.
I went to bed around 9pm and woke up around 10:30pm with a surge that shot me straight up in bed. I went from the main house of our small airbnb to our little casita that we turned into a birthing suite; bed, birth tub, shower and toilet all within an arm’s reach. Mother Mary held vigil, aglow by candlelight in the window sill from the beginning of labor to the hours after our baby lay asleep on my chest. She was accompanied by a photo of my dad and several other meaningful pieces to form a small altar of inspiration and support.
The lighting was dim, the tub was full and there was nothing left to do but have a baby. At this point, I was breathing deeply and sounding through each contraction. Ryan was helping with knee and hip compressions and simply sitting with me in between. I alternated between frog pose and lying on my side, putting all of my energy into the sound of my breath and movement of my hips to not get lost in the intense, burning pelvic pain below. As I focused all of my attention inside, Ryan was busy with his many roles: doula, husband, midwife supporter, tub temperature moderator and dad to Coura when she woke up with a nightmare as I labored.
Meesh came into the room every so often when Ryan needed to step away and she jumped right into our rhythm or prayed silently and beautifully by my side. Michelle the midwife came quietly around 12:30pm, observing, checking our baby’s heartbeat and allowing me the space to continue as I had been laboring.
I hesitantly felt the call to move to the toilet, the place I knew would move things along, but would also raise some hell in the process. I swayed while holding onto Ryan as he put counter-pressure on my lower back. After a while, I started feeling a lot of low, deep pressure and felt like it was time to move into the tub. The water was magic; a welcomed feeling of levity and ease as rain unexpectedly began to fall outside.
In my mind, I was remembering my last birthing experience. I had gotten into the tub and Coura was out in 20 minutes. I had assumed the process would be similar, however assumptions and expectations don’t exactly bode well in birth.
An hour and a half later and still no progress toward pushing, I began to feel deflated. I was at 10 centimeters, far into transition as told by the back to back contractions, but something felt stalled or stuck. My doubting mind wondered if the baby would ever come, if I could handle this again? I asked Michelle to check out what was happening. I knew my water had yet to break and so I asked if she would help move things. As she manually adjusted the lip of my cervix, my water broke. I dove straight into the sensation, out of my breath and felt unbearable pain. “Fuuuuucccckkkkkkkk”, I groaned under an exhale, contrary to my former peaceful presence.
Everything was both a blur and crystal clear from here as she made her way down my pelvis. I had forgotten this next level of intensity. I bared down and pushed with every ounce of my strength for over an hour. Coura had just flown right out. Why was this so much harder? I felt angry like I had betrayed myself somehow. “Why did you put me in this position AGAIN, Jenna?”
The pressure was building, lower and lower until I could hear the midwife and Ryan talking about how to catch the baby. I grabbed the side of the tub on all fours and with one more mountainous push of pure adrenaline strength, her head emerged into the water. 30 seconds later, I was able to release her body. Ryan said he will never forget seeing her face resting peacefully in the water before her body fully emerged.
I turned onto my back and Ryan caught her, maneuvering her like a reverse football hike through my legs and onto my chest.
The air stood still. Time stopped at 3:56am as her warm, soft body lay peacefully on my chest. There was a quiet commotion around me, as the midwives worked to stimulate a deep breath from our baby. Once she was breathing steadily, we turned her around to reveal her gender. I thought with certainty that she was a boy, so when Ryan revealed through tears, “It’s a girl, we have a daughter!”, I too couldn’t help but feel the flood of how right and perfect she was for our family.
I laid my head back against the edge of the tub in pure ecstasy. Disbelief settled in like the stillness of water. I went from desperate to be anywhere else – get me out of my body – to never wanting the moment to end. The juxtaposition of one of the hardest moments of my life, to one of the three best is so difficult to comprehend.
Everyone was in awe of her thick umbilical cord. She fell asleep with her arms and legs entwined like a soft pretzel in my welcoming arms. We transferred to our comfortable bed, the best part of doing a home birth. Home births are a lot of work, but the good kind of work, because we created an experience all around personal preferences and comfort. I was able to flow from one room to the next and fully engage in the birth without worrying about leaving for the hospital. Our midwives were supportive, professional, knowledgeable and receptive to my flow. Mara squeaked and squawked like a tiny bird as their gentle hands weighed and assessed her body.
Mara was born on March 8, 2021 – International Women’s Day – at our little Aloha cottage in Leucadia, in about 100 square feet of the 700 total. Even if it’s our temporary home, we will always hold this plot of land in gratitude and awe. With her fruit trees, rose bushes and salty sea air, she was the perfect place for our third baby girl to enter the world.