Every morning, the three little birds would cuddle in their nest with mama bird and daddy bird before the day began. The morning golden sun would peek through the cracks and for a few quiet moments, all was warm and well.
The oldest bird snuggled right up to mama.
“How did you sleep my love?” Mama asked.
“Good,” whispered the oldest bird in her crackly morning voice. “Can I get hot lunch today?” she pleaded.
The oldest bird was protective of her brood; she was silly and wise and kind. She loved to chirp around on her own and use the world as her playground. She was a strong bird with a compassionate heart, a bird with big feelings, a leader and a dreamer.
“Do I have nature school today?” inquired the middle bird. “Look how big I am, I slept through the night!”
The middle bird had scratched her sweet little beak the day before. She was a tumbly bird who often wore her underpants backwards or not at all. She was also a lover bird, with a raspy voice and a courageous spirit. She always made herself known and often created art exhibits around the nest.
Squeaks and squawks came from the baby bird who was too little to form words, but spoke novels through her essence.
Baby bird was as sweet as a rose and made everything better. She was so miraculously content and at ease in the world. Everyone fought to be the one who cuddled closest to her.
“Alright, time for breakfast!” announced daddy bird. “Hop on.”
He scooped up baby bird into the crook of his arm.
“I got the back!” said middle bird.
“Wait for me!” the third bird said.
Daddy bird carried all his birds downstairs for oatmeal and cartoons.
Mama bird lay alone in her nest and closed her eyes feeling tired and grateful for her birds. When they all lay together in bed, it made her pause in wonder at how she got here, a mama to three birds. Those little birds sometimes ruffled her feathers so much that she daydreamed about the empty nester life. But deep down she knew the truth. She’d miss these days she sometimes wished away.
The three little birds didn’t know what their days would bring, but they did know one thing…every little thing was gonna be alright.
“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.
Time is something we can never believe. Death is something we can never imagine. Yet both are here Certain Elements of life Burn you more than others The dark moments of parenthood… Was I even meant to be a mom? A dad? I don’t feel good at my name right now More like I’m drowning in survival tasks, unable to do the things I thought I would as a parent – like teach my kids how to play soccer, build things, read. Too busy breastfeeding and cleaning blood from a stubbed toe that’s been tracked around the floor like a crime scene. I wonder if my neighbors heard me yell, “There’s blood everywhere!” Even though in the hard moments it’s hard to believe, There’s no one better suited as mom, as dad then you and me.
I’m having a tough time distinguishing between what I said and what I thought; what I dreamt and what I did. In a matter of several beautiful, empowering, impossibly hard hours, I transitioned from being pregnant to postpartum, a baby in my womb to one on my chest.
Our world has instantly become a sleepless blur of sweet snuggles, talking more about sleep than actually sleeping, and straight up survival mode. She’s only been here a week and I can barely scroll to photos on my phone of a time before her.
She belongs here with us; a perfect fit. I was completely convinced for months that she was a boy. With happy tears in his eyes, Ryan announced, “It’s a girl”, and in that surprising moment, everything was right. Of course it’s her, I felt in my bones. There is something about her that makes me feel rest assured, all is well. An essence of light, softness and hope.
Mara Jeffries; our rounded edge on a very jagged couple of years. There was a point where I didn’t think three kids was even possible. Two was too hard…life was too hard. Yet here we are, living into the weave of chaos and beauty, knitting a whole family. A completeness I wasn’t sure I would ever feel.
While the world spins madly on, I rest peacefully with a newborn on my chest. Her toes the size of pez (equally as edible). Her ears, the same perfect shape as my dad’s. Long, thin eyelashes frame her deep blue eyes that wander curiously about her new world. I rest and relax more this third time around, knowing how important my wellbeing is to that of our family’s. And I also rest in gratitude. After meeting death firsthand and also watching friends give everything they’ve earned and every part of their hearts for the hope of a baby, there is nothing about this birth that I take for granted.
The name Mara is an homage to my mom and mother-in-law’s middle name; Marie. An honoring of Mother Mary who I have grown into a deep connection with. Mara coincidentally shares the beginning and end of Maisley and Coura. It’s also the Gaelic word for Sea. And Jeffries is, of course, in celebration of my Dadio.
“She’s out, she’s out!” yells Coura, to anyone who will listen. Our baby girl is here.
“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” – Leonard Cohen
One saguaro, two saguaro, three saguaro, ten. Hundreds more lifelike cacti appeared as we made our way into the Sonoran Desert, away from the sunset, away from home.
The darkness was more comforting than usual as I lay my head against the cool glass of the car window. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the night sky that looked less like a thin blanket scattered with holes and more like a thick, itchy wool one spangled with stars; the constellations drawn with light.
There’s something about the desert that feels reliable while I’m unraveling. It’s resilient and can be held accountable. It’s consistent, tried and true. It knows all of the secrets.
Maybe that’s also why I can never seem to get away from it fast enough.
I’m not sure where postpartum ends and grief begins. Entangled ribbons of depression and anxiety. Words that sometimes feel too big and not enough. Words that grow in size when I say them out loud.
Grief seems to amplify everything. Those uncomfortable particles of myself, old thought patterns and coping habits all come bubbling to the surface.
Those parts I dislike about myself seem to be readily available. But the parts I love, a little more hidden. Where am I amidst the brokenness?
I feel so much less understood in the world without my dad here. He knew me and respected me; he was like me. We could relate to each other on a soul level. He was someone who would genuinely listen to my travel itinerary or the intricacies of my work or other important things that many people would lose interest in. Without him here, it feels like one less person who is a mirror to my true self.
My acupuncturist reminded me today that brokenness is actually just a way for the light to come in. In Japanese culture, when a piece of pottery breaks, they seal it with gold in a process called Kintsugi, so that it’s actually worth more than before. Breakage is a part of the history of the object, not something to disguise.
I like to think I’m being patched up with gold. That all of the light from the stars, all of the love from here and there is all slowly helping me put the pieces back together.
Someday I will feel as light as a road runner across the desert sand. I will feel as sturdy and confident as the Saguaro cactus. An arm here, a nub there, unflappable in harsh conditions…simply unbothered.
As I dive deeper into motherhood, I feel like I’m growing further and further away from my carefree, 20-something former self. Ryan just kindly informed me that we are closer to Maisley’s first day of high school than to our first day of high school. He loves saying shit like that.
My favorite little sister** is getting married in less than a month to a guy who’s had her heart since day one. We celebrated her, and their upcoming “I do’s” with one last olé in Santa Barbara a couple weekends ago.
Going to a bachelorette party as a fresh mother of two felt like worlds colliding. Diapers, breastfeeding and “please don’t climb on the counter” became girl-talk, cocktails and pin the smooch on the penis. It was a blissful, refreshing, 48-hours of fun. But I felt like I was a little rusty on remembering how to live freely, let go and not worry about the clock or how many times I refilled my red cup. I kept picking up small items from the floor and moving scissors away from the edge of the counter.
It’s hard to jump in and out of lives and old selves and new selves. Like bags of breastmilk sitting next to bottles of tequila in the freezer. Or pumping while sitting at a lingerie party (opposite ends of the sexy spectrum).
Each child has rocked my existence in a new way. With Maisley it felt like an identity crisis. With Coura it feels more like a new opportunity for self discovery.
As mothers, we tend to get caught up in mom mode – wearing mom jeans, talking in a mom voice and doing other mom things; all the while forgetting about our other identities. Sometimes it takes a bachelorette party to remind us that we are also the girl who likes to let loose (or even just the girl who showers and has normal conversations with other humans).
I hope that as my girls grow up, I continue to foster all sides of myself so that they can clearly see: “I’m not like a regular mom, I’m a cool mom”.
Sometimes I look at the date and am surprised by it. Like my circadian rhythm is permanently set to another timezone. It’s summer, but I don’t really know what time of year it is. The sleepy postpartum fog takes me out of everyday life. It’s hard to make normal conversation with even close friends and family, let alone the chummy cashier at Trader Joes. I stare into space more than I should. My mind feels sporadic and consumed by feeding schedules, diaper changes, sunscreen application, laundry…August 20th. My mind goes into a quick panicky review: Is it someone’s birthday? Did we miss preschool orientation? What have I forgotten? Who is awaiting a return text or call? I always wonder the best time of year for having a baby. As if there’s a certain season that is better suited for turning your world upside down in the best and hardest way. Summer is nice because it’s warm and there’s always something happening. It also makes me feel like I’m not doing enough and too much at the same time. The fourth trimester is coming to a close, but I’m not ready to jump back into being “normal”. And what is normal? Normal has shifted again. I need more time to piece our new life together. Maisley’s constant whining feels like tiny ice picks to the brain, amounting to the loss of our minds. As Ryan so astutely observed, if I even look at cheese right now, Coura becomes an explosion of gas and fuss. Tomorrow I will look at my phone and it will be a new day. This too shall pass.
I am 10 months postpartum. Although, do you even call it postpartum past three months? At this point, I’m just a straight-up mom.
One of my yoga teachers told me, that someone told her, that you don’t really become a mom until the second child. That makes me feel really tired.
My mind is so full all the time. Full of nothing and everything.
What will she eat for lunch? How did she nap today? Is she tired? How’s her diaper rash? Is that a real cough or just a tickle? Did I read enough books to her today? How many vegetables did she get? When do I start her on cow’s milk? Is cow’s milk bad for her? Was that her 4th or 5th poop?
A friend sent me this quote recently and I can’t stop thinking about it:
“I tend to be most interested in the kinds of people who do not sweeten or dilute themselves for the sake of people tastes. Who never soften the blow of who they are. Like my coffee, I prefer the people I connect with to be full-strength and searing hot. And able to rouse my weary, idle heart.” – Beau Taplin // Black Coffee
Over the last 10 months, my identity has been completely shaken. I feel like a freshmen all over again. A little insecure, overwhelmed and afraid, but in awe of the possibilities and new world I’m in.
Becoming a mom has meant adding a whole new layer of responsibility, love and connection to my current being. This new life requires change, molding, dissolving of old thoughts, and growing into new perspectives.
Somedays I ache to be the woman who is so comfortable in her own skin, radiating confidence, truth, and beauty. It feels impossible to be myself, because, who am I really? What percentage am I Jenna versus mom/wife/sister/friend/daughter? I’m trying to figure out what I want, what I need, and my greater purpose within my new role as mom. I’m living so uncomfortably close to my edge that I could pop like a jack-in-the-box at any given moment.
Other days, I feel like I’ve got it goin’ on and being a mom feels so natural, right and real.
Even in the funkiest moments of self doubt, I know all is right. I’m exactly where I should be, watching Maisley simply exist while my heart explodes.
When my ever-smiley 10-month-old girl wears a onesie, her belly rolls over leggings. Her two front teeth have emerged with a gap wide enough for spitting water. She crawls so quick that the momentum of her body surpasses her arm speed and she face plants on the rug.