In celebration of Iris’s first birthday, I’m re-sharing our birth story. Today we will laugh, love, and feast on cake!
The sky was a pale shade of gray and the wind huffed upon our faces chilling just the tips of our noses. Willow galloped down the hill toward the playground. I watched the pink pom poms on her owl hat bobble with her step. She climbed up a small set of stairs across the troll bridge, down her favorite green slides and made her way to the swings. My mom and Addison enthusiastically pushed her back and forth, tickling and catching her feet mid swing. She squealed with delight. I breathed in the crisp autumn air, smiling proudly as I watched the unadulterated joy in my daughter’s eyes.
Then I excused myself focusing on the onset of a contraction.
I lost my mucus plug the evening prior, one day after my projected due date. My nose became runny that night and I announced to Addison that I was sure we’d have a baby this weekend. We drifted off to sleep.
It was so; I woke around 2 a.m. the next day with my first contraction, although I mistook the feeling for the onset of diarrhea, forgetting what early labor feels like since Willow’s birth 27 months ago. I drifted back into a light sleep until I was again awoken by the slightly uncomfortable sensation three hours later.
Having had premonitions about a precipitous birth, I began to keep track of the frequency of my contractions. Willow stayed sleeping as I quietly rolled out of bed and ambled into the next room. Addison followed shortly after. “Are you feeling anything?” he asked.
I moseyed around the house beginning to set things in place for our homebirth. I unthawed the baby’s pending birthday muffins, folded last bits of laundry, rearranged random things, wiped up the already clean countertops.
Around 7:20 a.m., Addison hopped in the shower and went to retrieve me Steaming Cup’s Brazilian Breakfast I had been craving- acai puree, yogurt, mango and homemade granola. When Willow woke, we all enjoyed breakfast together for the last time as a family of three.
I remained relatively calm despite knowing that life would drastically change within the next several hours. Although I felt like I could stay pregnant forever, I was excited to welcome our new family member. The last several weeks of my pregnancy gave me some time to grieve the loss of one on one attention I would no longer be able to offer Willow; we soaked up as much time together as possible and I cherished every moment.
My somewhat uncomfortable contractions continued about every ten minutes for close to 40 seconds. Addison, Willow and I packed up, picked up my mom and headed to the park for that fresh autumn air and lots of space for movement. The car ride was nauseating.
Close to an hour passed. Willow enjoyed the thrills of slides, tree climbing with Dad and exploration with Grandma.
We dropped my mom back off at her home, then me at mine. Addison and Willow took a trip to pick up some last minute snacks for Willow to munch on throughout Labor Day: bananas and Annie’s bunny graham crackers.
The stillness of my home was both comforting and nerve-wrecking as I endured several more contractions each gradually more intense. The counter tops, couch back and stairs held my weight as I quietly hummed through the discomfort. I pictured baby Iris on her journey, wondering just how far she had descended, wondering when I would hold her against my chest.
I noted how differently this labor progressed from my last. I was immersed in anticipation, reveling in the unknown, rejoicing in my freedom, power and control over my body.
My previous hospital birth didn’t offer me any of these joys. Instead, my membranes were artificially broken to speed up an already quickly progressing process. I was offered pitocin on top of that. I was hooked to a fetal monitoring system severely limiting my movement. My cervix was violated regularly throughout contractions by a slew of medical professionals each with a different estimate. I was asked how my epidural was treating me…I didn’t have an epidural in place. I was told I was going to be prepped for a c-section but when I heard those words, luckily my body knew what to do and I gave birth vaginally within ten minutes of my obstetrician’s announcement.
When Addison and Willow returned, she enjoyed playing upstairs with her new Doc McStuffins clipboard they picked up along the way.
“I’m doing business,” she told me, flawlessly tracing the letters on the platform.
Up and down the stairs I trekked checking in on Willow, taking some time to breath downstairs.
“Are you OK Momma? Are you happy?” she asked during each labor ballad I belted.
“Mama’s fine,” I would reply.
I rocked my hips in a quick figure-eight motion and I pictured Iris making her way closer and closer Earthside. Soon, the nausea became overwhelming. I drank some water. I hung my head in the same toilet I spent every morning in for the first 14 weeks of my pregnancy; in front of the same toilet Willow placed her hand on my back mimicking my heaves and commentating on the color of my greenish-yellow, bile spew.
I made my way to the stairs to check on Willow once again only to be interrupted by a very uncomfortable contraction partway up.
“You need to call LaNette,” I called to Addison somewhat frantically. I envisioned myself catching my baby on the stairs without my midwife’s support and I became slightly terrified.
He placed the call at 11:54 a.m. My contractions were five to eight minutes apart, each about one minute long. The pressure mounted and I found myself back on the toilet this time trying to pee. Pinkish mucus stained the toilet paper.
At some point during this time, I started to cry. Hot tears flooded my eyes and poured down my fleshy cheeks.
“I don’t know why I’m crying,” I explained through the sobs. My head against his chest, Addison reassured me that this was all very overwhelming and that everything was going to be OK.
Finding unexpected comfort from my husband, I wanted so badly to hug Willow too. Instead I requested Addison call my mom to sit with her.
My hips continued their figure-eight motion through each contraction. My eyes closed, I felt the pressure of Addison’s hands on my lower back. I listened to boiling of water on the stove. He started a water reserve in case we ran out of hot water for the birth tub.
LaNette arrived. I apologized.
“Maybe you came too early,” I said, second guessing myself.
“Oh, there is no such thing,” she said. “I got here right on time.” And she placed her hand on me.
I found myself in the bathroom once again. In between unpacking her things, LaNette checked in on me.
“You’re feeling a lot of pressure,” she half asked and half told me. I knew we were close to delivery.
I made my way into the living room, eyes squinting through the discomfort. My naked bottom faced the bright sun, earlier hidden now peering in through the large, three paned window. I listened to the crinkle of the tarp under my feet as I rocked back and forth, back and forth. The pressure continued.
“Where is the camera?” I wondered out loud. Our birth assistant/photographer was on her way. I wanted so badly to capture the images of these moments. My mom found our camera and started documenting.
Suddenly, like the splatter of a water balloon on hot, summer concrete, my water broke between my legs.
I breathed deeply through my nose, my nostrils practically plastered to my septum. Reverberations of my deep hum and breathy song tickled my head as my mouth opened wide in release.
Behind these callings I heard my mom explaining to Willow that the baby was coming. Camera snaps. LaNette, hurried but confident assuring me, “Good, good, beautiful, yep, yep.” Water boiling.
I requested to get into the tub. I longed for the water’s warmth to relax my tense, laboring body but it wasn’t ready yet. I felt LaNette’s feminine but powerful fingertips on my lower back, then Addison’s again.
Soon there was an intense heat in my vagina as the baby’s head began to descend. LaNette guided my hands between my legs and I felt the wet warmth of Iris’ head crowning.
“Let’s get you into the water,” LaNette said.
I was afraid to move.
“Do you want your water birth? If you want your water birth you need to get into the tub,” she instructed.
I shook my head not answering yes or no.
Addison, knowing I would regret the decision, helped me into the shallow water. I struggled to submerge my bottom entirely but when I did, I felt Iris’ head emerge.
I could see her dark hair.
Another contraction came and with a push, her shoulders appeared and then the remainder of her body slipped out. LaNette’s hands guiding mine, I pulled Iris Odette to my chest for the first time.
I laughed holding her warm, supple body against mine, relieved, proud, falling deeper in love. She blinked her eyes under the furrow of her brow looking into mine as she pooped and peed down my abdomen.
She didn’t cry which worried me. But LaNette calmly reminded me of her gentle birth and instructed me to watch how alert she was. We laid Iris’ back into the water floating her serenely and she let out a tiny squawk. Her sound so sweet, I lifted her back to my chest.
Willow quickly made her way around the tub from where she watched her sister being born.
“That’s my sister,” she proclaimed, touching my arm, then Iris’, then reaching in to kiss her sister’s tiny, scrunched face.
I rested my head on my first born’s arm feeling so comforted.
I was completely amazed by the calmness of this moment; my two, young daughters so tranquil and untroubled by such a magnificent, transformative passage.
Nine minutes after Iris’ birth, I felt the slow, soothing gush of our placenta with another contraction.
LaNette directed my hand onto the strong, rubbery cord. I felt it pulse.
Jamie the birth assistant arrived sometime shortly after.
Iris and I were helped out of the tub onto the couch. She rested on my chest ready to make her next journey to the breast for her first feed.
Addison chuckled at the sight of our placenta in a bowl attached to our new baby. He joked that I looked like the hippie mother from the film Wanderlust and snapped a few pictures.
Jamie laid the placenta out onto a chair nearby and gave us a tour of the incredible organ. She showed me the membranes where Iris had been held only an hour ago. They were nearly opaque when pulled together. She looked for calcification of which there was a small spot. She and LaNette commented on the many small cotyledons present. Fascinating. I hadn’t even caught a glimpse of the placenta when I delivered Willow.
Meanwhile Iris tasted her hands, licking wildly. I could feel her miniature feet and knees press into my soft abdomen as she occasionally leapt closer to my breast.
Willow, a seasoned nursling, encouraged her: “Come on Iris, take a sip.”
She felt her sister’s toes and recited “This Little Piggy” as best as she could remember.
Sun shined so intensely it was even blinding through the sheer drapery, so Addison hung a towel from the curtain rod.
I found myself growing impatient waiting for Iris to self attach to the breast knowing fully the benefits of not interfering. It was extremely difficult not to help her along to eat for the first time.
“I knew she was going to have dark hair,” I proudly announced to everyone.
A little over an hour passed and Iris made it! She only fed for a brief moment.
After allowing lots of time to snuggle, LaNette and Jamie examined my bottom. There was no sign of any damage aside from a small scrape on my labia. In fact, they said it looked like I hadn’t had a baby at all, much different from my second degree tears from Willow’s birth.
LaNette told me I needed to eat and drink something. I wasn’t hungry, but I agreed to a few forkfuls of veggie noodles and some water. Addison fed me.
Swelling with adrenaline, I felt like I could walk the city, parading my beautiful family for all to see.
I passed Iris to Addison’s bare chest so I could clean off a bit.
Jamie sat with me in the bathroom taking a wet cloth and gently washed between my legs.
We made our way upstairs and snuggled into bed, Willow, Addison, Iris and I.
Here, LaNette took Iris’ weight, 7 lbs. 6 oz. (exactly what her dad had predicted) and her height 20.5 inches, and performed her newborn tests.
LaNette and Jamie gave us some time alone and went downstairs to clean up. I smelled coffee brewing. After clean up, they left us with only one load of laundry, one garbage bag and one baby as they had promised. I was thrilled, the neurotic clean freak that I am.
My mom’s phone chimed as she announced Iris’ birth to family members. She soon greeted my brother Jeff, eager to meet his new niece. He was the first to visit Willow too.
Willow asked to hold her sister. We placed Iris onto her lap and Willow told her that she loved her. She kissed her on the forehead. I watched Willow explore her sister’s face in amazement. Iris responded keenly to her sister’s voice, the voice that sang and chatted with her daily in utero.
After several vital checks and postpartum instructions, LaNette and Jamie left reporting that they would be back tomorrow.
My mom and Jeff left soon after. Hugs and kisses and we’ll see you soons.
There we were, our family of four. Addison and I smiled at one another. Willow fell asleep around 6 p.m. Iris nuzzled in my chest again. The girls slept peacefully.
“This is exactly how I pictured it,” Addison said reaching for my hand for his infamous “tickle”, a variation of the high five. I playfully rolled my eyes and tickled back.
We talked about how incredible our birth experience was and how lucky we were.
Close to an hour later, Iris woke for a diaper change. Willow woke too and she remained awake until 4:30 a.m. on what we now call her Birth High. Our unrealistic expectations of parenthood with a toddler and newborn were quickly squashed. Willow requested many things throughout the night, a snack, a show, a book, and another, and another, a boobie, to hold her sister, to play, a snack, a book, a snack, a snack, to play, to hold her sister, a show…
Iris nursed and slept throughout the commotion.
I had officially been awake for over 24 hours.
The next day, we sleepily explored the wonders of new parenthood. LaNette came to check in on us sometime in the afternoon. Iris and I were perfectly well. My uterus was shrinking significantly and Iris was thriving despite some of my concerns with breastfeeding. Although I wasn’t in any pain, I noticed her latch was somewhat shallow and my nipples were misshapen after her feeds.
I called my lactation consultant friend Angela to see if she’d be willing to assess our latch. She happily made a trip out to our house that day to see how she could help. She was attentive and gentle, nodding as I explained my concerns. She assessed Iris’ sucking capacity and gave me different positioning suggestions. She reminded me that I wasn’t nursing a toddler and sat with us quietly while Iris had a feed. With some repositioning of her chin, Iris’ piston-like suck turned into a rocking motion and I could hear the faintest “cuh” of her swallow. Confidence regained, I sighed a sigh of relief so thankful for Angela’s support.
LaNette and Jamie stopped by over the next few days. Iris completed a few more newborn tests and LaNette and I filled out her birth certificate information. Scheduling our final postpartum visit six weeks later tugged at my heart knowing that I wouldn’t be graced by my caring, compassionate visitors each day.
Although I would be lonesome for LaNette and Jamie who had shared such an incredible experience with me, I was feeling irrepressibly whole. I was so full of love!
The first snow fell just days after Iris’ birth so we kept each other warm in bed. Addison took LaNette’s postpartum instructions extremely seriously, hardly allowing me to walk to the bathroom without his assistance.
I sniffed Iris’ silky, dark hair holding her close under milk drenched sheets. Willow pressed her bottom against my back for a nap. I could live in that moment forever.
The day I gave birth to Iris was a day of other beginnings.
I was given the opportunity to heal from Willow’s less than ideal birth experience. I will never forgive myself for bringing her into the world so aggressively. While Willow’s transition Earthside wasn’t as I wished, instead I offered her a gentle transition into sisterhood. I’m also proud to have showed her that birth is normal and it can be peaceful and beautiful.
Addison’s participation in the birth has offered us a renewed bond. Amidst what sometimes feels like incessant nursing, endless diapers changes and not enough showers, his attention to my needs makes me feel like I really matter. His involvement and attention to his daughters is sexier than anything.
The benefits of our beautiful birth aren’t limited to our family though; they extend to others around us. When we told our next door neighbor that Iris was born at home, she replied with such disgust, her jaw nearly crashed to the driveway: “How could you do that?!” Addison and I replied calmly explaining how lovely it was. Her demeanor quickly changed and she became receptive to what initially disturbed her so deeply.
When we announced Iris’ birth to friends and family, we mostly received an outpouring of love. But I also heard several “I’m glad it went the way you wanted”, as if the safety of my choice to birth at home had been doubted all along. However, at only 6 days old, Iris had already surpassed her birth weight. Two weeks postpartum, my bleeding was nearly non existent. Our birth experience offered us an exceptionally healthy start and my tender transition from pregnancy to motherhood earthside has offered me a beautiful memory that I will forever cherish.