In the beginning of December 2019, my 5th birth brought us Sterling, a wise and wild soul who only needed a mere six days to complete his work on earth. After his departure from this world, we were left with shattered souls and broken hearts. I gave birth, my womb was empty, but this time, so were my arms.
And one day, in the midst of our grief, we learned of another who would join our incomplete family. At the end of December 2020, another wild soul made her way to us earthside.
After five fast labors, all between 1 and 5 hours long, I was used to rushing. I’ve rushed to hospitals, rushed to call the midwife while she rushed to get to me. We’ve even scrambled to fill the birth tub in time. My last three labors all began with my waters releasing and then, we didn’t have much time before baby was born. Eisley knew I needed a little more time and I was delighted to have a labor begin with waves instead of the familiar burst and rush of waters.
On the last day of December, I woke up with mild waves and called upon my birth team. The tub was already blown up and Randy (husband) lined and filled the pool, while my birth team trickled in. I was close to being fully dilated when everyone showed up, but baby was on the opposite side and needed to rotate all the way around before coming down to be born. I wasn’t used to a relaxing, slower labor. Lisa Marie (midwife) reminded me to enjoy my labor and that was something I had never considered before. Enjoy. I can enjoy this! It is work and it is hard, there will be some pain, but I can enjoy this. The waves felt intense, but far apart. I reached inside to feel where baby was and was discouraged by how high she felt. I knew we could have a while to go and I didn’t want everyone waiting on me. Lisa Marie had to remind me again to enjoy this time. I got into the tub to float and relax during the waves. When a wave would begin, I would tell myself in my head, “I welcome this wave and I enjoy my labor” and those words somehow shifted my mindset, because the grip of pain would release a little when those words were in my mind.
My birth affirmations were hung all around the room, with drawings of me and baby made by the kids, scriptures written out by my grandmothers and mom, words of love and encouragement from friends and family. The corner of the room was dedicated to Sterling, his hand and foot prints and photo adorned the shelves along with his candle. My sister lit the candle for him and it burned while I labored. And Sterling brought heaven down. I felt him there with us and I wasn’t surprised one bit by the strength of his presence. I was, however, pleasantly surprised by the amount of feminine energy, strength and support that I felt. Three of the strongest women I know, my mom, my sister, and my midwife (who is family to me) made up the majority of my birth team. The notes of encouragement that hung on the walls around me were all written by different women in my life, each very close to me. Whether there in person or in spirit, I felt the peaceful, powerful strength of all these women together, like a pack of lionesses protecting my birth space and holding space for me.
My last birth had been private, just my husband and me with our midwife and her assistant/husband. This time, giving birth after the death of my baby boy, I knew we needed more support, so my mom and my sister became my doulas. My husband, having done this with me five times before, is a pro at being my birth partner. He has been right beside me, as my anchor, during the most intense parts of birth. He has held me, held my hands while I squeezed his, rubbed my back, kissed me, spoken birth affirmations into my ear, and has been right next to me during every birth. This time was different. The poor man was exhausted and drained after a long, crazy week, plus being up at 4am to work. It became clear that this time, HE needed support during the birth. He spent some time with me beside the birth tub, providing hydrotherapy by pouring water over my back. Then he went to go lay down for a minute to rest in another room. He ended up falling asleep and when Lisa Marie went to check on him, she covered him with a blanket. I love this detail because it reminds me that sometimes birth partners need support and rest. And the simple act of placing a blanket on him tells me that she was in tune to Randy’s needs as well. Fathers often tend to be forgotten during birth, but this is another reason why midwifery care is so magical. Our midwife took care of her laboring mama and she took care of dad too.
Lisa Marie told me that Randy was taking a nap so he could be rested when it came time to push. I was glad he was resting, since we could all tell that he seemed tired and just not himself. I noticed that I wasn’t completely myself either. In the past, I’ve been chatty in between contractions. I’ve laughed with mom, sister, and husband right up until it was time to push. This time, I went inward. I was quiet, silent even. I would whisper to baby, “It’s just you and me together. We got this. We can do this.” For the first time, this wasn’t just me bringing a baby into the world- it was a journey that baby and I were on together. While Randy was out, the women stepped up to become my fill-in birth partners. My mom and sister each had turns pouring water over me. My sister took pictures to document the birth for me. My midwife was often by my side, rubbing my back and offering words of encouragement.
The waves would bring pressure and I would feel like I was close to pushing, but in between contractions, baby still sat high. I mentioned this to Lisa and she said I could try gently pushing with the wave to bring baby down. She sensed it would be soon and encouraged me. She spoke words of affirmation and reminded me that I was safe, baby was safe, and that I could safely bring baby into the world. I didn’t realize how much I needed that reminder until she said those words.
At one point, I was in my head thinking about who I wanted to be in the room when it was time to push. Mom? Sister? Just Randy? I was sorting through different scenarios in my head and finally, I needed it all to quiet. Finally, I just let go. I released whatever expectations I had surrounding this birth. I let go of my fears. I released the feeling that everyone was waiting on me and I realized, no one was waiting. Everyone was simply present. They wanted to be there and I wanted them to be there and I could take my time. They were open to whatever direction my birth would take and I needed to be open just the same. I decided to let the day play out however it was meant to. I didn’t focus on who would be in the room and when, I just let my labor run its course.
My birth team flowed in and out of the birth space. I was happy and at peace with however this was going to be. By now, it was my sister and I in the room. I was in such a meditative state, I didn’t speak. I focused on complete relaxation and surrender, allowing my body and baby to do what was necessary. I learned later that my sister was praying over all of us, specifically praying that any unspoken needs would be met. I remember thinking that it was amazing how all the women were so intuitive. They always seemed to know exactly what to say or do. While I know they all have strong intuitions normally, I know now that something heavenly truly was taking place there that day. I wonder if Sterling interceded for us too.
Lisa Marie would peek in or come into the room to just listen. She was in tune to me and every wave, every sound, even down to the expression on my face. Occasionally, she would step out for just a minute or two to give me space and to set up. The door to my bedroom/birth space was open so she could keep a watchful eye on me as labor progressed. Lisa told me that she sensed I could use my mom’s support and asked if she should go get her. I said yes and my mom came right by my side. She sat beside the tub. Her presence was quiet but strong. She whispered gentle words of encouragement and she was everything I needed.
I needed baby to move down and I whispered, “baby, come down, come down, come down”, then I barely pushed during the next wave. Suddenly, I felt 3 contractions right in a row, back to back to back. Randy and Aaryn were in the kitchen getting a bite to eat. My midwife stepped out of the room for just a moment to get a tray. It was just me (and baby) and my mom in the room. The pressure increased and I felt my waters release. My mom saw my water break and whispered, “okay”. I was relieved because I knew that she knew we were getting close and at this point, I knew she wouldn’t leave my side. *She had stepped out with both Oliver’s birth (to settle a waking kiddo) and at Ever’s insanely fast birth (to call the midwife).
With the next wave, I found balance between relaxing and gently pushing, taking care not to bear down too hard. I reached down to feel if baby was crowning, but I didn’t feel her yet. This made me think we still had a few contractions to go, but I was wrong. Suddenly, I felt baby’s head come out into the palm of my hand and out she came in one contraction, head then body in one smooth flow of motion. There she was, floating beneath me, small and lovely and frosted like a birthday cake. I was captivated by her beautiful vernix all over her face and body. I looked at her and realized she was looking right up at me, eyes wide open, like she had something to tell me. Then I recieved her message, as I realized her cord was wrapped all the way around her neck and wrapped again around her shoulder. I was stunned for a split second and then I remembered my training, acted quickly and calmly. I gently unwrapped the cord from around her neck and then from around her shoulder. I brought her up out of the water to my chest and sat back in the tub in complete relief, as everyone else entered the room, shocked and elated. We did it.
Eisley, I carried you for 38 weeks, 38 long weeks full of fear and detachment. I struggled to connect in the earlier months, when fear and trauma consumed me, but you showed me grace and you waited. You fought your way into my heart, like your big brother fought to give us six days. Loving you is effortless, but you’ve fought through a lot of darkness to get through to me. You’ve peeled back the layers of grief and trauma and let your light shine on us. You’re showing me a new way through life. In a lot of ways, it’s as if you’re carrying me now, as we go through life after loss together. You have taken your place in this family and have brought with you something new and fresh, a different kind of joy that I can’t explain or describe. Thank you for being ours and for teaching us that grief and joy and beauty will always coexist. You are a part of me and a part of him, and still entirely your own. You are and always will be a Wayfinder in your own right.
I love you, darling girl.
To the mama expecting another baby after loss:
Being pregnant after loss was the second hardest thing I’ve ever gone through, aside from the death of my son. I navigated through plenty of fear, worry, guilt and numbness, as I tried not to fall in love to protect myself. And then guilt consumed me for allowing myself to remain numb. I’m here to tell you that even if you feel disconnected, you love this baby and you have from the start. The difficulties of pregnancy after loss are worth it. When he/she/they arrive, you will be on a different journey, where sorrow and beauty collide. All the joy, excitement, beauty and love will catch up with you in the end, when you hold that baby in your arms. I keep your babies in my heart. I remember the ones who died and I celebrate the ones who come after death, to make your forever incomplete family just a little bit more whole.
Photography by Vikki J. Photography