Childbirth is a portal of self-knowledge and connection, and motherhood is a channel for the present. I was studying postmodern midwifery at the Da-a-Luz school, Andalucía, Spain, in a community very focused on women, nature and alternative ways of living. Most of the people there live in trailers, caravans and tents; they spend most of the day outside and live very closely with their neighbors. The school’s classes take place in a vagina-shaped building, and we study inside the womb. After having spent 5 years using IUDs, and 4 of them without menstruating, it was a huge reconnection with my feminine to know this school and these people: to live with women planting their menstrual blood, holding women’s circles, singing at the fire and bathing in the river. After the first year at school, I got pregnant by my partner Elijah, and we decided to give birth there.
The philosophy of this school is that we need to change the way birth is seen and done throughout the world. They believe in natural childbirth, with the least possible intervention, respecting the time of the mother and child, believing that the woman’s body knows how to give birth and that if there is space and people comfortable enough for the mother, she will give birth in the best way – naturally. Of course, the hormone of love and orgasm is the same that we release when we give birth: oxytocin. However, it is released much more when we are comfortable, relaxed (as far as possible!), in a warm place, with low light, in which we feel safe, supported, loved… You can understand why in the popular images of hospital births women scream so much: everything is wrong! White lights, unknown people looking and touching the woman’s genitals, machine noises, cold, not to mention the drugs that most women are forced to take, losing contact with their own body and emotions, creating fear in this rite of passage which is such an important part of life.
I come from a family history of cesarean sections – I was one – and hospital births with drugs. I was afraid of giving birth when I was a child, but I always wanted to have children, and having studied childbirth and pregnancy before mine gave me a completely new perspective on the subject. I understood that this moment is the great ritual of a woman’s life, where we have access to parts of us probably never seen before – that is why it is so scary and grand; and it is there that we can reconnect, empower ourselves with our whole being, seeing ourselves working the miracle of giving birth. So, of course, I decided to give birth at home, with my teacher as a midwife, and my friends as doulas. The hospital was (and still is) the last option. The pregnancy was also minimally observed by doctors – I only went to a 9-week ultrasound session, at a homeopath’s house, where I saw that the baby was whole, and that was enough to give me security. As the midwife Marjolein, one of the teachers of the course, said, motherhood is the “path of trust,” in itself and in the universe, as there are no guarantees.
On April 30th I woke up with strong contractions, just before 9:00AM. Elijah and I went to the garden and called our midwife, who was at a circus retreat in the mountains. She came back because I said I felt a very strong pressure on the sacrum and “a desire to poop,” which signaled an imminent birth. Our mothers – Gisela and Clair – were there and participated in that first day together with the doula, my friend Johanne, and the midwife Debs, massaging me with each contraction, moaning with me, wiping wet cloths on my face (wonderful idea from Clair, who had been an assistant to a lay midwife 20 years earlier), and supporting me. The first night came, we lit the wood stove, and suddenly I heard all the women eating chocolates, murmuring with pleasure… I ran out into the garden and threw up all the water I had drunk – because I couldn’t eat almost anything, maybe a little rice and an olive. I said to my midwife “well, it’s been 12 hours… it must be nearly over, right?” She said it was better not to think about time at this moment.
The interval between contractions had not changed since the beginning, varying from 5 to 15 minutes at most. Elijah and the girls always said I was doing great, and I howled at each contraction. I cried, laughed, sang, tried to dance, received many massages and touches from everyone (especially from Elijah, to whom I shouted “higher up! Lower down! Stronger!” And he followed me with great dedication – what a man). The second day passed, the midwife did a touch exam at my request and said that I was already over 5 cm dilated: halfway there. I continued with hope, but I was already very tired from the lack of food and sleep. The baby’s heart rate was measured from time to time with the doppler and was always calm and strong. They gave me different tinctures, homeopathics, tapping, basins with hot water, while resting in shifts. Me and Elijah had sex twice during this saga and I even had an orgasm – I remember having to be quick, between contractions! – in one of them, even, to stimulate hormones. But still no sign of the baby.
The third day arrived and new midwives and doulas came, bringing a very different vibe. Guided meditations during contractions, crystal bowls, livelier music, dancing, shiatsu, I cried and loved them, but I felt more and more exhausted and anguished. I decided to go to my mother’s house, an airbnb where there was a bathtub, and we all went. They bathed me, always cheering me up and saying that I was doing well. That afternoon I had a moment of anger and said, shouting “you know what? i don’t believe in natural childbirth! and there is nothing I can do to change that now, none of these medicines are going to change my unconscious full of horrible messages about childbirth!” Three minutes later, my water broke.
It was my shadow being recognized and breaking free. It was also good to see that the water was clear, with no trace of meconium.
We went back to our house, and I started to want to give up. I told my friend and doula Rebeca (who is Spanish) to contact her friends at the hospital in Granada and see if there was anyone who could assist me that night that was less conventional. She called and found that she had a person, but it was not guaranteed that she would attend us if we were to go. I went to the room with Elijah, wanting to be just the two of us together, and my main doula and midwife (both of whom had already returned) stayed in the living room in case we needed them. I was about to give up on waiting, and they kept tapping outside in the living room for me. Finally, Johanne asked if we could talk a little. She came into the room and lay down beside me, stroking me, and did her part: she told me the story of Nienke.
Also a doula student at the school, Nienke had her two daughters at the hospital in the Netherlands. In both cases she stayed at home until the third day of labor, but in the Netherlands this is the maximum that the medical system considers acceptable to wait, and the woman is obliged to go to the hospital on the 3rd day if she wants to use the public health system. After she went to the hospital, the births took place without incident, but not in their safe, home environment. As Johanne told me “she (Nienke) said that in both cases, if she had had an extra day, she thinks she would have been able to give birth at home.” It sparked a strength in me, maybe my Aries ascendant, and I said “OK. One more night. If this baby isn’t out by tomorrow, I’m going to the hospital”.
That night passed with Elijah and me alone together. At my request, all the women left, and it was just us. He and I had created a very strong sense of security and trust in those months, and I felt totally good with him. We went on with the 5-minute sleep/contraction/massage/5-minute sleep routine, but something was very different. I felt like I needed to make a giant poop, the size of an elephant’s paw. That made me delirious, and I dreamed in each 5 minutes of old people suffering, having pain in the sacrum, and I woke up with their pain, needing to expel through the anus. I ran around the house until I found where I wanted to try, squatting and howling wherever possible. Obviously nothing left me at that moment: after almost 4 days without eating properly, there was no poo that could exist. But the urge was very real, and I kept saying “I need to shit,” and Elijah ran after me with pots and buckets to pick up my pee. I said, at 5 am, that I wanted to go to the mothers’ house again, that I needed a hot bath and that my mother would know how to make a natural laxative – because she is the queen of diets. We went.
When I got there, I ordered my mother’s laxative and went to take a shower. She brought me a glass of olive oil with lemon and apple juice, and said that our friend Sophia had a 6-day labor, and that she only finished after taking a laxative, and that assured me. I turned that magic potion right down my throat with pleasure, and went to bed naked. It was a longer than normal nap, of about 20-30 minutes – the body’s natural process of resting just before the final pushes. When I woke up, I went to the bathroom and when I cleaned up, there was blood on the paper. I ran into the bedroom and told Elijah, who told the midwife (she was on the phone with Elijah). She asked: “Can you feel the head?” I said “no,” but then I put my hand on my vagina and felt something hard, and said “yes!!!” At that time I felt completely energized, with a good adrenaline rushing through my veins. My mother went to pick up the midwife, and Elijah and Clair stayed with me in the room, with a pile of towels and coconut oil to help the baby out.
I was on all fours, the position I used the most during all those days, and asked: “Can I push?” Clair, who had already worked as a birth assistant, was our assistant: she sat next to me, while Elijah stayed behind, rubbing coconut oil and massaging as I opened. Clair said: “You can push, if you feel like it!” I had no more contractions, but I wanted to push for sure! I told her: “If you have any tips, please say; I’m just improvising!” She said: “You are doing great, you can push slowly, take a deep breath, better to push twice, you will feel it burning…” And there I went. I remember hearing my howl, but it wasn’t even as loud as before, and pushing, feeling the fire in the opening of my vagina, and they said “the head is coming! we can see the head!” I breathed in and pushed again, long seconds, until “the head is here!!!” “Is it breathing?!” I asked, and they “not yet!” and I “oh yes, because it is breathing through the placenta…” (I became a nerd in the middle of childbirth!!). One more push and I felt the baby slipping, at the same time I saw the umbilical cord hanging out of me, and I heard two coughs and then a cry, real, alive, sharp, beautiful, shocking. She was fine. I remember my wide eyes watching all that, a dizziness and happiness, a relief. They put the baby on towels, rolled it up and passed it to me under the legs. I picked it up and saw that little creature crying, all melted with vernix, beautiful, Andalusian, and everyone was crying and laughing. We looked and saw that she was a girl; I knew it!
Five minutes later, my mother, the midwives and doulas arrived, and each one fell on the floor when they entered the room and felt that oxytocin cloud and saw the scene of us holding each other with the baby in our lap. More tears and celebrations… Her name came during these moments: Cora – courage, heart.
I could hardly believe it. That oxytocin wave was surreal, but it lasted longer than it should have. My placenta did not come out, even with the baby breastfeeding and pleasant stimuli; I think my poor childbirth education was manifested there, in this difficulty of letting go. My midwife, Debs, observed that I was losing blood through the vagina and after about 30 minutes decided to try to pull the placenta with her own hand. She tried 2 or 3 times, it was painful, it didn’t come out, it was stuck, extremely stuck to the wall of the uterus. After all, a piece of it came, but it was too small to be a complete placenta. We left it wrapped in a cloth, and the baby could be carried by other people too, but due to the loss of blood, I had to have an injection of synthetic oxytocin that had a very fast action, to close the uterus and prevent bleeding. It worked in part, but still, I had to be taken to the hospital because I had lost too much blood – and I was exhausted, after 4 days of labor, without sleeping or eating. In addition, the placenta could not stay inside me, as it could generate infections and not release the correct hormones for lactation. The doulas made a smoothie with a piece of the extracted placenta mixed with bananas and berries, which helped me a little, but at that time I didn’t even remember how to eat right. We went to the hospital in Granada a few hours after birth, almost too late, as I had almost no energy at that point.
In the car, my mother drove, Rebeca went beside her, and in the back was me, Elijah holding the baby and Clair beside him. I only remember the curves and I wanted to sleep on Elijah’s shoulder, feeling very weak. We arrived in about 45 minutes, and I was placed in a wheelchair, and received by a very good-humored doorman who said “wow! they are like the ancient women who gave birth in their homes!” However, this was not the reaction of the other hospital attendants, who almost denounced us for having done this, in different ways. Anyway, I was very well attended, straight to the operating room, where I lay down and was operated on by 7 people, young people, with beautiful hats, which I even praised and they liked it. I remember taking the RAC in my back, feeling the needle go into my spine, and then all the sensation from the waist down disappeared. Lying there, I saw those young people looking at my open vagina, with my legs on top of the supporter, just like movies or gynecological visits, it was nearly humiliating. At the same time, I saw the faces of these people, having to concentrate in a situation like that, pulling pieces of me from the inside, commenting that it was very stuck, a certain disgust or difficulty, and still I thought: what professionals! It takes such an orchestration for that to happen, the way the people work together as a team, to make another survive…I found it incredible. I thought: I trust these people, and I surrendered to their care.
In fact, I left there in about 30 minutes, and went to the recovery room. There, I spent 2 hours alone, which was a little distressing, because my body was shaking a lot. I didn’t know if it was cold, but I asked to warm up, and it was better (later, I came to understand that it was my parasympathetic system releasing the tension of everything that had happened. I shivered for about 2 hours too, while getting blood in my vein and wating for the RAC to wear off. During this time, I received the visit of two policemen, who interrogated me in Spanish, and I answered in the best possible way even though I found it very strange. They were worried about the baby, after all. When they soon found out that my family was waiting for me upstairs in the bedroom, they relaxed.
When I came back to the room, there was my family: my baby, my mother, Elijah, Rebeca and Clair. They sang mantras and on the hospital bed, the three of us slept (mom, dad and baby). The next day I wanted to leave, although they wanted me to stay longer to make sure everything was going well. Before that, pediatricians came to visit the baby, and after 3 discussions with different doctors, we let them cut the umbilical cord – which we had wanted to leave attached to the placenta until it fell, making a lotus-birth. At the end of the day we went back to the mothers’ house, where I had given birth, and rested more.
On 4 May 2020, Cora turns 1 year. She is a very loving, intelligent, communicative and tricky baby. I feel that this new presence has brought more lovingness to my family, more connection between people, and I learn every day to be a mother and how I want to give myself so that she can be happy and develop in everything she needs. I believe that we mothers have the ability to generate a foundation of affection in early childhood, childbirth, pregnancy, which will last forever in the lives of children. I am very happy to have this chance with such a delicious baby! I love you so much, Mimoca.
Debra was honored to recently be interviewed and featured on Josefina’s beautiful online magazine. You can read her article by clicking the button below, or watch the full interview embedded below.