When I was thirteen my mother became pregnant, and I was fascinated by her pregnancy. I went to every doctor's appointment alongside her, was overjoyed when I could feel the baby kicking in her belly, and eventually asked if I could be present for the birth.
The night she went into labor I did not leave her side. I remember feeling her belly contracting while I laid next to her on our couch at home. Hours later I stood by as my baby sister came into the world. I was the first person to hold her, and I cut the umbilical cord. At that moment a fascination for birth was born within me and nearly 20 years later, I trained to become a birth doula. A few weeks after finishing my training, a dear friend asked me to attend her birth. Excited, I called my mom and told her, "Mom I have my first birth!" She said, "Actually it will be your second birth. You were my doula." It was then I realized that my calling to birth was deeper than I'd realized.
In the last few days of 2015, my friend Rachel Brathen called and asked me to design a yoga center for her community in Aruba. Excited by the idea of working for a woman I loved and admired, I happily accepted the invitation and moved to the island.
One night about three months into the design process, Rachel invited me to watch the sunset with her. As we sat together watching the sky turn colors she looked at me and somewhat suddenly said, "So I was going to wait to share this, but...I'm pregnant." I shrieked with happiness and instinctively brought my hands to her womb to greet this new being. She began to cry both from witnessing my reaction, and also from her own relief in sharing the wonderful news she'd been keeping secret.
A few minutes later, it dawned on me. Maybe I'm not supposed to be here simply to design this yoga center. Perhaps I am meant to help Rachel give birth. The thought of holding space for such a powerful woman as such a new doula both daunted me and amazed me. Is this really happening?
As the weeks went by we began talking about her birth. She longed for a natural birth at home, much like the one I'd attended just a few months prior for my dear friend Ligaya, in San Francisco. I wondered whether Rachel would need me, or if she would prefer a more established doula who'd done hundreds of births before. One night over dinner she told me she was counting on me to be there, and I knew it was a divine assignment. So I began to prepare myself.
In doula school we were advised not to serve as doula for close friends or family, but that didn't make sense to me. It was incredible to be so close to Rachel as her pregnancy evolved and as we began preparing for the birth journey ahead. Toward the end of her pregnancy I gathered all of her friends and held a Blessingway ceremony to spiritually support and empower her.
On Saturday night, March 11, I had planned to attend Island Yoga's Full Moon Yoga gathering at Arashi beach in Aruba. After dinner with two friends, I came home around 8pm to change into my yoga clothes. Although I love the ritual of gathering under the full moon, something told me to stay home and go to sleep instead. I felt that tonight would be the night Rachel would go into labor. So at 8:30 I fell asleep and slept soundly until 11pm. At 11pm I woke up and felt called to send a text message to Rachel saying, "praying for you."
30 minutes later she wrote back and texted, "I think it's starting." It was. I gently coached her through the stage of early labor through messaging. A few hours later she wrote, "This is getting more intense and I LOVE IT."
Throughout the night I packed up my whole room to prepare for my onward journey out of Aruba. My intuition told me that the labor would be long and that I would need time to recover afterward before flying two days later. While I was packing I was also bleeding. My moon had come 3 days earlier than usual, and I knew my body was cleansing early to prepare for Lea Luna's arrival.
Around 7:30 the next morning, Dennis asked me bring over breakfast. He was smiling so big when I arrived. The midwife, Anita, was there checking Rachel and it turned out she was already 4cm dilated. Incredible! Perhaps this would progress more quickly that I'd thought.
Wanting to honor their space, I went home to continue packing and told Rachel to reach out when she needed me. Around noon, she asked me to come over. When I arrived she and Dennis were playing cards. We played a few rounds together, with her taking contractions as they came.
Dennis looked very sleepy. He had been up since 4am with her, excited that labor had finally begun. About half hour after me being there he went upstairs to take a nap. Rachel and I stayed downstairs together. She laid down for a nap and took a few contractions while dozing in and out of a light sleep. I sat and meditated, getting up to give her a massage after each contraction. This time was so sacred to me. The two of us sitting together, breathing and praying a baby into the world. It felt ancient and I felt like a protectress. A birth guardian.
One time during her nap she was woken up with a more intense contraction. She breathed through it, making a few moans and sounds. After it was over, she looked at me and said with such vulnerability, "That one caught me a little off guard." There was such an innocence to her. A beautiful new version of her was being uncovered. She was so humble and open and the journey was all so new to her. I was witnessing herinitiation.
Overall, Rachel was coping incredibly well with the pain. I watched her closely waiting for tension to creep in, but most often, it didn't. She knew exactly what to do.
After a little while Rachel went upstairs to wake Dennis. He came down and we began holding her through her contractions together. The surges were becoming more intense. When the midwife came to check her again, Rachel was discouraged to find she hadn't dilated further. Anita wanted to break her waters to speed things along, and also to make sure there was no merconium in her water. It was clear that Anita was a bit uncomfortable because Rachel was 12 days "overdue." Dennis was supportive of breaking the waters. Rachel was leaning toward it, but unsure. She came out to ask me what I think and I told her I believed in allowing the waters to break naturally, but that she should trust her intuition. I reminded her that she could communicate with her daughter about it. She went outside by herself and sat in her garden. When she came back in she decided to go forward with breaking the waters. We all prepared for the contractions to intensify.
After Anita broke the waters, Rachel got in the shower. A little while later she came back downstairs so happy to have discovered the relief that the hot water provided. "I want to take all the contractions in the shower!" she exclaimed.
After her shower, the three of us went outside and took a few more contractions together watching the sun go down. Soon things really started picking up.
The contractions were now long, strong, and close together. Rachel needed both me and Dennis to get through each one. She changed positions often, moving from leaning forward, to slow dancing with him, to sitting on his lap, to laying on her side. I would shift from holding a hot pack over her womb to placing my hands on her lower back. She started to get emotional from the pain. "It's ok to be emotional Rachel," I said as she let tears and soft sobs come out.
Soon she started feeling hot from the contractions, so I brought a cool washcloth with lavender oil to her forehead, her neck, and down her arms. I used a feather fan to give her face some fresh air between contractions. Even though things were clearly intensifying, she kept her breath calm and deep. She was so present and connected and I was so proud of her. Soon the moon rose in its fullness, and I told Dennis to bring her outside to stand under it. I watched the two of them slow dancing, contracting, under the brilliance of the full moon and experienced an out of body "oh my god I can't believe this is happening" moment.
After things started getting even more intense, Rachel began saying that she felt the urge to go to the bathroom. The thought crossed my mind that perhaps she was already feeling the urge to push, so I told Dennis call Anita. She was already on her way over.
My intuition said that Rachel hadn't dilated fully just yet and I wanted to buy a little more time before the midwife checked her again. I was worried that Rachel would get discouraged if there wasn't more progress, because she had been working so hard and her contractions were very intense. I suggested she and Dennis get back in the shower to take a few contractions in there. Just before they stepped in, Anita arrived and wanted to check her right away.
It was a heavy blow to learn that we were still at 4cm. "That's not possible!" Rachel exclaimed. "We need to go to the hospital." I was surprised, confused, and also slightly discouraged, but I was committed to making sure Rachel would have the homebirth she'd always longed for. I had prepared myself for the moment Rachel would say that she needed the hospital. It was the same as the moment my first birthing mother cried for an epidural. It was the same as that moment my second birthing mother disappeared into the darkness of her bathroom, whispering to her husband that she didn't think she could do it.
I suggested to Dennis that he should get in the shower with her to try and calm her down. During this time I had a heart to heart with Anita. I could tell that she was a bit nervous in general because Rachel was overdue, and confused that she wasn't dilating even though it had been 15 hours. She told me that a bit of medicine to help Rachel relax could really benefit her. My biggest concern was that it was the pain talking, and not Rachel's truth saying she wanted to go to the hospital. I worried that we would get to the hospital and she'd have to cope with the same pain without the comfort of her own home. I worried she'd struggle more there, but I didn't worry that interventions would be forced on her. I knew our birth team wouldn't let that happen.
Anita and I decided we would unify and try to help her labor from side to side to see if we could help the baby turn inside her pelvis. Rachel agreed to try 3 contractions on each side before giving up on a home birth fully. We laid her down on the bed and she bravely worked through the surges one by one. I've never prayed so intensely in my life. In between sides she got up on all fours and told us she felt baby moving a lot. After contracting on the opposite side, we checked her again and there wasn't much change. At that moment, we surrendered to Rachel's clear request that she wanted to go to the hospital. I prayed that she would not regret this decision.
We quickly packed up our things and left the house. We sped to the hospital and I prayed the whole way. Immediately when we made the decision, Rachel relaxed, and even slept during the car ride.
When we arrived everything flowed easily. There were almost no people, very little check in paperwork, no overbearing staff in our faces. She was the only woman on the island giving birth tonight. We got into our room at the end of an empty hall, and I immediately put on music and we propped her body to make sure she was comfortable. I could tell she was relieved to be here. We kept working through her contractions together, one by one.
A short while later the gynecologist came in and did a pelvic exam while the midwife looked on. It was painful for Rachel. "Por favor, no mas!" she exclaimed. He pulled his hand away, told us she was at 5cm, and said there would be no problem delivering the baby. The midwife expressed a big sigh of relief, and we all knew it was time to dig in and wait for full dilation.
Rachel was hooked up to the monitor and the midwife came in and looked very surprised by how well Rachel was coping with the pain given how powerful her contractions were. It affirmed what I knew; Rachel was a warrior. She was really at her edge though, and begged for pain medication. The nurse came in and administered a shot of a muscle relaxant to help her body open and aid the dilation.
The next few hours were quiet and meditative, but I stayed very focused on Rachel. I got up from time to time to give her water, to wipe her brow with a cool cloth, or to give her a little massage. Dennis stayed fully trusting, never once afraid. He was a rock. Rachel sat in meditation for a few hours while she opened and endured surge after surge. I could tell that the edge had been taken off, but only mentally. Her body was still processing so much pain.
After a few hours the midwife came to check her and we were at 8/9cm. We were so close. We waited patiently for her to tell us she was ready to push. After another hour, Rachel reached another edge of pain. She was done with it all, well beyond her limit, yet with each surge, she found her breath. She asked me to go and get Anita, who confirmed we were at 10cm.
Rachel didn't feel the urge to push just yet, but was so overwhelmed and frustrated with the pain of the contractions that she said she wanted to try. The midwife told her we could do a practice push. Immediately, the energy of the room changed. Dennis came to kneel on the bed behind Rachel, straddling her shoulders and neck. I had Rachel's left foot braced in my right ribcage, and held her knee as she pushed the baby down, one contraction at a time. She pushed for 75 minutes and showed up fully for every. single. push. I held my breath with her as she bore down, giving her water and fanning her with fresh air between surges.
After about 10 contractions on her back, I began to feel a surge of discomfort in my own body. I could feel that Rachel wasn't in an empowering position. Originally she had requested to push on all fours, but the midwife didn't want her to. I was becoming more irritated as each contraction passed without much progress. Seeing how incredibly hard she was working and intuiting that gravity was not helping her, I asked, "How do you feel right now Rachel?" Exasperated, she exclaimed, "I feel totally powerless!"
I glanced at Anita, thinking she would surely suggest another position, but she didn't. She kept the same pattern. I began to question my own intuition. "I've only experienced 3 births. This woman has been a midwife for 17 years. Who am I to know anything?" But I knew. I knew the baby needed another position and more help from gravity. And I knew if this continued for too long Rachel would get frustrated or exhausted. I knew she was enduring more than she needed to. Why?
After 10 more contractions and a greater and greater buildup of my intuition shouting at me, I thought about how I could suggest another position without causing disharmony with Anita. I did not want to disrespect the midwife but I needed to voice my instinct because Rachel was completely surrendered to our guidance. In between the next contractions, I whispered to Anita, "Do you think we could try one or two on all fours?" She didn't acknowledge me in the moment, but after the next contraction she suggested that we try to have Rachel squat. (THANK GOD, I said silently to myself)
At the start of the next contraction, Rachel rolled up onto her feet and pushed while we held her in a squat. She stayed here for 3 contractions. Anita tried to place a mirror under her, but couldn't get a view. After three contractions, she laid back down and we could all see huge progress. In just those three contractions we went from being able to see a part of the head the size of a quarter, to half the crown. I was so happy and relieved. This baby was coming! And soon!
We continued on as a very present team of four for the next 30 minutes, moving Rachel back and forth between squatting and lying on her back. During pushes the midwife would work with Rachel's body, pressing on her belly to guide the baby down and using cooling lubricant as she began to open and unfold. Her body was opening perfectly, healthily, amazingly. By watching her I was again reminded of the true miracle that we as women experience giving birth.
While all this was happening, a playlist Rachel had made called, "Happy Birth" was carrying us through. Nahko and Medicine for the People's song "Black as Night" came on. This song had been so meaningful to Rachel that she had gotten part of it tattooed on her arm. Between contractions, as Nahko's voice rang out, "Everything's already alright, always alright, always alright." In perfect unison, Rachel and I sang the words together. I nearly burst into tears at that moment, seeing her in excruciating pain but still singing along to the mantra that could not have been more divinely timed.
As the contractions came, the baby's head descended more and more. I knew we were moments away. Rachel was rock solid and strong. Dennis exuded a buddha like sense of calm. Anita was professional and confident. I was beginning to get emotional, but held my tears in and focused on Rachel her push, and giving words of encouragement. "Gather your power, Rachel," I would say each time a contraction came on. She would respond by taking a deep breath, centering her energy, and sending it downward.
With one final contraction, I saw Lea Luna's face fully emerge, her eyes squeezed shut and her nose crinkled up. Anita cued Rachel to reach down and pull her baby out, and with one last push, Lea Luna emerged, pink and perfect. She did not cry or wail when she was born. She was not at all afraid. She let out a beautiful sound to proclaim she was here and to tell us that she was healthy and safe, then she calmly locked eyes with both her parents.
"My baby! My baby!' Rachel exclaimed as she burst into tears. Between sobs, "My angel, my angel!" I couldn't hold my emotion in anymore, and I burst into tears as well. She looked so perfect holding this child, like she was absolutely born to become a mother. Lea acted as if she'd known her parents for several lifetimes. I had the strong feeling they were not meeting for the first time.
Immediately after Lea Luna was born I took a screenshot of my phone. 4:16am. In the background I heard Nahko's voice rang out, "We're coming out of our caves, coming out of our caves." I couldn't believe it. She was born into his music and these words.
Dennis cut the cord after it stopped pulsating, and after 42 weeks, baby and mama disconnected for the first time. About 10 minutes later Rachel delivered her healthy placenta. She looked me in the eyes with a little bit of pain as she did, I expressed a deep exhale to remind her to do the same.
Those next few hours were pure magic. It was completely peaceful. Tears, laughter, soft talking and giggles. There were no interruptions, no procedures, no bureaucracy. Just a mother and a father and a daughter meeting for the first time (in this lifetime). In a single instant a mother was born, a father was born, a daughter was born. Four grandparents, eight aunts and uncles were born, along with a community of 2 million guardian angels. What a moment.
I left the room to give them some time alone and cut up some fruit for us to share. We ate it together and began recounting the story, looking in awe at this perfect moonchild. As I began to prepare to leave, Rachel looked at me and said "I could never have done this without you." The feeling of having given myself so fully at a time where my service was truly needed is one of the best feelings I've known. I cried, hugged her goodbye, and prepared my things to leave the hospital, placenta in tow.
It was 6am and I went straight to the beach. The full moon was sinking exactly as the sun was rising. I jumped in the ocean naked and overcome with emotion. I spent an hour walking the beach in the early morning light, and began to cry and cry and cry. Deep belly sobs left my body and I began tuning into where the emotion was coming from. It was all directions. It was the gratitude of knowing that it is possible for two powerful women to work together, be sisters and friends to one another, and even to go through birth together. It was the understanding that Rachel had to work so hard in her birth because she was clearing the past traumatic births of her own mother. It was the knowing that as a doula who's goal is to make sure that the mother has a positive memory of her birth, that I'd wildly succeeded in my role. It was feeling that I would be connected to Lea Luna forever.
After my walk I returned home and slept soundly for 2 hours. When I woke up, I went back to Rachel's house to tidy so that she would return home to a clean house. While I was there, to my surprise Rachel and Dennis also arrived. They were initially told they needed to stay at the hospital the whole day, but had managed to come home after just a few hours. Amelie arrived shortly after with a beautiful meal, Dennis popped a bottle of champagne, and I held Lea Luna, 5 hours old, in complete awe of her presence.
After toasting to a successful birth and a new chapter, I hugged the new parents goodbye, and knew that my service in Aruba was complete. I flew home the following day, and watched from afar as Rachel's transition into motherhood has been filled with support and love.
When I think if this birth, I'll always know that if peace on earth begins with birth, Lea Luna is surely a beacon of peace, in the form of moonlight.
Thanks for listening.