Yay! A new birth story today! Mama Ericka shares the story of the journey she and her partner (“Mama Tesa”) traveled together to home birth and first-time motherhood. The theme throughout Ericka’s story is listening: listening to her son, to her instincts about which care provider was right for her and her family, and to her body during labor and birth. At every turn, she listened and heeded what she heard, to beautiful result!
Thank you, Ericka, for sharing your lovely story with us! Heartfelt congratulations to you and Mama Tesa on your sweet baby boy!
(And remember, you can read all of the birth stories in our Local Birth Story series here. Hospital births, home births, birth center births, births with OBs, births with midwives — all are represented!)
THE BIRTH OF ELIJAH: “GOOIEMAN’S VOICE”
In order to understand why I chose a homebirth, it starts with listening. For me it was listening to the littlest voice — my “son’s voice” — even before it existed. Just the very statement brings tears to my eyes, and very vivid colorful memories come streaming back. When my partner and I decided we were ready to start a family, I began to plan every detail, from the donor, to eating to conceive, to reading anything and everything I could put my hands on about pregnancy and birth, from Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth to, later, Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering (which I consider to be my parenting bible, and I thank my midwife for introducing me to it!).
I began a daily routine of prenatal vitamins and journal writing. I documented what I ate, and I even began to write to my “son’s voice.” I knew he was boy even before our first insemination that happened a month later. So with legs hiked up to the heavens, I began to imagine a little one growing inside me. I knew realistically this whole process could take more than a year, but I secretly prayed that it wouldn’t. Soon his voice would speak to me loud and clear, and it would speak volumes about his personality. On April 1st 2011, I tiptoed into the bathroom and peed into a cup (peeing on sticks is not my forte). I had been telling my partner for days I was pregnant, but she was afraid to believe me and didn’t want me to get my hopes up.
So when two perfect little lines showed up, I screamed with excitement and ran to the bedroom, turning all the lights on and exclaiming at the top of my lungs “I told you I was pregnant, I told you!” To her shock and amazement, we were having a baby. Now the reality of “We are pregnant!” didn’t really hit me until eleven pregnancy tests later. In fact, I began to be overcome with fear. I was afraid of being a bad mother. I began to mourn my own family and our lack of connection. The weight of my worries grew even stronger when at my 9 week routine checkup, the obstetrician performed an ultrasound and said, “Oh, looks like you have a ovarian cyst. This is very normal in pregnancy. We will just keep an eye on it.” “Okay, don’t freak out,” I kept saying to myself. Less than a minute later, the OB said, “Oh, do you need to pee? Yes. Your bladder is full.” Then he walked out of the room. I looked up, and my partner was crying and scared to death that there was something very wrong with me and the baby.
In that moment, as I held her through her tears, I knew I needed to explore other options, so in my true fashion I began to GOOGLE and stumbled upon a website for a homebirth midwife in my area. I clicked on her website, and the first thing I saw was her face, smiling and happy. So with a step into the unknown, I called her and left a message. To my surprise, she called me back within a few minutes. She had such an experienced and kind voice. But there was something she said that, now when I look back, I realize was moment that I chose her and decided I would defend my homebirth decision against family and foe. She asked “How are you doing?” I stopped and said “Oh.” Mind you, at this point, I had been talking her ear off, most likely in run-on sentences, since my mind is always twenty steps ahead of how fast my mouth is willing to go. “I’m hungry,” I said, and after taking a moment to take in our conversation, I realized that not only was she listening to me, she truly cared about what I was saying and how I was saying it. And with that, we set up a meeting, and I began to scheme to figure out how to tell my partner that I had made our care provider decision for us.
“Can’t we just be normal?!” exclaimed my partner when I told her. “We are already an interracial couple and same-sex. And now this, a homebirth! No, I refuse.” So in my cunning nature, I arrived “late” to our first meeting with the midwife, knowing the two of them would have to interact while they waited for me. And don’t you know, within fifteen minutes, my partner looked at me and said, “Okay, let’s do this.” When I asked her what made her say yes, she said, “She listened to me, and I like chill people.” Ha ha. What can I say? My partner balances my over-analytical nature.
As my belly grew, so did our excitement and my fears. Every check-up solidified the bond between my partner and me, not only as “Mommy” and “Mama Tesa” but as adventure seekers, as I like to call us. Our midwife was ever so patient with us. She listened to our concerns, laughed with us, and comforted us. Before we knew it, we had become fast friends.
Then one day, in all her brilliance, our midwife asked if we had thought about taking childbirth classes. To be honest, we hadn’t even thought about it. She mentioned a local childbirth educator who was also a doula and sent her contact information to us. Oh, this wonderful woman! Not only did she become our “natural childbirth educator,” she later also became our labor doula. Thank God for her and the amount of knowledge and personal growth that she helped me and my partner achieve! That growth was unparalleled, and we can’t begin to put a price tag on its value.
Our doula, on numerous occasions, helped me to reaffirm why I wanted a natural birth. It felt good to know that she and our midwife were in our corner – the only ones in our corner, it seemed. People become very opinionated when you tell them you are having a homebirth with the aid of a midwife and a doula. The questions were endless. Add to that the fact that we stood out — especially me looking like a Thanksgiving Day parade blimp – and I found myself emotionally overdoing, overanalyzing, and exhausted at some points. Not to mention the job promotion I received at eight months pregnant which became all-consuming in my last months, to the point that I worked the very day I gave birth. I would find my mind drifting off to a statement our doula would say: “Just do life, Ericka, until you can’t.” For me this was easy, as I was non-stop. Everyone swore I was going to go early, but Thanksgiving came and went and “gooieman” was nice and warm and not budging.
I was one day past my “expected arrival date” and secretly very happy about this — I did not want to share my son with anyone. For over the last 10 months, we had grown, we had cried, we had eaten together. We were never alone, and we were perfectly content. But my partner was convinced that I was purposely keeping him locked up inside me, and that I needed to share. She wanted me to have my membranes stripped, which of course prompted a huge argument. I wanted to allow my “gooieman” to choose his own birthday. I wanted him to know that his voice was important. I sent her off to work and vowed to give her the silent treatment…well, not for long. Our doula called me shortly after that to check on me, and I told her everything, cried, and told her how I wasn’t afraid. In her oh-so-lovely Hispanic voice, she said, “Just focus on your baby.”
Wouldn’t you know, a couple minutes later, around 5:30 PM, my water broke. It seemed “gooieman” was ready to be heard. So I calmly stood up and called my midwife. I told her that everything was fine, that I was going to take a bath, and that I’d call her in about 30 minutes to an hour if there were any changes. I also called my doula to give her a heads up and to tell her that everything was fine. I made a warm bath, turned on a deep relaxation CD, lit candles, and started relaxing, eyes closed. Eyes popped back open; I hated the music. The bath was not working. I was extremely uncomfortable and out of the tub. At this point, I was moving and squatting and trying to remember all the positions we practiced with my doula. But at this point, swaying and moving all over the house was the only thing that made me comfortable. I called my midwife, then my doula. I had a nice long contraction with her in which she breathed in and out with me… I love the breath work doulas encourage.
Finally, I called my son’s other mother, Mama Tesa. I had a very strong contraction with her on the phone, and somehow rattled off a grocery list of items I wanted from the store. I began to cry, not from pain, but from the overwhelming feelings I was having, because when all was said and done, I was about to be someone’s mother. My partner showed up, rushing to my side and telling me how much she loved me, and all I wanted to do was vomit because she just got home from work and smelled awful (sorry love). My contractions were getting intense. Not painful, just very intense. It wasn’t anything I could have imagined. I made my way to the toilet — the magical toilet, the most comfortable place in the entire world! My doula arrived so quietly I barley noticed, but when I did notice, I exclaimed to her, “I need a break! I just can’t get comfortable!” So she and my partner put pillows down in the hallway and covered me with a blanket, and my doula gave me a sour candy that took the feeling of vomit away. Then I was up, squatting and bracing myself for the next wave because that was what it felt like: a tidal wave with high peaks and then small intervals of rest, maybe just a few seconds. But those small rests were heaven. My doula and my partner must have covered and uncovered me a hundred times. But I just couldn’t get comfortable, not realizing how quickly I was transitioning.
My midwife arrived and I found myself calling out to God to “help me.” I didn’t understand what was going on and why my labor experience was so different from what I had read. I had taken a natural childbirth class; I had prepared myself for the various stages of birth. But I hadn’t prepared myself for this — for a labor this fast and intense — and God, I just couldn’t get comfortable. In truth, I wasn’t allowing myself to surrender to my body. I was fighting my body and mind. I don’t know at what point I realized I was doing this; it was probably when my midwife asked when my last meal was, and I quickly answered and then told everyone in the room to stop talking.
I needed everyone to be quiet. I was listening to my son’s voice. I was relinquishing control, and to do that, I needed to hear my body. For me, a sort of spiritual awakening occurred. I could feel him moving further down. I began to moan/chant. The memory of this is so clear to me that when I close my eyes all the senses come rushing back. At one point — and this is the part that brings tears to my eyes — I felt like I was having an out of body experience: I was in my homeland with a circle of women who were birthing with me, moaning with me. They made me feel so unafraid. They gave me strength. I told my son, “Can you hear me? I’m singing for you.” I moved my arms in a sort of “come forth” motion. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I got off the toilet, lay in the bed, and start grunting. Contractions as I had known them were gone. Pushing had begun. I just couldn’t stop grunting and pushing. It wasn’t me; it was my body.
I remember my doula saying, “She is ready to push.” My partner was by my side, loving me. I didn’t want to be touched. Any small touch was too much of a distraction. I needed to focus. My midwife came over and, for the first and only time through my whole pregnancy, checked me. She said I had a very little bit of cervix to go, which she helped me out with. With my support system patient and loving around me, I pushed. I could feel myself expand at which point I called out to my midwife, “Help me!” I remember her saying, “Ericka, Ericka, all down.” I remember my partner saying, “Baby, he has so much hair,” and then – at 9:16 PM, less than 4 hours after my water had broken — he was out! I felt relief and shock/amazement this little being on my belly. Oh my God. I looked over at my partner, and she was crying the most beautiful pure tears I have ever seen in my life. We waited for his umbilical cord to stop pulsating, and I brought him to my breast. He didn’t latch on right away. He just stared at me, and I took him all in. His smell is what I remember the most. I call it the “fresh out the box smell.” To me, it was — and still is — the sweetest smell I’ve ever smelled.
My midwife helped me with my afterbirth. I felt like Jello, so I need a little help. But wow, I was so amazed at my son’s “first mother,” the placenta. She kept him safe and healthy. I could not throw her away. I needed to honor her in a very private family way. My doula helped me to the bathroom, and to my amazement, I peed so freely. After 10 months of pregnancy, I had forgotten about that little freedom. My midwife checked over our son. My partner dressed him. Our doula left me, Mama Tesa, and our gooieman to just enjoy our new family. I closed my eyes to the sight of my son and my partner swaying in the moonlight, something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
For me, my birth experience was soul-changing. I fell in love with these women who cared for me and my partner. They have permanent branches on my family tree. They gave myself and my partner the strength to create a peaceful beginning to our gooieman. =)
The Birth Team
Midwife: Bridget Pelkey, LM, CNM, Williamsburg Homebirth
Doula: Cecilia Chapa Phillips, BabyWelcomer.com (now relocated to Philadelphia, PA)