With Owen’s birth, I had the most amazing midwife on the planet, Sandhano Danison. He was born in our bed in our home in Missoula, and the care that I received in the months before the birth, during the labor and birth, and for the weeks after was phenomenal. I was very aware of the fact that the care that I received was not at all the norm. I trusted my midwife with my life and my baby’s life and learned things from her that I never would’ve learned otherwise. She was and still is an angel and one of the most important people in my life that I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.
So moving to Mexico while pregnant and imagining who might be helping me with my second birth was a little bit terrifying. The bar had been set so high. But on the other hand, my first experience had given me a lot of trust in the process of birth, so I didn’t feel like it was quite as mandatory to have the ‘perfect person’. Luckily, I did find a wonderful doctor who seemed to be able to offer me the chance to birth in a way that felt good to me even if it wasn’t in my home.
The only thing that bothered me was that I had to have an ultrasound at 38 weeks. It was mandatory. This might not sound like a big deal to most people, but it really bothered me that I had to do something that I didn’t feel was necessary. I’d had a basic ultrasound at 36 weeks (which I also didn’t want to have) and felt like that was sufficient. With Owen and my amazing Montana midwife, it’d been left up to me to decide if I wanted ultrasounds. I’d had one at 7 weeks to confirm the pregnancy and due date, and that was it.
But I didn’t want to ruin my best chance at a natural birth, so I had the ultrasound at 38 weeks. I should explain here that Mexico has an incredibly high rate of c-sections. It is way higher than in the U.S. I don’t have the stats, but during my pregnancy I asked a lot of moms about their births. 9 out of 10 women asked declared that they’d had a c-section, and there was always a reason: the doctor said that my pelvis was too small, the doctor said it was just time to have the baby, the doctor was worried about this, the doctor was worried about that. The more women I talked to, the more I felt like a warrior who would need to fight for a natural birth. So if that meant have an ultrasound that I didn’t want, then fine.
The woman who did my ultrasound met me in the hallway in super high heels. ‘We are not in Montana anymore,’ I thought. She was the ultrasound doctor and would give me my results that same day, right after the exam. We briefly discussed my first birth, and I enthusiastically described how my son had been born in our home. She was not impressed. I had this feeling that something wasn’t quite right. The exam took a lot longer than I’d expected. In the middle of it, she got a personal phone call. She continued to do the ultrasound with the wand in one hand and her phone in the other for about 5 minutes. Finally, it was finished, and she was all business and no smiles.
We went back to her desk and sat down. The first words out of her mouth were, “This baby is no good.” “What?!” I exclaimed, in disbelief. “What do you mean?” “Well, the cord is wrapped around her neck one time, and your placenta is old, and your amniotic fluid is low, and if you don’t have this baby in 1 week, well, you need to have this baby in 1 week.” My heart sank. I’d felt all along that everything was fine with my baby. I’d just lost a bit of my mucous plug the day before. I’d felt intensity and had experiences that made me feel sure that she was coming at any moment. This woman offered zero warmth, zero information, just reported her findings, like, take your natural birth and shove it. I really didn’t like her and had the feeling that she enjoyed her power in the situation a bit too much.
We left the office in a daze. I knew enough about birth that I knew that it was normal for these things to show up at the end of a pregnancy. I knew enough about technology and birth to know that the more technology is utilized, especially at the end, the less likely a woman is to have a natural birth. But still, it all really got under my skin, and I was incredibly worried. I would absolutely do whatever I needed to do if my baby’s life was in danger, but I would not be railroaded into a decision that didn’t seem necessary in a culture that doesn’t trust the birth process. I called my doctor right away. She was very reassuring, but I still worried that things would just suddenly slip out of my control. I called my midwife back in Montana, and she gave me great advice and reassured me as well.
The next day, we went out for breakfast. I was feeling really down and worried and also still carrying a lot of stress with me from my sister’s near-death, when a woman approached me and asked about my due date. I half-heartedly answered her questions and didn’t really want to talk about my pregnancy. My gracious husband engaged with her, though, and through the course of conversation we discovered that this woman had the exact same thing happen to her in Seattle. She shared her story, and she shared how she’d had her baby within a few days without any problems. It truly felt like an angel had been sent to me to ease my mind and relax my body. It worked.
On Saturday, February 8th, 2014, I woke up and instantly thought, ‘Rollie’s. Pancakes.’ While still in bed, I announced those same words to my family. “Rollie’s! Pancakes!” I’d only had the pancakes at Rollie’s once, but there was no stopping the craving. While we were getting ready to go, I started having contractions. After realizing that they were 5 minutes apart and steady, we decided that we’d better pack for the birth center which was about an hour away in Puerto Vallarta. It took around ½ an hour, and by that time my contractions had stopped from too much excitement. So we decided to go to Rollie’s anyway and get those pancakes. Instead of walking the few blocks, we drove just in case we needed to get going to Vallarta.
At Rollie’s, I ordered the magical, thin wonders with a side of cheesy potatoes. My body knew something that I didn’t. It knew that this would be my only meal for the day and that I needed carbs. They were so good! I could only fit about half of the food into my pregnant belly, so we got the rest to go. Still no contractions, so we decided to go on a little walk from the restaurant. We wandered up and over a hill and through the jungle to a little beach and then continued to the main beach of Sayulita. There, we ran into friends from Missoula who we’d been trying to connect with before their departure the next day. It was perfect timing. We chatted and told them that the baby was coming soon and settled into the sand. As a ‘cocos frios’ vendor wandered by, I snatched up a cold coconut and slurped it down. I fantasized out loud about taking a nap in the sand. That’s when Mark said that we should probably head home. We still needed to walk to the car and maybe drive to Vallarta.
Once we arrived back at our house, I took a shower and hopped into bed for a nap. When I awoke at around 3:30, I felt strange. I wondered why I wasn’t hungry and just had a feeling that we should get going. So we packed up again, this time rather easily. I quickly realized that I was feeling some urgency. Once in the car and pointing south, the contractions returned and stayed steady at five minutes apart for the entire drive. Winding through the jungle, we were stuck behind some slow-moving traffic, and I was relieved when we finally popped out onto the straight road for the second half of the drive. I called my mom, my sister and Mark’s parents and chatted in a very relaxed and excited way, even discussing baby names with Mark’s mom. I was relieved that the day had arrived and that our baby had cooperated with my wishes to arrive during the day and with plenty of time to spare.
As we neared the birth center, I texted Doctora Tony to let her know that we were almost there. She said she’d be there in 5 minutes. I’m guessing that it was around 5:00 p.m. Something changed when I got out of the car. Things started to feel really intense, and I was overwhelmed with the urge to pee. Since the birth center was still locked, I had to just squat next to a tree in the boulevard. Luckily, the birth center wasn’t on a busy road, and I just hoped that any neighbors who might see me would forgive me for my transgression. Once my bladder was empty, things quickly became even more intense. Just as they did, I spotted Tony coming toward us and that allowed my body to relax even more. More intensity. But still jovial and in good spirits.
Once inside, we hurried to get our things ready. When asked, Owen had made it clear that he wanted to be with us for the birth but agreed that our friend, Chantel, would hang out with him during labor. For some crazy reason, we thought it necessary to also bring our dog. She’d been having serious separation anxiety issues from being a stray and had run away several times in the last few months. Given the chance to do it over, we would’ve left Rosie at home. Everyone was hustling to get ready, and I just knew that we didn’t have much time given that Owen had come in only 4 ½ hours. I asked Tony to fill the tub and spent a few contractions slow dancing with either her or Mark, whoever was free at the moment. At one point, I got onto the bed on all fours like I had with Owen, but it was just too intense. I got off the bed and asked if I could get into the water. It was ready, so Tony agreed. As soon as I stepped into the water and settled into position on my knees with my head on my arms on the side of the tub, I was instantly in a different world. It felt amazing.
While in the tub, I started moaning with each contraction. I remembered that with Owen’s birth I’d moaned, “Hohhhhhhh, hohhhhhh, hohhhhhhh” the entire time. Then at the very end, my midwife had said “Pahhhhh”, and as soon as I’d switched to that sound and changing the shape of my mouth from a tight ‘O’ to a loose ‘ah’, I’d had the urge to push. So this time, I didn’t fight the intense feelings and moaned “Pahhhhh” the entire time. I was very conscious of going with the power of labor instead of fighting it. With each contraction, the moaning got longer and stronger. In my mind, I was thinking, ‘Let’s git ‘er done.’
With one of the last few moans, Tony exclaimed that she could see the head. I reached down and felt her head, and I was amazed by how small it felt and that it was actually there. I was also stoked that I felt so much more in touch with my body than I had during Owen’s birth. During his, my midwife had asked if I wanted to feel his head, and I said, “Nope!” A push or two more, and my most powerful moan yet was matched by the call of a peacock in the backyard. Then she was born. She slid out behind me, as I was still on one knee with one foot on the floor of the tub. She floated into Tony’s hands, and Tony graciously floated her back through my legs so that I could see her. I will never forget looking into her eyes, wide open and still under water, so calmly staring up at me. Our gaze was so powerful, and I took in her full head of hair floating in the water. Finally, I felt like it was time to lift her up into the ‘real world’, and I brought her up to my shoulder. She didn’t make a peep and was filled with so much peace and grace. Mark joined me in the pool along with Owen, and we spent a very long time just looking at our new baby and marveling at what a beautiful and peaceful birth it had been.
The relief and release that I felt during India’s birth was extraordinary. I’d had a lot of stress and anxiety on my plate during my pregnancy: first, making the decision to have the baby in Mexico and turn down Mark’s job offer, then physically moving to Mexico, then my sister’s terrible illness and lastly, the ultrasound from hell. I’ve never felt so much relief in a single moment as I did birthing my sweet baby, India. All of the crap was behind us now. We’d made it. All of us. My sister and her own baby included.