To Hazel, To Ivie - Love Letters to Her Daughters : The Birth Story of Ivie
My dearest sweet Hazel-
When I had my third contraction around three in the morning- I knew it was time. I laid in bed timing my contractions for the next few hours and when I was certain this was it, I quietly got out of bed and crawled into bed with you. I snuggled up to you from behind and nestled my face into your wild curls and the warm nape of your neck. I lay there with you quietly just soaking up the last few moments with you as my only child. It’s such a bittersweet thing- knowing I’m about to give you this gift of a sibling, but also my heart breaking for you in a way knowing it would never be just you and me again.
You woke up and rolled over and gave me a big hug and I said “guess what?!” we are going to meet your baby sister today!”. You looked at me wide eyed and smiled and squealed “we are?!”.. We tip toed back to my room so you could wake up dad and tell him the news.
I’d shown you videos of homebirths and water births so you would know what to expect. One night while I was putting you to bed you asked out of the blue if it would hurt. I assumed you were talking about birth and when I told you it would and that I might cry and even yell, but that it would all be worth it because in the end we would have this beautiful baby- you looked at me with tears in your eyes and told me you would hold me and kiss me to make me feel better. And boy did you. You were the best little birthing coach anyone could ask for. You watched pensively and as things got more intense and I got louder, you would cover your ears but never take your eyes off me. You rubbed my arms, poured water on my back, gave me kisses when I needed them, and when I was really quiet with eyes closed in another place in my mind- you would creep up and look me in the face to make sure I was still in there somewhere. At one point deep into a contraction, I felt the water behind me stir and to my surprise you had gotten your bathing suit on and jumped in the pool with me. You thought it was the funniest thing. The thought of you coming in with me had never crossed my mind, but I’m glad you thought to do it because it made you so happy and that made me happy.
You’ll learn one day that the birth I had hoped for you didn’t come to fruition. And in fact, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced. Not just because I was treated with disrespect and condescension at the most vulnerable and intimate time, but because I felt like I let you down. That’s a feeling that gets etched into your soul so deep, that I’m tearful almost 4 years later writing this. That’s why giving you this experience to be able to see birth for what it really is was so important to me. Birth is a really amazing thing. It’s not disgusting, it’s not shameful, it’s not anything to hide or be embarrassed about. You had no preconceived notions or societal influences to clout what you saw. To you it was just birth, simple and matter of fact.
I wanted to show you that women are strong. I wanted to show you that your mom is strong. I wanted to show you that you are strong. And that one day- if you choose to and are blessed with having a child, that you are in charge of your body. Arm yourself with knowledge and follow your gut and your heart. And don’t ever let anyone influence how you feel about your body. You get to decide who you are and who you want to be. And I will always support and love that person no matter what. I hope that one day you feel proud to have me as your mom. I’ve been proud to be your mom since the moment we met.
My sweet Ivie girl-
I don’t know where to begin. We did it. It’s 4 months later as I write this and I still can’t believe it. Even all throughout labor, I was in disbelief at each stage thinking to myself that I couldn’t believe I was at that certain point already. After I had my third contraction at three in the morning. After I’d had contractions for three hours and I knew this was it. After I let work know I wouldn’t be in. After I got into the pool for the first time once things picked up. After I had the first urge to push. After you were born. After waking up the next morning and staring at you next to me. After each time that I got to the next big thing, I couldn’t believe that I’d made it that far. Yet at the same time I felt such an overwhelming calmness and confidence that what I was doing each of those moments was exactly what I was supposed to be doing.
I’d always imagined it would happen at night, but as I was walking around the house getting things ready that morning I thought maybe you had something else planned. It was a bright, sunny day and the sun was beaming in through the windows as your sister sat and ate her cereal and watched cartoons like it was any other day. Only she knew today was the day. Your dad went to the store to pick up some white hydrangeas for me. I wanted them all around to make the space as serene as I could. Things started to pick up a little and when he wasn’t back after awhile I wondered if sending him might have been a mistake. I had been in contact with both my midwives, and they seemed eager to come to me, but I didn’t feel ready. Something in me just knew that it was going to be a little while still. You’re dad came back empty handed and I was a little disappointed. He had gone to four different stores and no one had white hydrangeas.
I decided to tell my midwives it was okay for them to come over, even though I felt like they were just going to be waiting around for a while. After I threw up the first time, Erica who was traveling from Athens, text me saying she thought maybe we waited to long and that she was racing to get to me. I still didn’t feel like it was time and I told her to drive safely and not rush. Soon after Cortnie and Hannah arrived, two of your dad’s employees showed up with trays of food and a box filled with bouquets of white hydrangeas. He hadn’t told me, but he text them and asked them to go all over Columbus and find as many as they could. When Erica came busting in, we were all just hanging out on this bright and sunny day as I arranged flowers. It was such a warm and funny moment to me.
We sat around in the living room waiting as things progressed. I eventually went upstairs to try and get some rest since things weren’t moving especially fast. Erica and Hannah left to get lunch down the street. Your dad came upstairs and laid with me in bed. In between each contraction I could fall slowly into a state of relaxation. But the longer we were together alone, the more intense each contraction got. It was finally time to get into the pool since things seemed to be picking up. We came downstairs and I got in and soon after Erica and Hannah were back. Being in the pool made it so easy to relax in between each contraction. As soon as one would come to an end I could instantly let go and relax my entire body and just lay weightlessly against the edge. I found squeezing hair combs in each hand so that the teeth dug into my palm so helpful. It was the perfect amount of counter pressure.
When I was mentally preparing myself for birthing you at home, I thought there were going to be two certainties that I should acknowledge up front and allow myself space for. First, I thought I would break down right when everything started. Just knowing the shotgun had gone off and this was it and there was no backing out. That this tiny human was inside me and had to come out somehow. It’s an overwhelming realization even when you know it’s coming for nine months. I remember brushing my teeth the morning I was getting ready to go to the hospital with your sister and a contraction hit and this wave of fear washed over me and I started to cry for just a moment. I thought this feeling would be inevitable again and decided the best thing was to allow myself to experience it and then immediately let it go and move on.
Second, I thought for sure at some point during natural birth, I would break down and tell everyone around me that I couldn’t do it. Maybe during transition, maybe when it was time to push. Whenever it would be, I was certain there would come a point where I would be overwhelmed and scared and begging for it to come to an end.
That morning, I felt nothing but peace. I wasn’t scared. I was just determined. I felt like I had something to do and I was just going to do everything in my power to do it. I spent most of the labor with my eyes closed and just tried to fall deep down inside myself. I would come up once and awhile to kiss your dad or smile at your sister and tell her I loved her.
Things slowed down in the water so I went back upstairs to rest in bed with your dad. Soon after, things picked up quickly. Each time I was left alone with him, things picked up quickly. It was like my body was sending a message loud and clear to just let it be left alone where it felt the most calm and protected to do the work it instinctively knew how to do.
By the end of it all I think I got in and out of the pool three or four times. I imaged birthing you in there all along as it seemed the most relaxing for me, but apparently it was too relaxing because every time things would slow down.
You were born on the couch, with your dad sitting right behind me, his face next to mine- neck in neck. I didn’t know until afterwards, but I pushed for four hours and never once felt like I absolutely couldn’t do it. There were positions I was apprehensive to try because getting in to them felt like it was going to be uncomfortable, but at no point did I feel like I wasn’t going to be able to do it.
The feeling of having you placed on my chest, in our living room, with your dad behind me, with your grandma and sister one couch away, with bistro lights hanging from the ceiling, with women fiercely supporting me and allowing me total autonomy, with nothing but warmth and respect flowing all around me is truly indescribable. I can tell you, without a doubt, that it was and will forever be the greatest moment of my life. And my greatest hope is that you and your sister get to experience that same feeling one day, because that moment is the moment that really defines what love is and what life is all about.