Beatrice Wren was born in peace. Her birth was redemptive for me, transformative and the very hardest physical thing I have ever done. Bringing her into the world was a beautiful experience. I felt loved and supported in the very deepest ways, and this, as with many things, is what makes all the difference.
Beatrice was born on Mother's Day, May 8th, 2016. She weighed 8 pounds exactly and was 20 inches long and absolutely perfect. She was born in the water at home surrounded by so much love. This is her story.
The house is quiet now, after the long rain this afternoon and the happy bedlam of toddler shrieks and baby cries and thunder. I tucked Charlotte into bed and lay beside her, my chin upon her head and our arms twisted together. I sang her favorite songs and gave thanks for the day. And as I prayed over her head my tears mingled with her tangled hair and wet her somehow still sticky cheek - tears of joy. I have been given two bright and beautiful souls to nurture, to protect, to guide and shape and cherish. Two daughters, two lovely girls who will grow to be women - women who can mold the world for better, Lord willing. And every so often I am given the beautiful reminder, like a whisper in my ear, that simple days like today are the ones that will make all the difference in their lives. And this is why I chronicle them. Days like today bring me to my knees with gratitude for these precious gifts. Not long ago this life was a girlhood dream. Now I wake up each morning to this blessed reality - that I am a wife to a wonderful man and a mother - a mother! - to two beautiful daughters. God give me grace to do this work well.
My pregnancy with Beatrice was sweet and long and short and tedious and wonderful all muddled up together. We were blessed to fall pregnant our first month trying, and as with Charlotte I took a couple negative tests before confirming that I was indeed pregnant. Oddly enough, my midwife Cheyanne, and I learned we were expecting on the same day and then discovered we shared the same estimated due date. Now more than ever she was my pregnancy confidant. We walked together a few times a week and I feel I grew even more deeply in appreciation for the beautiful friend I have been so blessed to call my midwife. She is one of those rare and wonderful people who is clearly meant to be in the profession they have chosen. She is a midwife through and through.
My pregnancy was without complications, and I struggled along through the first trimester, enjoyed the second, and lagged through the third, just as expected. Charlotte was the sweetest thing during those early months of nausea and fatigue. She would lay beside me on the floor and stroke my hair as we binged on Fixer Upper and The Great British Baking Show and Gilmore Girls (don't judge!). We learned to garden together and toward the end of my pregnancy I began to experience a deep ache each night as I rocked her and sang to her before bed, knowing that soon would come a night that would be our last as a family of three - the last time I would rock her to sleep as my one and only baby.
Throughout my pregnancy I used my Hypnobabies soundtracks to relax and envision my baby and my birth. It became a beautiful ritual most nights to put Charlotte to sleep and then sink into a hot bath with essential oils and candles, listen to my pregnancy and birth affirmations, and dream of who the baby within me would be. I also listened to The Birth Hour podcast, which features all kinds of birth stories. I got into a very "birthy" zone towards the end. It was ever on my mind. I felt such a kinship with all mothers everywhere, with the sheer work it takes to sustain life. I had the honor of documenting three births during my pregnancy, and each was a particularly special occasion because of my own situation. I was yearning for a new birth experience. My favorite pregnancy affirmation was "this is a new birth and a new baby, unique unto itself." It grounded me in knowing that this was not Charlotte's birth. This was something different. This little soul growing within me was someone new, and it would be a unique experience to bring her into the world.
One thing Cheyanne and I discussed often in my prenatal visits was how to make this birth a better experience than I had with Charlotte. It wasn't that I had a negative perception about Charlotte's birth, but that week leading up to it was agony, and the stress involved was vile. In Arizona we have a law stating that after 42 weeks my midwife has to abandon care and I would have to transfer to an unknown doctor at the last minute. This is an arbitrary law, as different states have different rules, and due dates are not an exact science. Charlotte came at 41 weeks and 6 days, after much work to induce labor and she was born looking like a 39 week baby and my labor was hard and fast. We agreed to not worry if I went very much past my due date, to just leave things be and not stress over induction, so long as the baby was doing well.
I also wanted this labor to look different. I had attended six other births as a photographer after having Charlotte, and one thing I desperately wanted that I had seen in each was to be present between the contractions up until nearing the end. With Charlotte I was immediately in very hard, very active labor. Her birth was a blur, with just two hours before I began to push. I was never aware of what was going on around me. But the women I had seen birth were there and able to enjoy their births in a way that I felt I hadn't with Charlotte. So this is what I began to focus and meditate upon over my whole pregnancy with Beatrice. I prayed for a peaceful labor - and to me that meant finding peace and experiencing peace no matter what my labor looked like. I desperately hoped for a longer labor with a peaceful atmosphere and the ability to be present and enjoy it for what it would be.
And so this is what I prepared for. I dreamt up a beautiful space in which to birth in my bedroom and brought it to life. I meditated on the word "peace" and toward the end I began to surround myself with positive and encouraging stories of birth. Cheyanne and I shared a Blessingway, where I felt so loved and encouraged and prepared for what was to come. It was beautiful. Flowers and pretty food and drinks, friends who were versed in birth, mothers who were going through it alongside us. We hired a henna artist and each guest brought a word to encourage us and pray for us leading up to our births.
I left the Blessingway with a settled feeling. I was ready; she could come now. And though I spent my entire pregnancy preparing myself to go to forty-two weeks again, and even told people I was due in May, once I hit my due date I began to drag. Cheyanne actually gave birth to her beautiful baby Cordelia on our due date, April 30th. And then it became an anxious game of wanting desperately to not be pregnant any more and to have my baby in my arms, and yet wanting baby to wait so that Cheyanne could attend my birth.
There were a few nights where my contractions grew regular and were strong enough to make me think this was it. On Monday, two days past my due date, I had a bout of practice labor that really seemed to true, and I was in contact with our backup midwife throughout the night. But it too petered out, just as each time before. Every day I grew more impatient. Every day I felt less at ease in this body, in this state of being. Living on the cusp.
I finished the baby blanket, put the final touches on the nursery, kept my house immaculate. I rubbed Clary Sage essential oil on me throughout the day to encourage contractions. Finally, on Saturday, May 7th, at one week past my due date I asked Cheyanne to strip my membranes to see if it would prompt real labor. Unlike with Charlotte, this time my body felt ready. I really felt like I just needed that small bit of encouragement to get things going. Cheyanne agreed, and she came over that afternoon and stripped my membranes and said the baby felt low. But besides some discomfort from the actual sweep I had no signs of labor whatsoever that evening.
That night got ugly. I cried and wallowed in self-pity. What was wrong with me? Would I never have the experience of going into labor on my own? I cried bitterly on Zack's shoulder and let myself release to those fears and feelings of inadequacy and heartache. It seems odd to say now, but I really did feel as though I would never have my baby, that I would be pregnant forever. But the brief immersion in misery calmed me and I spent time alone in my room and eventually fell asleep to a hynobabies track. The next morning I woke before anyone else and enjoyed the quiet alone, drinking tea, reading my Bible, and pouring my soul out before the Lord. I felt at peace with His timing finally and I was able to tell myself that the waiting was just another part of my daughter's story. And here I am now writing it.
It was Mother's Day, and Zack had helped Charlotte to paint a picture for me. When she woke up she toddled over for a hug, holding her painting and a card and I cried the happiest tears. My little family embraced me and our baby within me and I felt so very blessed.
As we prepared for going to church I felt the same contractions that I had been experiencing on and off again resurface. They were fairly strong and I felt the need to breathe through them when they came, but they were at least thirty minutes apart. I experienced the strangest feeling and rushed to the bathroom and lost my mucus plug. I honestly don't know how to describe that experience. With Charlotte I lost it little bits at a time over a week, but with Beatrice the entire thing just fell out. My body was working - preparing for labor. I was cautiously excited. I told Zack and he asked if we should stay home from church, but I decided I wanted to go. I knew things weren't happening hastily, and I didn't want to sit at home all day without distractions from what could be a slow start.
So we went to church. There I had a few contractions that I needed to breathe through. In the church library there are a few couches where the pregnant ladies tend to spend the sermon, and I would audibly breathe through contractions on the couch while my pregnant friends made excited faces to one another over my head. "I've been having contractions like these and they never go anywhere," I snapped (sorry, friends!). But they just smiled and gave each other knowing nods. I was in a place of desperately wanting this to be real and at the same time refusing to believe it was.
After church I talked to Cheyanne. "So - how soon after losing the plug do women tend to go into labor?" I pressed her. "What, you want me to tell you when you're going to have your baby?" she laughed. "Tomorrow. You'll have her tomorrow." "No," I said. "Today. I'm going to have a baby today."
As we drove home, the contractions picked up. They were every twenty minutes or so, and growing stronger. "I have a feeling about today," said Zack. When I laughed and told him that I did too, but I had already had feelings about labor and been wrong, he jokingly said, "but we both have a feeling, so we can't both be wrong."
Once home we put Charlotte down to nap and I started to make some lunch. The contractions picked up with increasing speed, and by the time I was putting sandwiches together they were about ten minutes apart and I was needing to stop to breathe through them. Zack began to fill the birth pool and he predicted I wouldn't get to eat my lunch. He was wrong though. Knowing what lay ahead gave me all the more incentive to eat so I would have the energy to labor. As Zack filled the pool I stood alone in the kitchen, leaning over the counter for contractions, and I had a moment of realization that this was it. My stomach filled with butterflies - excitement for what was to come, a bit of fear too, which I pushed away. I had done this before. Every child who ever lived had been brought into the world by some brave woman or another and I was about to enter into that sisterhood once more.
I hummed in low tones through the waves in between texting my birth team. I was unsure of when to ask people to come. With Charlotte everything had been so immediately intense that there was no question. I felt like a first time mom, unsure of when to ask for help. I'd say things really started in earnest around 2pm, and by 3:45 I had asked Cheyanne to come and everyone else to start to make their way over. The waves were increasing in frequency so quickly that I felt I would rather have everyone there a little early than have them be rushing over because things went too quickly. My mom was the first to arrive. She had driven over as soon as she heard that today was probably the day, and was waiting in her car a few blocks away just waiting for the call. By 4:30 my birth photographer and friend Ana, and Cheyanne had also arrived, and everyone else filtered in over the next hour.
I can't begin to describe how utterly happy I was. It was a beautiful day. Cheyanne was going to attend my birth and everyone else on my team was able to make it. Bright sunlight filtered in through the windows and soft instrumental music filled the room. Zack was boiling water to fill up the pool, Charlotte had woken and was "helping" to vocalize with me through my contractions, and I was there. Between contractions I would laugh and joke with my friends, I was doing the dishes, giving Charlotte kisses, and just enjoying what this experience would be. Everything was normal and perfect and good.
I was surprised at how quickly Cheyanne suggested I get in the pool. I had always heard midwives say not to get in too early in labor because it had the potential to slow things down. Her suggestion gave me confidence that this was real, active labor. I had doubted how far along I might be just because I was still present and fine between the waves. Looking back at the videos I am able to hear myself during the contractions and realize how intense they already were. But in the midst of it I still felt very in control and able to cope. I got into the pool and Cheyanne told me that a twenty minute reprieve from the contractions was normal, so I was able to enjoy the hot water for some time before they returned. Charlotte got into her bathing suit and played in the water too. I loved having her there. It was such a sweet thing to have her be a part of this story, to spend our final hours with just her and us together in this intimate way.
At one point I felt a surge of emotions rush over me and I found myself silently crying, not out of sadness or fear or pain, but with gratitude for it all. I had so hoped for a slower labor, a peaceful experience, to be present and able to enjoy the experience. To have my friends and mom and birth team all there, to see them talking and laughing quietly and entertaining Charlotte while I did my work in my own space was everything I had hoped.
The intensity of the waves grew and I became more and more focused inward. I was aware of what was going on around me, and I was still so happy, but my attention was drawn to the power surging through my body with each contraction. Anastasia looked at me knowingly at one point and said, "you're going to get your baby." And though I could acknowledge her and affirm that what she said was true, my baby was not at the forefront of my mind anymore. There was such a mountain ahead to climb. My goal began and ended with each contraction. I couldn't see further ahead than each individual wave as they broke over me. This was where my Hypnobabies became useful. While I didn't use the tracks in my labor, I was able to relax my muscles during the contractions and let my entire body go limp except for my hands, which I used to grip the edge of the pool tightly. I would rock on my hands and knees between the waves and then press my forehead to the pool and squeeze the edge while letting go of everything else during each wave. Even as the intensity grew I felt very capable and able to cope. I made low and deep vocalizations and felt like I was working with the contractions by doing so. I could feel my body opening and preparing to bring the baby down.
At a certain point Zack became my rock and I stopped laboring on my own. I needed him. His hands to squeeze, his head next to mine, his presence. I don't remember saying anything to ask him for that, I don't even remember him being right there in all the ways that he was, but looking back at photos and video I am humbled by how present he was. He prayed silently for me through every contraction. He smoothed my hair away from my face. He held space for me silently, sacredly. He was my quiet reassurance in those hardest hours. Charlotte too was so sweet. She would pat my head and ask, "baby out?" She never seemed scared, though I was loud. Throughout my pregnancy we had watched birth videos together and I would tell her how hard mamas had to work to bring their babies out, how they would roar to bring them down. She was perfectly at ease because everyone else was too.
At around 6:30 I began to feel at my end. I was having trouble coping. I kept telling Cheyanne, "I want it to be time to push." I could tell I was getting near the end. I felt so open and while I felt subjectively like I was unable, I had an objective sense of knowing that if I felt that way I was probably in transition.
It was then that I started to feel "pushy," but only partially - it was a strange feeling. I was starting to make involuntary, low pushy sounds. At first I pushed with the contractions a bit, and while it felt better to push, something felt off. Cheyanne checked me and saw that I was nearly complete but I had a cervical lip. This was when things began to get truly hard. Harder than I had ever imagined. The last hour and a half of my labor was so intense, so powerful, and so very difficult.
We waited, hoping the lip would move with some slight pushing from me, some position changes, but I was quickly losing the ability to cope. I was done. I felt like what lay before me was completely insurmountable. I roared and balked and fought those contractions. Finally Cheyanne asked if I wanted her to hold back the lip while I pushed to see if we could get the baby's head past. I agreed. I knew it would be all the more intense with her holding back the lip, but I desperately wanted to be done. Throughout labor the baby had been moving, getting into a better position, but it was agonizing to feel her moving while having contractions. When Cheyanne held back the cervical lip and I pushed, the baby also moved. That feeling was indescribable. So much pressure and pain and intensity. Anguish and extreme sense experience taking over my body. So much happening at once. I said "fuck." Loudly. In front of my mom. It felt good.
I've been told that in that moment everybody was hushed, not sure how to react. Then Zack laughed. "Um, we don't say that word in this house," my mom joked. Then everyone laughed. I had some objective sense that it was funny, but I was totally incapable of coming out of my headspace. I was so far gone into labor land. Charlotte began to cry as I started roaring louder and she could see I was clearly overwhelmed by the intensity. "Mama," she would sob and her little heart was filled with such empathy for me. Zack was holding her and telling her that I was okay, that I was pushing the baby out, and she would cry "yeah," and pat my hands. I have a vivid memory of looking up to see her little tear-stricken face, and thinking how sweet and sad it was, but I wasn't able to come out of my zone. My mom ended up holding her up until I was pushing the baby out, and she was quite happy to watch from a distance.
I talk to myself through my labors. Keeping my words positive was empowering for me. "Okay, it's okay. This is good," I would say as I could feel a contraction building. It was important to me to try to think of the hardest contractions as being a good thing - they were bringing my baby down. "I can do this, I can do this," I kept telling myself, sometimes through tears, sometimes as a quiet scream. "I can do this." One of my favorite video clips is of a moment like this. As I am trying to tell myself that I am capable, Cheyanne is quietly reassuring me, "yes, yes. You can do this. You are doing this." This is where my birth team made all the difference. I truly felt I couldn't do it anymore. I wasn't coping. But everyone else coped for me. They told me I could do it again and again, and I did.
After holding back the lip I made some progress, but pushing is the very hardest part of labor for me. I had hoped that because this was my second baby I would be able to push her out much more easily than with Charlotte. Cheyanne had prepared me for needing to pant and hold her back instead of having to work so hard to bring her down. In all it took about an hour to move past that lip. That was the hardest hour of my life.
Finally I felt a shift and the baby began to descend. I could feel that mounting pressure as she entered the birth canal, but I was unable to face that deep pain anymore. I felt stuck. I couldn't stay where I was and I certainly couldn't lean into that pain and do more. Cheyanne encouraged me. They all did. "No, no, I can't do this," I finally said. I had told myself my whole pregnancy that I wouldn't say that. Up until that point I had only voiced "I feel like I can't do this; tell me I can do this." But somehow I needed to say it. To say what I truly felt. And when I did such a round of encouragement was raised by my team and they became my strength when I had nothing else left to give.
Cheyanne showed me where to push and helped me to feel where I needed to direct that effort. Then finally, finally I could feel my baby moving down through the birth canal, nearer and nearer. I was leaning back, pulling on Zack's arms, Mindy was supporting my back, Cheyanne was helping direct my pushing, Charlotte sat in Zack's lap and watched while silently sucking her fingers. Everyone else gathered around and waited, but the only people in my small, all-consuming world were Zack and Cheyanne. I roared and made noises that were guttural, fierce, acute in strength. And then suddenly a great silence fell. I felt that burning of her head crowning, felt that vast pressure overwhelming my entire being. I held her there for one agonizingly long space between contractions. Cheyanne told me to slow my breathing, to relax my shoulders, to rest and keep her there. Then, with one great push her head was out. "Is that her head?" I asked "more?". Cheyanne had reached down to feel her head, but the bag of waters was still intact and so she was unable to feel the chin and brow like she normally could. She hesitated for a moment, then realized what she was feeling and told me yes, I could push more. So with one final push I bore her down, into the water, and Cheyanne helped me to scoop her up into my arms.
"Oh, oh my baby!" She was here. She was here and wailing and in my arms - flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone, birthed of my body, born surrounded by such strength and hope and love.
The bag of waters broke as she was born, and as she came out I looked down into the water and saw the bag still over her body. In my arms she was slippery and warm and small. She looked into my eyes, little soul, she knew my voice.
And when I had taken her in, smelled her head, kissed her wet brow, I looked up to find my rock, my husband. Our love had formed this new little life, our love had helped to sustain her and brought her into the world.
One of the first things I said after she was born was "you look different!" And she did! Over my whole pregnancy I had not-so-secretly been hoping that this baby would look like me. Charlotte was so clearly like Zack from the moment she came out. She shares very little of her features with me. But Beatrice was born looking much like I did as a newborn. A heart shaped face, big eyes, my same nose and ears. It was amazing to look into her face and see my features there.
Zack cut the cord and I birthed the placenta and while he took the baby to the side to meet Charlotte and my mom and friends, Cheyanne and Mindy helped me into the bed. "That was so hard," I kept saying. I was honestly in shock over what I had just done. The last hour and a half had shaken me. I had never imagined needing to work so hard to bring her into the world.
Zack brought the baby back to me and laid her on my chest. I can still feel that downy, naked body, tiny against my breast; her hair swirling and curly, her snuffling breaths, her wide eyes taking in this new world.
Charlotte was laid beside me and for the first time I had both girls in my arms. My daughters. That was the sweetest of joys.
This little girl had a strong desire to nurse. She wailed until I was able to breastfeed her, and then she wanted to nurse the whole night through. She was a good little nursling, and having that first latch once again brought back so many memories. It was a remarkable thing to have had this little person within my womb just minutes ago, to have been in such agony just moments before, and then to have her suckling peacefully at my breast as though she'd always been here.
Beatrice had her newborn exam and everything looked completely perfect. She was eight pounds exactly and 20 inches long. Zack dressed her in her first outfit and we all laughed at what a little old lady she looked like.
I had a second degree tear again, along the same lines as I had torn with Charlotte, though not as bad. As it turns out, birthing a baby with five hours of active labor means a much better recovery than birthing a baby after two hours of active labor. I felt good over the next week. So much so that my placenta encapsulation pills actually made me feel much worse hormonally, and I didn't end up taking them.
While Cheyanne and Mindy cared for me, Zack brought the baby out to meet my Dad. Beatrice was born at 8:10pm on a Sunday evening, and not many places were open to serve food anymore. I was desperately craving my favorite Thai curry. My dad so kindly stopped in at the restaurant just before they closed and brought over plenty of curry to share, and got to meet his newest granddaughter too. My Mom pulled out my baby book to compare my newborn photos to Beatrice. It is striking how much more she looks like me.
It was nearing midnight when everybody began to leave. My friends had curled up on the bed with me to marvel at this new little person. We ate and talked and I nursed my baby. The normalcy of home birth is my absolute favorite thing.
After they left I snuggled down and sniffed newborn head and nursed through the night. It wasn't restful, but it was perfect. Having her in my arms, Zack beside me, Charlotte to wake up to - it was completely perfect.
This birth - it was beautiful. It was everything I hoped it would be. It was hard, incredibly hard. And I would be lying if I said I was ready to jump up and have another baby right away. But I have come to realize that what makes birth beautiful in my eyes is that rugged tenacity that a woman finds to somehow do what is impossible to her. And more wonderful still is the strength she can achieve with love and support surrounding her on every side. I could never have had this beautiful experience of bringing my baby into the world without my midwife and husband, my friends and mother and my daughter there to encourage me, to give me strength when I had none.
We named our daughter Beatrice Wren.
Beatrice means bringer of joy, and oh my darling girl, your coming filled my heart with such joy. We pray you grow to bear the news of that greatest joy which is for all people in everything you do.
Wren is after the little birds, the beautiful cactus wrens we see in the desert. They are delicate and lovely, but strong and wise enough to thrive amongst the thorns. I see in them the constant reminder that God is sovereign over and cares for even the smallest among us. May He give us grace to care for you in every way, dear one.
To my birth team:
Zack, my love, you were there for me in ways I didn't even know. From the early days of pregnancy through birth and the first weeks with our newborn you gave every bit of you to helping me bring this baby into the world. Watching you love your girls without hesitation is my greatest joy. I love you. Cheyanne, as always you were everything I needed you to be in my pregnancy, labor and postpartum. Your care for your clients is beautiful to behold. Your quiet presence gave me strength to do what I thought I couldn't. I'm so glad you're my midwife and my friend. Mindy, you were such a wonderful presence in the room. You are the behind-the-scenes upholder and I am thankful you could be there. Anastasia, you captured this joyful whirlwind so tangibly for me in the most beautiful photos and film. I am forever grateful. My Charlotte-girl, you were the sweetest comforter to me in every hard part of pregnancy and birth. What a special thing to have been there the moment your sister took her first breath. May you always be there for her. Mom, it was such a relief to know that Charlotte would be perfectly comfortable during my labor simply because you were there. To have had you there to witness both my girls enter the world is a special thing indeed. Sam and Lauren, I loved having you at my birth. I am so happy to have been able to share this life-changing experience with you. Thank you all for having been a part of Beatrice's journey earthside. I love you all!