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Today Alona Maya and I were playing in her makeshift fort.  We were in and out with giggles, running around the blankets, Alona (15 months old) jumping on me throwing her head back with laughter.  She leans in: “Mama”, and kisses me right on the lips.  I melt, into the yummiest love puddle, filled with pure joy in my heart..

Was it always this way? No.  A resounding No.  Time had it’s way with us, the universe with it’s playful choreography, somehow got us to this place.  I look at my fiery, energetic toddler and it amazes me that it has only been 15 months.  It feels as though we have been on a wild & challenging journey forever.  Though the fog is so far behind me.. as I type and recall, how quickly I can imagine that thick fog; life after birth.

Before my daughter was born, I was a practicing licensed massage therapist with a specialty in prenatal, a certified yoga teacher specializing in pre & postnatal, and a strong advocate for educating/supporting pregnant women and their choices in childbirth… “I got this!” I thought.  I was so insanely over prepared for my homebirth, I almost felt empowered to labor unassisted.  I thought about the baby, my baby, so abstract and inconceivable.. I thought it would all just come to me.  Right?

My birth story (a long story made short):  With my midwife, her assistant, my husband Isaac, my rockstar doula, my birth tub, we were ready. Ready for the marathon.  My water broke at 11:30 PM on Sunday, December 4th and my contractions started about a half hour later.  The next morning contractions had slowed – we went to an accupuncturist, took a walk in the park, walked up and down the stairs, nipple stimulation (no sex because of the ruptured membranes).  By Monday afternoon’ish, the transition from early labor to active labor was not a gradual progression, but much more dramatic than I had expected and learned.  I rode out each contraction, trying to breath & rest in between.  The labor continued hour after hour, in bed, in the tub, on the floor, on Isaac, on my Doula, on the couch, in the shower, on the toilet, and pretty much every other square inch of my house.  The contractions began to steadily increase in length and frequency, and got worse (or should I say more “intense”). Sometime Monday evening my midwife checked me (a rather harrowing experience on its own) and declared that although I was 90% effaced, I was only 3 cms dilated!  This was a pretty serious blow.  I was still healthy and the baby’s heart rate was fine (and remained fine for the entire labor) so we all just kept going.  The midwife had me in a variety of difficult and painful contortions.  It was too much, I thought I would be here forever, drowning.  Despite all our learning and preparation, I think what I was least prepared for was the sheer amount of time that things could go on for.  I just kept going, one contraction at a time.  At some point they gave me tea with some vodka to try & rest a little..

By 5AM on Tuesday morning, contractions had progressed to around 90 seconds long with a minute or less in between.  I started to voice doubt, I felt as if I finally lost control in the unrelenting ‘undertow’, over and over.  I was checked again, and at only 4 cm.. Isaac & I cried, shocked & defeated.  The midwife told us that we should consider transferring to the hospital, that a “therapeutic epidural” might have the effect of causing my cervix to dilate rapidly.  It would serve as a specific function in the labor instead of just relieving pain.  My water had broken 30 hours ago, and hospital policy is 24 hours.  We were healthy, me and the baby, with a strong and steady heart rate.  A decision made by me while barely able to listen to one full sentence as another wave crashed into me.

With a taxi blaring evangelical talk radio, we made the 10 minute trip to the hospital.  The twin challenges of transition-like contractions and the feeling of defeat and failure that came with transferring was unbearable.  Things were difficult at the hospital when we arrived as well.  They split up our birth team, we had to deal with rude obnoxious nurses, and the whole experience was just everything we had hoped to avoid.  Once I got the therapeutic epidural, there was a rapid and dramatic shift.  I caught my breath, took a one hour nap, and dilated 10 centimeters.  With the support of one hospital midwife, one homebirth midwife, one rather obnoxious nurse, and my dear Isaac, I pushed our baby out millimeter by millimeter for three and a half hours.  (We were lucky that we ended up with a fairly progressive hospital midwife, but nevertheless there were some real challenges about being in a hospital; staff laid on the pressure, constantly watching the monitors and threatening an episiotomy, even when mama and baby were strong and healthy.)  At 2:00pm on Tuesday December 6th, Alona Maya was born.  We smuggled out the placenta, and got the heck out of there within 24 hours.. we were home.

Home.  I entered with my newborn, having spent the night alone with my new baby in the hospital, without Isaac.  I swatted away every nurse who tried to pry my baby away from me.  They wanted to take her from me it seemed almost every hour for various things, I never let her go.  I wouldn’t let them bathe her to wash the precious vernix from her skin.  I think I recall at one hazy hour them taking her for a minute to check something – I was so weak.  I counted the seconds before they would release me.  (I had no fresh clothes or anything of my own, we had never packed a bag in case of a transfer)  When I got home, I couldn’t walk (from the pushing, and some stitches from natural tearing) and anywhere I walked I was reminded of the trauma I had endured for the past 3 days.  Letting other people hold my daughter was nearly impossible for me.  As the days went on, a sweetness and light entered our home as we got to know our baby girl, though I still held her close, tried to nurse, skin to skin, wearing her, naked day after day, unable to fully let anyone else hold her.  I hated visitors, I wanted to throw my phone out the window, I didn’t respond to emails… I wanted to take my cub and my partner, and hibernate in a cave together.  I wanted to be left alone to heal and nourish each other.  My need to protect was strong, I wanted to run away far from anyone who knew me.  I didn’t want anyone to know she was born.  It felt too raw and precious, we three had been through something no one could understand, we had traveled to a different reality.

Nursing became a great challenge.  Alona was tongue tied, and breastfeeding was torture.  I was engorged and crying, I was so underslept, hungry, and vulnerable. (Isaac was truly incredible in all of this, he was my fellow lion.)  We got her frenulum clipped which was nearly impossible to handle, watching your baby being held down to snip her tongue.  I almost passed out.  Thank Gd we did it, as our nursing relationship would have never flourished.  Breastfeeding became easier (for lack of better words) and as 4-6 weeks rolled around, Alona began to cry, a lot.  She wouldn’t stop crying, and she was in pain.  My midwife told me to keep nursing and cuddle, but Alona wouldn’t lay blissful and cuddle.  She hated to lay down, she cried and I began to shatter.  I continued to stop using my phone, I lost a few friends (even still)  connecting with people was the hardest thing to do. Alona screamed and cried while awake, and slept on me when she collapsed.  At 7 weeks old, her colic/reflux (at that time we had named it) was as bad as ever.  I bounced on my birth ball every day for hours, we did craniosacral, I cut out every food that could possibly irritate Alona’s digestive system.  It was all so painful and unrelenting.  I wrapped my baby into my warmth, braved the winter and traveled between three different mom support groups.  Alona and I would pace and find our rhythm around the room while listening to other mothers.

Then one day, with a dramatic shift, we started to lift above the fog.  Alona and I started to have moments of tenderness and alertness, there were smiles between the hour of crying and bouncing.  As we rocked and danced our way towards 4 months, there was a calm and steadiness, and I could see past the fog.  Fast forward months of both challenging and beautiful moments.  We cherish our community of wonderful like minded mothers and babes from the support groups.  We still don’t sleep through the night, but it’s livable.  The crying is now something I understand, and through sign language or her expressive face, I can be present with my girl and attend to her needs.  We play and learn together, I smile as she learns the world through bold movements and voice.  My expanded heart drops when she is brave and falls or runs too fast.  I still hold her close, and she is my little cub.  Although she’s still not the greatest fan of a good long cuddle.  We nurse and I hold her feet and brush her hair with my fingers in awe of our ordeal.  I wonder, will she read this story?  Will she remember?

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