Photo Credit: Taya Shopen
A view of the city from our birthing suite.
Welcome to Mila's birth story. I have included the original letter that I wrote to my closest family and friends 10 days after Mila's birth. At the time I was not ready to share this on any public domain as I felt incredibly raw, vulnerable, doubtful and disappointed in myself for the turn in events that took place around Mila's birth.
The past half year has been an incredible one. I find myself in moments of immense gratitude for every breath, smile, gaze, conversation, and moment of affection between myself and the 3 amazing children that the universe has blessed me with. My older children are 15 and 16. I originally thought that having a baby a decade an a half later was too huge of an age gap however I've found that though it is not common, it isn't as rare as one would think.
So a little bit of history behind my decision to start all over again and my journey into motherhood later in life.
About six years ago, I practiced a very powerful dharma meditation. Dharma may be translated as the essence of something - for example, the dharma of the element of fire is to be hot, to burn. The dharma of water is to be liquid, formless.
Another translation of dharma is described as one's behaviors in life that contribute to the right way of living, in accordance with one's essence and contribution to the world.
I've learned that all human beings share one universal dharma. This dharma is unchanging across all beings and that is our spiritual dharma. Our spiritual dharma is the pursuit of self study. To learn how our specific gifts may contribute to the well being of the world and those around us. Unfortunately we do live in an age where we typically put our material dharma first.
Often, most people think of their career as their material dharma, but it may also be applied our relationships.
So when I decided to practice this dharma meditation I was feeling quite lost. I was still suffering from an anxiety disorder that was damaging to myself, and I felt like I was going around in circles. I entered the meditation with a lot of preconceived notions as to what my dharma would turn out to be. Surprisingly, what arose from the meditation practice was that of an image of motherhood. My dharma is to be a mother to my children.
This was both enlightening and really tough for me at the time. Because at this time I was still in the midst of battling for more time with my children while going through a difficult divorce. I had not only lost my way as a mother, but I completely lost my sense of SELF. I shut down and turned away from conflict over the details of custody. I was exhausted and did not have the energy or the right tools to fight. I also turned to some very unhealthy coping mechanisms and negative habits that at the time would not have earned me any mother of the year awards. These are not excuses for my behaviors, but it was the reality of what I was experiencing at this stage of my life.
I was heartbroken and confused because I realized that the number one reason why I felt empty and lost was exactly because I was not fulfilling my dharma. This meditation practice turned things around and I found the strength to show up for my children more despite the continued resistance and exchange of many hurtful emails and communications with their Dad.
Fast forward to the present.
My tendencies still show up even today, to run away from shit when the going gets rough.
The best gift that my daily yoga practice has shown me is that I MUST show up, even when I don't want to, even when I want to run the other direction. A spiritual practice is not meant to be easy, it's meant to put you through directly into the fire in order for true transformation to take root.
For many years I held onto a lot of shame and guilt about my past, but I realized that in order to transcend this, to really follow my dharma and to mother my children the best way I am able, I had to forgive myself.
How we treat others is mirrored in how we treat ourselves. To love others fully and truly, we must practice self love. To be able to forgive others, we must be able to also forgive ourselves.
"We don't forgive someone for their sake; we forgive them for the sake of our own peace of mind. Any attack on another person is an attack upon ourselves, for in the spiritual universe there is only one of us here. What I think about anyone else, I'm thinking about myself." From a A Year of Miracles by Marianne Williamson
So here I am, later in life in my late 30's making the decision to have another baby. I admit, I was really reticent at first. It took my partner 3 years to convince me to conceive as he really wanted to have a baby. Despite all that's happened and the long road to recovery, the changes to my physical body, sleep, well being, career, not a single day goes by that I'm grateful that we decide to go for it and have Mila.
My pregnancy and birth with Mila has been a healing experience on so many levels. I am still discovering the depth and power of her birth and existence in our lives every day. I am grateful for a life where I can spend so many moments just watching her breathe. Time flies by so quickly, and in a blink of an eye, children are grown.
So now, I have slowed my pace down in order to not to miss the moments in between, the normal moments, the moments that are tough, even the moments that bring tears to my eyes.
The one lesson that being close to death's door has brought me is that the eventuality of taking my last breath is 100% for certain. Life has given me another chance to do things right so I better not fuck it up this time.
"If birth is a miracle, then so is death." Tom Ryan
And while I do still fuck things up, being human and all, I remind myself that this is the continuous process of learning and re-learning.
Forgiveness. Acceptance. Love.
Thank you for reading and I hope you share your birth stories with me.
Mila's birth story:
My pregnancy was Mila was very smooth. I had very minor symptoms and aches common to pregnancy. Given that I had a low risk pregnancy, all my results having come back normal, I decided to aim for a natural birth with this baby.
Due to the complications of the birth of my eldest child, primarily related to the epidural, I decided to work with the same doctor who delivered my older children for continuity of care.
I stayed very healthy during the pregnancy, practiced yoga daily, was mindful of everything I ate that was being passed on to baby and tried to manage work related stress levels to a minimum.
During the last 4 weeks of the 3rd trimester we discussed our birth plan with our OB. She understood my desire to try and carry to full term without induction but warned me that this baby is the largest baby that I'm going to have. Towards the end of 39 weeks my OB started to discuss with us the possibility of considering induction. The baby had put on a lot of weight from weeks 35-38 and she was concerned about the complications that would arise if I waited too long beyond term.
She advised an induction on her due date which I declined hoping that our little one would arrive soon in the beginning of the week 40.
After our 40 week check up, baby was still at -2 station and I was only 1 cm dilated and 30% effaced. Again we discussed induction and even scheduled a date. We ended up moving the induction date because I was trying everything I could from walking, to gentle practice, to light reflexology to induce naturally.
Though we had already moved the induction date, we decided to re-schedule again, just to wait a little longer to see if baby would arrive.
A few more days out and still, our baby wasn't quite ready yet. I was feeling nervous and began to monitor her kick counts and movement. I was feeling huge and my body was reaching it's limit as I was having so much trouble even finding comfortable positions to rest in between week 40 and 41.
After multiple conversations with our doctor, having re-scheduled twice already, we decided to induce.
I knew the risk of how intense the labor with pitocin would be without an epidural and I tried to rest as much as I could to have the strength to ride it through.
We started with our induction at 10 pm on March 20 with pitocin at a minimum dose. We asked our nurse if we could take the increments up very slowly. We also saw our doctor then and requested the same and she agreed to up the dosage at a slower rate.
At 6 am baby was still at the same station and I was about 4 cm dilated and still 30% effaced. Baby was at -2 station. The labor contractions began at a very slow pace. We worked with our nurse and doula on changing positions to manage the pain. The labor and delivery nurse assigned to me was amazing and gave me so much support to keep going without medication.
At around 10 am, my water broke. The contractions from here really started going. My doctor came back after this to check the baby's position and she was still at the same station, her head was not descending down into my pelvis. At this point I went from 4 cm to about 5 cm dilation.
A few more hours passed at which point I was starting to lose my strength. I could no longer stand and changing positions was becoming intolerable. My mind had reached its edge and I was worried about the baby's position which I found out later was posterior.
At some point the waves of contractions were relentless. I kept trying to focus on finally holding baby in my arms and that every contraction would bring her closer to me. Again, this time the nurse checked me and baby was at 0 station which explained the increased back pressure, but I was still maybe only 5.5 cm dilated.
At some point, 13 hours in even with multiple distractions and changes to position I finally gave in and asked for an epidural. We kept trying to stall it further out but I was moving even more beyond my edge and I knew that if I couldn't relax, it would further stall her progress down and I was worried about her being able to descend.
Finally the anesthesiologist came in to administer the Epi and my mind was clear. I looked directly at my nurse and told her that I understood our decision. While the doctor was setting up for the epidural my husband told her to be extra careful given the complications I've had with my first birth when they administered the epidural incorrectly, numbing me from the waist up instead of the waist down. She acknowledged this and prepared to set it up.
At this point it seemed that there were no more breaks between contractions. My nurse had her hands on my shoulders to help me get into position and I was sitting up on the edge of the bed with my hands on my knees facing her. They told me to curl around my baby to get my spine to curve as much as possible. The doctor administered the first step of the epidural and I was doing my best to follow every instruction. The second step followed which she warned would come with a sensation of electric shock down my leg which I felt. I told her I felt it.
Immediately after this I felt my entire body go rigid. I started to feel short of breath and looked directly into my nurse's eyes and told her: "There's something's wrong, I can't feel my legs and my body. There's some thing wrong - I'm going to fall down now." We locked eyes as I was saying this to her and it was the most intense gaze I've shared with a complete stranger in my life.
Things started going down hill really fast. I felt myself falling to the right I could see the doctor and nurse touching me all over the legs and asked me if I could feel what they were doing. I tried to shake my head "no" but at this point I could not verbally respond.
I heard the doctor say the words "spinal" to the nurse. My head was turned to the right and I saw my nurse pick up a blue phone. She said "I need all available nurses to room 256 Stat! Page Dr. Basen Mitchell!" who was the OB on rounds that shift.
Things really started moving fast. I heard another nurse run in and throw an oxygen mask on my face. I tried to tell her it wasn't on correctly but by this time I could no longer speak. I heard the nurse repeating my vitals to the anesthesiologist. My blood pressure plummeted. My heart rate rose to accommodate for the lack of blood pressure. Baby's heart rate at this point was dropping. I heard the nurse reporting my heart rate in intervals, 113, 135, among other vitals signs.
I could hear a whole team of nurses disconnect me from the equipment in the room and I felt them rushing me out into the hallway. I felt the bed speeding down the hallway and saw people hastily moving things aside to make room for us.
I felt myself being transferred onto the operating table and someone cutting off my gown and the rest of what I was wearing. I saw the blue screen and part of my mind registered that I was most likely having a c-section. By this time a more solid oxygen mask was placed on me and I heard someone on the left side repeat to me "Breathe! Breathe! Breathe!"
I tried to take deep breaths but could not tell if I was breathing. I was fighting with every bit of strength to keep breathing.
I focused my eyes on the blue screen and kept trying to inhale every time they cued me to breathe.
At some point I heard a baby crying and my first thought was, "who's baby is that that's crying? Oh my god is that my baby? Is my baby ok?" I focused on the sound of the crying and locked in on it while trying to breathe. At some point I heard someone tell me that my baby was born and was showing her to me. I felt so excited and wanted to reach for her but then she was whisked away.
This was was the last thing I remembered before feeling myself being transferred from the operating table to a gurney. I was being moved again and I felt a ton of warm blankets being thrown on me. I was holding onto someone's hands both on the left and right side. One was a doctor I've never met which I came to realize later was the OB the who started the emergency c-section. My L&D nurse was also holding my hand. She explained to me that everything was ok, my baby is healthy and with her dad and that she's a beautiful baby girl. Everything is ok with her. I squeezed her hand to let her know that I understood and tried to thank her.
At some point I was able to speak again but I had the most terrible shivers. I was trembling all over and I asked about my baby and where I was and where she was. I was still very disoriented. I asked the nurse and doctor who were holding my hands if I was ok. They kept reassuring me that everything was fine.
Finally, I saw Dima, my husband walk into the recovery room with our baby and I felt a huge wave of relief. They immediately put her in my chest and we started practicing skin to skin. Because I still did not have use of my arms they helped baby latch on. This was the first time I started to feel calm. I was still on oxygen and was being monitored but my baby was finally here. I cried tears of relief and joy.
Baby nursed for a while and I was finally able to hold her. They then prepared to move all of us to our recovery room together. Everything was explained to me in detail about our next steps and about 3 hours after the surgery we were moved to our recovery room. I kept my eyes locked on the baby bassinet that held Mila the entire time we were moving to our room.
Eventually we made it and nurses came in to start explaining our set up in the room and check my vitals. I asked a few questions but I was exhausted. I was awake for quite some time talking with Dima, our doula and the nursing staff. Eventually things started to calm down and the events of what took place started to hit me as I realized that my baby was finally here. I cried tears of joy and gratitude that she was safe and that we were together.
We ended up staying in the hospital for one week and there were some challenges that came up with having to supplement the baby's feedings due to delays in my milk coming in. She had lost about 14% of her birth weight and we were doing everything we could to offset the loss. There were also some minor concerns about the incision site but I focused on getting better every day so that we could all go home.
To say the first two days back home were rough is an understatement, however with the immense support of Dima's parents, our older children and my Dad, we made it through the weekend. They not only cooked fresh meals but they helped keep our home in a state of cleanliness and sanity that would have been impossible without their help.
This week my milk has finally come in and all the adaptive devices and procedures to supplement baby's feeding are now done. I'm able to walk a little more every day. I hope that in two more weeks I'll actually be able to walk outside again.
Every moment I hold baby Mila and gaze at her feels like a small miracle. All babies are blessings but I feel that her birth has given me an even deeper appreciation for life. It has taught us that being kind to each other is way more important than being right, that any moment we are all just one breath away from our hold onto this life.
Mila is now 10 days old and thriving. We had a special moment to acknowledge her 1 week birthday this past Tuesday between the 3 of us. Dima picked her up and put her in my arms as she would have been the moment she was born.
I don't know what the future will bring, but all I can say is that I'm thankful for this gift of our precious baby girl. Every second I'm awake I can't help but just gaze at her in fascination. It also brings back so many memories of when Zoe and Kai were babies and the same burst of love I would feel in my heart looking at them.
So this is the story of Mila's birth. May the story of her life be filled with many more moments of pure joy, peace and love. May she have many more epic moments, whether they're filled with darkness or light or a little bit of both. May she grow up to be healthy, strong and independent with a solid sense of her self and may she always know that even if we make mistakes as her parents or have to make calls that she won't agree with, that we love her as deeply as we do every day.