When Ayla was born, I wrote her birth story. It’s long and unedited. My mamma suggested that maybe Ayla wouldn’t want me to make it public; my own perspective, however positive in my memory, may not resonate with the woman Ayla will become. This was wisdom I took to heart.
But birth stories only seem to emerge around birth when mothers take grown daughters onto their laps and relive their first embrace … when we open our journals and speak the words out loud, and dust off mantles to pull down and pass around framed moments. Birth happens every day in the world, but in it is not a daily experience in our personal lives.
I’ve just ridden my first tide, joining my twin sister and best friends in the next generation of mothers. In honor of Mother’s Day, I want to share an abridged version of Ayla’s birth. There are so many stories of birth and motherhood; blood-related or spiritually bound. This is MY story, and I honor and respect yours.
“That night in a dream, the first girl emerges from a slit in my stomach. The scar heals into a smile.
The man I love pulls the stitches out with his fingernails. We leave black sutures curling on the side of the bath.
I wake as the second girl crawls head first up my throat, a flower, blossoming out of the hole in my face.” – Warsan Shire
Photo by Sarah Clapp
Ayla was a breech baby, head up and strong. My friend Teresa said that when her baby was breech, she felt he wanted to be close to her heart. I liked this theory.
But you see, we’d planned a home birth, and in this day and age a pregnant mamma is hard-pressed to find a midwife or doctor who can deliver a breech baby vaginally, let alone at home. The “correct” position is head-down. I spent weeks on end trying every trick in the book to spin my baby: inversions, flips in the swimming pool, acupuncture, prenatal yoga, having Bobby burn moxa incense for seven minutes over each pinky toe, a cephalic version in the hospital. I blamed myself for my baby’s position – had I done something wrong? Neglected emotional baggage? What was it!? Why?! I was spinning with stress and fighting with failed expectations (I would soon learn the first lesson of parenthood was to delete “expectation” from my vocabulary). I was scared of what I believed would be an unnatural, c-section birth (despite that being my and my twin sister’s own coming into the world, and so many other amazing people I know).
My spiritual teacher and friend, Ravi Walsh, guided me back to meditation and encouraged me to listen to my baby. To ground my own head first. I could no longer ignore my intuition – a supermom power I would come to depend on. My baby knew something the outside world didn’t, and I wanted to respect her position, her choice. As a mother, the best thing I could do was to plan for the next best alternative to give our baby the most peaceful, healthy entry into the world.
Dr. Surosky was the local midwives’ preferred doctor for home birth-to-hospital transfers. We liked him right away and he helped assuage most of my fears. Most importantly, he assured me that my baby’s position was not the consequence of anything I did “wrong.” It was in fact Bobby’s fault for “putting it in upside down.”
“…every birth is a natural birth: each of us is part of nature, not separate from it, and nature is always stunning in its variety. Your birth, then, is part of the natural word, however it unfolds.” – Lauralyn Curtis
Photo by Sarah Clapp
“Bring in the husband!” Bobby skirted around the lower curtained half of my body on the operating table, and sat on a stool next to my head.
“Hey Bobby,” Dr. Surosky said. “Did you bring the book?”
With a (very) nervous laugh, Bobby replied “Um, what book?”
“On how to do this!” Bobby’s shoulders relaxed as he chuckled and then refocused. He locked eyes with me and began talking, distracting me from the action below.
“I love you Emma.” The surgery began.
“Woah! This is so weird Bobby, I can feel them pulling and pressure.”
“We’re going to have a family Emma! I’m so excited!”
“Weeeeeiiirrdd! I feel like their tugging my whole body!”
Dr. Surosky announced, “And now, the choir.”
“Wah!” We heard Ayla’s first cry. Tears caught in my throat.
“Is that our baby?!” And then a chorus of cries as the fluid was suctioned from her mouth.
“Yes!” And then she came around the curtain. I already knew her. Those wide, curious eyes, that perfect button nose … ok, the strawberry hair was a surprise! As soon as her tiny body was placed on my chest I smothered her with kisses on her forehead and tiny hands, which gripped for solid ground on my lips and curls.
Minutes went by before Dr. Surosky said, “Well … I know what it is!” Oh yes! The gender. We fumbled to see. “It’s a girl!”
Ayla’s Birth Day – December 30, 2016
While we fell in love with Ayla (name meaning), another world was happening on the bottom half of my body as Dr. Surosky instructed the intern on his method of stitching and whatnot. I was oblivious, enraptured with our perfect daughter. I passed her to Bobby so they could prepare me to leave the operating room. I had already learned that the anesthesia wouldn’t pass to Ayla during surgery, but seeing her in Bobby’s arms was an affirmation. She gazed up at him lucidly, intently, taking in her father’s face and soothing voice.
That night in the hospital I dozed in and out of sleep with my baby girl nestled in my arms and Bobby resting on the couch-bed beside us. I woke several times with the distinct feeling that someone was gently pressing on my legs and holding my feet. When I opened my eyes I expected to see yet another nurse attending to me, but the room was empty except for our family. I dreamt that my bed was vibrating, and woke to find it truly was. I asked the next nurse who came in, “Did I press the vibrate button on the bed? Do you mind showing me how to turn it off?” She looked at me confused, double checked which pain medication I was on (Motrin), and said “There isn’t a vibrate button on the bed.” She dismissed my request as exhaustion.
But without question, I knew that Ayla had a team of angels and ancestors guiding her arrival into the world, and making sure her mother – one of her most important guides in this lifetime – would heal fast so she could care for her. My midwife wasn’t surprised when I told her this, reminding me that physical and sound vibrations are powerful healing energies.
When I finished sharing Ayla’s birth story with my friend Peaches, she said “Wow. When you’re open to being in the present … that’s really when the magic happens, doesn’t it?” It is! This is one of the most profound lessons Ayla taught me on our journey from home birth to necesarean (a word I love, which my friend Sokhna created). It doesn’t matter what we choose or “what happens to us,” but that we approach every experience with an open heart. There is nothing right or wrong, natural or unnatural. It is all part of life. It is all part of the magic.
Four months later, now a full-fledged new mamma, Ayla’s birth feels less consuming. My older sister Rony (who also had a c-section) said to me in my last month of pregnancy, “Honey, once your baby is here it won’t matter how she arrived! It’s like you’ve been drugged with love. You won’t believe it.” Rony was right.
When I read Warsan’s poem, I thought, the second girl that “crawls head first up my throat, a flower, blossoming out of the hole in my face” is not another daughter, but the mother inside me being born, unfurling her petals into a smile that could light up the world.
Two months old
Three months old