My Birth Story

Where did my birth story begin?  As I endeavor to trace the origin, I tug at a thread that unravels a massive woven garment of unsayable grace.  This is not a mere “birth story”.  It is a Birth Epic.  The Epic Becoming of Serena Lila Grace.  But for the sake of getting the most intimate details down, before they fade into a dark tunnel of necessary amnesia, I will start near the tootsie roll center, and work my way outward through the dynamic crusts of the miraculous unfolding.

I believe it was the “hygge”, pronounced HOOGA, that enticed Serena to make her entrance.  Weeks prior, Dara had sent me a link to an article that asserted that the Dutch people are some of the purely happiest there are.  The author hypothesized that this is a result of their time-tested practice of hooga:  drama free togetherness time; time that is collectively recognized as sacred.  Dara suggested that WE have one, while I was staying at her hOMe in the berkeley hills, waiting (patiently… haha) to go into labor.

Our hooga emerged organically.  Dara invited our wacky and so beloved friend Brandon and his luminous girlfriend over for dinner, the eve of my due date: Monday, November 16th.  (A few words on my due date: I was feeling so freakin good, and feeling relatively small and light, as I approached the 40 week mark, that I was almost certain that Serena would stay IN for a while longer, where it was so warm, safe and easy.  I thought that one had to be miserable before birth became imminent!!!  Hence, I was making plans halfway up the wazoo.)  We planned a decadent dinner, based on ingredients we had on hand~ salad with mixed lettuces, fennel, radish and a light, creamy anchovy dressing, and rice pasta with roasted red khury squash, brown butter, sage and bacon.  Brandon and Miriam brought a bottle of Malbec and some gorgeous sunflowers.  I was delighted to enjoy a glass of wine, since I had barely had any throughout the pregnancy.  We sat around the beeswax candle lit table, enjoying the luminous warmth of our collective presence and togetherness, and enjoying playful engagement in our hooga.  If any topic got too heavy or divisive, one of us would chant, “hooga, hooga…” and we would downshift to a lighter, more joy-filled stream of conversation.

My impressions of that evening are lightness, joy, ease, pleasure, connection, warmth.  A perfect atmosphere to lure beautiful Serena into the world.

Brandon and Miriam left at 10:30pm.  Dara massaged some doTerra Balance essential oil into my sacrum, which was starting to feel… very… activated?  Then she turned out the lights, and I snuggled into my comfy foam bed on the living room floor and fell into an overdue slumber.  At midnight, I awoke to what felt like a long, achy menstrual cramp.  Could this be… LABOR… I wondered???  I was not sure what to expect.  Excitement danced through my mind and body.  The extended cramps came, perhaps hourly, until around 6am, when I got up and made some oatmeal (with dates, which I had read might expedite labor by hours).  At that time, the cramps subsided.  As the morning wore on, they were but a faded memory, and I felt teased by the labor gods.  Deirdre came over for a walk through the hills.  The waxing day was crisp and bright and I delighted in her luxurious, intimate sisterhood, as I always do.  Then, back at Dara’s, I rested in bed, not able to fall asleep, but just allowing myself and Serena some recovery time from the mostly sleepless night before.

Ed (Serena’s daddy) came over on his way to Service (the artist formerly known as “work”), about 1:30pm, as per my request, and just held me and rubbed my sacrum, which was still feeling activated and wild.  He left at 2:30.  I think by this time, the “menstrual-esque” cramps had returned.  Dara and I had planned to go visit our friend Erin and her 7 week old baby that afternoon, and though I wondered if I was in early labor, I opted to keep the plan, because I imagined early labor might last for a stone’s throw from eternity, since this was, after all, my first baby, and first baby labors are reputed to take a while.  By the time we got there, around 4ish, the cramping was coming in steady waves.  I held baby Phoebe, so that she could say hello to her astral buddy Serena.  It was like holding heaven in my arms.  There is nothing like fresh baked baby.  Nicole came over too, so it was the four of us (plus Tiny Goddess Phoebe).  By now, socializing was a challenge, but not impossible.  Moving brought me some relief, and I found myself pacing and swaying as we engaged in goddess talk.  Both Erin and Nicole have little ones, and were convinced that I was going to have a baby, sooner than later.  I was still in a bit of denial.  It was really hard for me to fathom that a baby was REALLY going to come out of me… I had been pregnant for so long.  It seemed normal.

As our visit wore on, I became more uncomfortable and finally asked Dara to take me home, where I could fully focus on labor.  Before our departure, the goddesses lit a purple, scented candle for me, and offered prayers for ease and grace in Serena’s arrival.  My personal prayer was to feel God’s presence throughout labor and birth. (I have a lot to say about that… I think I’ll save it for a separate post…)

God, it’s amazing how quickly mother nature steals away the memories of labor and birth.  Trust me, if She didn’t, our species would have been extinct eons ago.  The return to Dara’s sanctuary on the hill is a big blob of numb, nebulous images.  I guess my sacrum was really aching.  I leaned over the back of the big, white, IKEA couch and Dara rubbed clary sage infused oil into my lower back.  This provided some relief.  Then I collapsed into my foam nest and endured the surges, a few of which, Dara timed, and reported that they were only around 20 seconds long.  I was waiting for them to start lasting a minute… But they were coming maybe every three minutes, rather than five.  I told myself I was in “early labor”.  But for early labor, it was beginning to require all of my attention and focus to endure.  Dara put on the Deva Premal station on pandora.  The lights were dim.  The gas fire place was warm with dancing flames.  She lit my big mama labor candle.  And her little baby one.  She made a little altar with the candles, the sunflowers that Brandon and Miriam had contributed to our hooga the previous night, and a few magical crystals that were gifted to me at Amma’s ashram a couple of days before.

I remember Karen texted me for an update, and based on what I told her, she was skeptical about my theory that I was merely in early labor.  My doula, Catherine Stone encouraged me, via text to get in the bath tub.  At this point, nothing sounded good, as I was so uncomfortable.  But Catherine basically ordered me to get in the bath, so Dara drew one for me and I got in.  The tub felt so hard.  And small.  There was no position that was comfortable.  I think it was at this point that I started chanting low, deep OMs through the surges.  I texted with Catherine some more, expressing my extreme discomfort.  At this point, I was wondering if it might be time to go to the hospital…. But I was dead set on getting to the 5-1-1 surge rhythm.  (which never happened, for the record)  Catherine invited me to check my own cervix to see if I was dilating yet.  When I put my fingers inside, some bloody show came out in the water!  I wasn’t sure what I was feeling… but it wasn’t like anything I had felt inside my vagina before.  I thought I might be feeling my cervix way over to the side… and maybe my bag of waters in the middle…???  But god… how was I to know for sure.

Catherine asked me if I wanted to go to the hospital.  My logical mind said no.  But the deeper, more immediate knowing part of me screamed FUCK YES!!!!  So I got out of the bath and Dara loaded up the car with all my stuff (so grateful for her selfless service!!!).  It must have been around 9:30pm by now.  It really sucked to be sitting in a car seat, buckled in.  Dara put on Jai Uttal.  He sang Rama Bolo all the way to the hospital, and it really hit the spot.  She drove like a rockstar.  There was a car in front of her, crawling down Marin Ave at a snail’s pace, and she was so frustrated, riding their ass.  Finally, she crossed the solid yellow and passed them.  I was amazed.  The night was so dark as it whirred by in distant streaks of light and vast pools of black.

I remember the moon setting over the bay, as we crossed the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.  Serena’s moon… A large, golden crescent, hanging low on the horizon.  The open, dark space faced upward, and it appeared like a chalice, catching blessings as they tumbled down from the heavens in praise of Serena’s impending arrival.  It cast a long, shimmering, golden streak on the shivering surface of the deep, dark bay.  I will never forget this auspicious moon.  A perfect holy offering for a freshly emerged goddess upon the earth.

We parked and entered through the emergency room.  Between surges, I managed to tell the woman at the front desk, I’m having a baby!!  Fourth floor.  It was so weird to encounter normal people, who were not going through what I was going through.  It was surreal and psychedelic.  The fourth floor was dim and quiet and a nurse in a hoodie greeted us and took us to the delivery room.  The midwife on duty, Brooke, introduced herself.  I scanned her energetically, and flushed with relief.  She was perfect.  I told her so.  “Wow, you’re beautiful,”  I said, and then added something to the effect of how her energy felt clean and that I was relieved.  (I had been anxious about not knowing which midwife would be on duty when it was our time… I had prayed hard for the perfect birth team.)

Then Catherine appeared, sparkling with whispers of enchantment, like a benevolent druid witch, from a secret, ancient isle.  And Ed, soft and mighty and oozing with heart.  I thought it would just be them who were by my side for the final leg of the birth journey… But Dara decided to stay.  And Deirdre came.  And then Ken materialized out of the dark, November night.  (BTW~ at this point, it was November 17th.  My actual “due date”.  This was quite a surprise for me.)  Catherine gave me a small, golden statue of Quan Yin to hold, and then went about setting up electric, colored tea lights about the delivery room.

The first order of business was to find out how dilated my cervix was.  I had to be at least four centimeters in order to be admitted to the hospital.  I was so afraid they would send me home.  The thought of another TWO car rides haunted me.  “PLEASE don’t send me home,” I begged.  If they tried, I thought, I would simply refuse!  When Brooke the midwife checked me, I was NINE CENTIMETERS!!!!!!  Ummm yeah.  I was in active labor.  Only one more centimeter until I was fully dilated!!!

I remember Catherine coaching me to breathe.  I felt so resistant.  I remember Ed taking off his pants (God bless him, I love him so much…) and sitting at the edge of the bed, so I could climb on his lap and straddle him, draping my arms around his neck, and letting my pelvis drop between his wide-spread legs, using gravity to help me O P E N.  Like every position and strategy I tried at this point, it didn’t last long.  By now, I was tired!!!  The surges were still coming like every 2-3 minutes, I would guess… and still only lasting 20-30 seconds.  But this had been going on for HOURS!!!  Honestly, I don’t even remember what they felt like, though….

What I DO remember, is that I had a constant urge to pee.  Serena’s head was pressing on my bladder.  But when I tried to pee, nothing came out.  It was super painful.  I hated drinking fluids, knowing that it would exacerbate this intolerable experience.  Cindy, the delivery nurse from Heaven, offered me a catheter to empty my bladder.  As terrible as this sounded, I accepted, hoping to find relief.  I didn’t.  She said my pee was super dark, and I needed to drink more.  I did my best.  But whenever someone handed me liquid to down, I could only manage a sip or three.

What else?… I remember looking over at Catherine from time to time throughout my laboring.  In moments of desperation.  The space she held was deep and spiritual and solid.  I would search her wide, brown eyes for reassurance, and I always found it.  Sometimes I’d look over at her, and she’d have her eyes closed in a peaceful, meditative state.  I looked around at the others too… and had a familiar impulse to “take care of them”; make sure that they were all having a “good” experience.  But thankfully, my observer self was aware of this as it occurred and demanded that I give that up.  I didn’t have the energy to attend to them.  My legs were involuntarily shaking.

Ed stayed by my side the entire time.  I wanted him there.  He was perfect.  He was everything I hoped he’d be as I labored.  He didn’t “try”.  He was calm, solid, open.  His heart was soft.  His masculine strength grounded me.  Every once in a while, he told me I was doing great, as I had instructed him to weeks prior.

It didn’t take too long, before I was fully dilated.  Then my labor slowed down, PRAISE THE LORD.  I guess this is called “Transition”.  The surges stopped coming as hard and fast.  Though I still could not get comfortable, I did find some degree of relief.  I recall burying myself in Ed.  Taking refuge in his warm body and his love.  I was having some mild urges to push by now.  But nothing seemed to be progressing.  Catherine asked me if I was holding on to any fears.  Immediately, I realized that YES, I was feeling afraid of becoming a mother; doubting my ability to care for another human being day in and day out for most of forever.  She helped me metabolize that one.  And like demons guarding the gates, as the Buddha approached enlightenment, another one reared its gruesome head.  I was doubting my ability to PUSH my baby out.  I had been born a C-section.  And part of me wondered if I was condemned to repeat this sentence, as well.  God, it was powerful to speak that one!!  I told my audience (heehee) that I was afraid I was not progressing anymore.  The midwife assured me that I WAS progressing.  Deirdre added her gentle yet firm song of agreement.  Dara told me to PUSH more and be a warrior.  Ken might have been lost in the luminous glow of his smart phone at this point (I think it might have been a bit overwhelming for him to stay present through the whole arduous process).  I found the voices of reassurance and perfection to be the ones that fueled me.  So I let all else evaporate into the Nothing from whence they sprung.

I was progressing.  Even if I couldn’t feel it through my feeble attempts at pushing, Brooke had said so.  And I clung to that tenuous strand of reassurance.  It got me through each successive surge.  After releasing my fears, the surges increased their frequency once again.  As each one came on, it began with a feeling of deep, aching pain in my bladder, that crescendoed in a full uterine, energetic scream.  They set up a bar at the end of my bed for me to lean on, or hold as I squatted and pushed.  My pushes were still wimpy.  The midwife explained that I would have to push RIGHT INTO THE PAIN.  That seemed ludicrous.  The pain was immense.  How in the Lord’s good name could I push into THAT???  But the alternative was too endure an endless succession of insufferably torturous surges.  Though time was a foreign language, I watched the clock tick slowly onward into the wee hours of the morning.  I wondered if I’d ever have my baby.

Brooke asked if she could put her fingers inside me and help me focus on the spot that I was to push into.  Sure… So with the next surge, she helped me feel where to push.  I was still wimping.  I didn’t fucking want to go to the heart of that excruciating pain.  My bag of waters finally ruptured with her fingers in me.  But it was just a dribble because Serena’s beautiful head was so low.   I felt like I couldn’t do it.

After an eternity of this, Brooke suggested that I move to the bathroom and try bearing down on the toilet.  Ok… I was sooooooo uncomfortable, I’d try anything.  Surprisingly, the toilet position helped me push stronger.  Ed was right by my side.  Catherine faced us.  Everyone else was in the other room.  Actually, in retrospect, I think this was helpful.  The darkness and solitude.  They gave me a stool to rest my legs on.  Brooke left the room, because she was supporting three women in the pushing stage at the same time!  She said when I felt the head, to call her back in.

“When I felt the head”???  Was I that close???  This notion gave me a boost of endurance.  Catherine told me I must forget myself now, and think only of Serena.  How could I possibly forget myself, when I was in SO MUCH PAIN?  She said to push each time like it was the ONLY time.  Ok… if it was just ONE push that I gave everything to… I could do it…

I practiced with each surge… giving as much of EVERYTHING as I could muster.  I felt for the Serena’s head after each round.  GASP!!!!  There it was!!!!!  OmMyFuckingGOD.  Holy moly it HURT.  But I could feel my baby’s soft head crowning.  I went there.  I went to into the eye of the storm, fixated on the bull’s eye.  A few pushes like this and BAM!!!!  Serena’s entire head burst OUT.  Oh yeah, I was screaming, by the way.  They told me not to.  They said to direct my sound LOW… that would add power to my pushes, rather than dissipate it.  I tried.  But it mostly felt like the pain was having its way with me.

Anyway, I waddled back into the delivery room with Serena’s head bulging between my legs.  I crawled up on the bed, onto my hands and knees.  Brooke dashed into the room just in time to take Serena’s head in her hands and gently pull, as she guided me to push.  I pushed… and felt her slick, bloody body slither out of my yoni.  I turned over and they put her in my open arms.  I was shaking.  She was blue and covered with blood.  Nurse Cindy suctioned her nose and mouth.  Serena began to cry.  She cried long and hard.  She was as shaken by the experience as I was.  My heart broke as I held her and watched her cry.  It was a sort of heartbreak that will never mend.  My heart will be broken open for the rest of time.  This is motherhood.

The amazing thing about birth, is that it’s like a portal into an extraordinary, mystical, and totally raw, tantric realm.  I gave birth at 3:38am on wednesday… and for the rest of that day, I was lucidly aware of EVERYTHING that had occurred.  I could’ve written my birth story with explicit detail and accuracy.  At that time, I was utterly baffled that women consciously chose to have MULTIPLE children!!!  Inside that window of razor sharp memory, I was certain I never wanted to go through that again.  But by the next morning, the portal had closed, and recalling the details of labor and birth was like looking down a long, dark tunnel… each memory was a little fuzzy, illuminated scene along the way… and I had no emotional attachment to any of the memories.  I would happily do that again, I mused.  Weird.  But highly intelligent play on Mother Nature’s part.  Otherwise, our species would have gone extinct eons ago.

Now, here I sit, ten days later, zealously typing on the couch, while Serena sleeps in the adjoining bedroom.  And I am doing my best to recount the miraculous play that occurred as she made her grand entrance into this world of duality and condensed, disguised love.

You thought holding her blue, bloody little body in my arms was the happy ending to this story, right?  Yeah, me too… but I forgot to take into consideration that I still had to birth her placenta!!!  The LAST thing I wanted to do by this time.  But at least I could do it with her in my arms.  It took a while, because I was reluctant to push more.  I was sore and tired and ready to be done.  They said I lost the maximum amount of blood I could, without needing a dose of pitocin.  Phew.  Eventually, I pushed out the big, bloody blob.  My entourage of VIP spectators all ewwwwed and ahhhhed as it squished out of me.  WOW.  As per my request, they waited for the umbilical chord to stop pulsing, so that all that nutritious blood could flow back into Serena’s perfect little body, (which took at least 15 minutes) before Eddie cut it.  Then Brooke lifted the gory placenta from the little plastic tub it was resting in, and held it up for everyone to examine.  More songs of fascination and repulsion from the peanut gallery.  She showed us how it was situated in my womb.  Then they got it ready for Eddie to take home and butcher for my eventual consumption, via smoothie.

Yes, and this story is STILL not over!!!  Because then Brook had to stitch me up.  Yep, I tore.  She said my labia tore on both sides.  And though I never saw the “damage”, judging by how long it took her to stitch it up, it was pretty substantial.  OUCH!!!  First she had to inject my vaginal tissue with some sorta numbing agent… I tried not to look at the huge needle as it made its way into my most sensitive flesh.  Eeeeeeeek, it FELT.  Good thing I had my baby in my arms.  That made everything ok.  As she stitched, I remember holding my breath a lot, and needing to coax myself to let go and relax.  Hmmm, actually, THIS part of the experience is still pretty lucid… I can almost feel it again.  Weird.  On the second side, the injection she gave me was so near my clit.  Holy moly.  Intense and not so pleasurable sensations.  But beautiful Brooke was so sensitive and compassionate as she sewed me up.  I am in love with her just recalling her care.

At this point, the party was pretty much over.  One by one, my impromptu birth dream team said their goodbyes and disappeared from the delivery room, in hot pursuit of slumber, until I was alone with Serena, who was now sleeping in my arms.  I was so high for the rest of the day.  I didn’t sleep really at all.  But the high was different than a drug induced high.  It was smooth and sober and lucid.  Then what made it a “high”?  There was a huge crack in my heart, through which poured an exquisite shade of love, that saturated everything and everyone in my world.  This lasted for a week.  And then I cried from the depths of my body and soul.

So this is the beginning chapter in the life story of a great goddess upon the earth: Serena Lila Grace.

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Auntie Aunte
    Dec 14, 2015 @ 15:57:33

    Lovely to read! Thank you.


  2. Dianne
    Dec 14, 2015 @ 17:25:04

    Oh Precious Athena…I don’t know what to say. This is written from an oh so deep place of You and the many lifetimes you and Serena have and are playing out. You have shared a most beautiful thing. Much love to you, Goddess.


  3. David Schlussel
    Dec 14, 2015 @ 20:59:08

    just read it aloud to rosy moon. tears and laughter. so much love. thank you for your eloquence and love. xoxoxoxox


  4. Ayah Buonaugurio
    Dec 14, 2015 @ 22:11:06

    This brings tears of joy and longing! Thanks for sharing. I was curious. xoxo!


  5. Tara Coupland Williams
    Dec 15, 2015 @ 13:35:21

    I cried so many tears reading this. I cried recalling meeting you. I cried as I imagined your fingers typing this epic event. I cried because of how precious you are and what reverence you truly come from and how beautiful is the intent you hold.

    And I laughed and I cheered. Hooorah! Serena is here! Hallelujah!


  6. Miriam Rodgers
    Dec 18, 2015 @ 10:09:45

    Dearest Athena,

    Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful story. I’m so proud of you. I thought about you often in these last 9 months since I found that you were pregnant. I so wish I could’ve seen you when I was there for Swamiji’s Mandir Dedication. I also didn’t see your mother! There were just too many people there!

    It would seem from your story that Serena’s birth was exactly as you would’ve imagined it but with just a hell of a lot more pain! It’ such a blessing that you came through the whole thing with no pain relievers and just simply went in to the pain. You’re quite amazing.

    Take care of yourself and would love to see some pictures sometime of this new little goddess.

    Love, Miriam


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