part one and two

ROSEMARY, IN WORDS | PT. 2: GROWING A BABY

 
the magic is in you

This is a multi-part series on the home birth of our daughter, Rosemary.
To read the first part on finding out we were pregnant, click here

It's really something to have two people inhabit one body. Pregnancy is a fact of every life, yes — but is it maybe so common and required that we easily forget how astounding it actually is? I suspect it is the most tender time of a woman's life. A pregnant woman is a literal vessel for another life, and not just any life, but a life that is so completely dependent on her that they could not survive even fifteen minutes without her. What a hugely important job it is to be pregnant! And this is not even to speak of the mental and physical endurance. It is monumental; it is anything but ordinary. Around the start of the second trimester this job of utmost responsibility and privilege started to suffuse my thoughts day and night.

For the first twelve weeks I was trying to survive the nausea and the exhaustion and understand how my breasts could possibly hurt so much. In retrospect that pain was like a gentle rain compared to the tsunami that was the boob pain I would experience after Rosemary was born. I couldn't read books or write letters because focusing my eyes made me want to throw up. It seemed like everything I had once loved made me feel awful. Growing a life is pretty great consolation, or it must be, because the misery never outweighed the joy.

Actually, my pregnant body was the most comfortable I have ever felt in my own skin. 'Comfortable' as it relates to self-image—there is nothing comfortable about gaining 50 pounds and having a baby jab you in the cervix and the ribs at the same time. I felt empowered carrying another life around with me, and I've come to understand that I feel most feminine and feminist when my body has a job to do. I suppose that's why I love my postpartum body: my belly may be soft and my eyes might never look rested again, but I keep another human alive. To borrow a word from my dad, gah-lee, that's amazing stuff. If I were to retroactively assign a word to my approach to pregnancy, 'willing' would be it. I was willing to become and do whatever my baby needed, and it's a good thing I had that fortitude because round ligament pain, and breasts that suddenly look like bullseye targets, and skin tags (seriously why), and hugely swollen ankles are not exactly mood-boosting. But it was always worth it. . . and I ripped the skin tags off. (Are you cringing yet? These are the things people never say and maybe for good reason.)

The last photo I took of Rosemary in utero; three days before she would come earth-side.

The last photo I took of Rosemary in utero; three days before she would come earth-side.

I committed myself to a few things for those nine months that no doubt influenced Rosemary's beautiful, spiritual, challenging birth at home. Most importantly I was unafraid. Once I could read again, I educated myself about the female body and what it needs to and will do in labor. Fear comes from a lack of knowledge; a lack of trust. Animals are unafraid during birth and I wanted to channel that fearlessness. I read dozens of birth stories and listened to countless episodes of The Birth Hour podcast — though I avoided traumatic stories, because I was particularly sensitive while pregnant and tried not to impart negative emotion on myself or my baby! We entrusted my care to a phenomenal midwife and doula team. Secondly, and this is unconventional in the western world (though it is traditional): I committed to staying at home with our baby after s/he was born — to not leaving even once unless an extenuating circumstance required it — for at minimum two weeks and hopefully for one month. And this, from a woman who loves conducting nearly every aspect of life outside! Mark and I both felt called to the ancient tradition of keeping baby and mama out of the wind and harsh conditions of the outside world so that we might stay warm, cozy, and focus solely on bonding. 

By the time the third trimester rolled around, I was deep into nesting. I was knitting for hours every day, cleaning the house top to bottom, and resting a lot. I made many fancy turmeric hot cocoas in those final days and stockpiled bone broth in the freezer. I pondered. And if I wasn't pondering, I was pampering. Readying. My body and mind began turning inward and there was no sense in protesting. Beckoned to linger and move slower, it was as though my body was saying, "rest up, for soon there will be much work to do."

affirmation table

I drank raspberry leaf and nettle tea. I ate dates. Mark gave perineal massage. We made love. I took baths and rubbed essential oils over my belly. Mark played piano for the baby. And in the days that would become the last before she arrived, I set up an affirmation corner on the dresser with beeswax and bayberry candles, icons of St. Isidore and the Nativity, a statue of an angel holding a baby that my own mama gifted me as a young girl, and notes I had written to myself. I hung a banner with the words THE MAGIC IS IN YOU sewn into it directly above the birthing pool. And it was. (And it still is.)

And then. . . I waited. My due date came and it went. Though I had tried feebly to "forget the due date" like sage women had advised, I always knew when it was. My body wasn't ready but my mind was. Carrying around a huge globe on the front of my person rendered me quite weary, a condition nearly every full-term mama can understand. The days kept coming and going, and still no little one. My mom had been in California on business with the knowledge that I might have the baby while she was gone. This was the only unsavory detail of my birth plan because I wanted — no, needed —her by my side. Each morning I'd message her, "still nothing." She called me as soon as her plane landed in Ohio and said, "I'm home! This baby can come anytime! This baby will come very soon. Maybe even tonight!" And in my indignation I grew irritated and told her to stop saying my baby would come soon and start assuming it would be a few more weeks because, "I will be pregnant forever and my baby is not coming anytime soon." I hung up the phone, and ten seconds later I had my first contraction. 

baby toes

Psst. This book details the tradition of staying indoors and was a major influence in my prenatal and postpartum philosophy. Also, The Birth Hour podcast is an excellent resource for anyone interested in / pursuing / in the throes of pregnancy!


—S

ROSEMARY, IN WORDS | PT. 1: DISCOVERING PREGNANCY

 
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Before I was ever pregnant I knew I wanted to birth at home. Home is where I feel safest and most comfortable. I have witnessed hundreds of animals giving birth and knew without any doubt that I, also a mammal, could give birth in my natural environment. I was eager and curious about pregnancy, wondering how my body and especially my mind would respond. I desired sincerely for my body to become a vessel for another life: an incredible act of feminism and strength; a sacred transformation exclusive to women.

Mark and I track my fertility so we didn't need a test to tell us we were pregnant. My body had already let us know, charted out on a piece of paper, clear for the eye to see. Despite it being obvious, I was in total disbelief. (Mark: "Sam, you're pregnant." Me:"No, I'm not!" "I think you're pregnant." "No, I'm not!") In wanting so much for it to be true I convinced myself that it couldn't be. That night we drove to three separate grocery and drug stores to buy a test to no avail. I still can't understand it, but all three places were either closed or without pregnancy tests. As fate would have it, we would have to wait to find out until the following day on the feast of Saint Isidore the farmer, to whom we were developing a growing devotion and after whom we would name our baby. Receiving the news of a positive pregnancy ranks among the most sacred and wonderful moments of our life. There we were, two hopeful kids in love sitting in a doctor's office, uncontrollably laughing and crying after the nurse told us 'Yes' and kissed me on the head. We were full to the brim with the mystery that was always going to be Rosemary. Insofar we had cared only for goat kids—still very much in the throes of kidding season, actually. Barely the size of a poppyseed but already our beloved baby: everything was changed.

mark digging fence posts
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I had the day off while Mark had to manually dig fence posts. I drove to my favorite town, bought a new water bottle and Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, then treated myself to a fancy little lunch. The sun was shining and I felt heavier in the best way. (That heaviness would become so cumbersome that I would later rue the day I ever became pregnant, becoming so convinced that I would set the record for the World's Longest Pregnancy that I would actually google who held the record. Poor, poor Mrs. Hunter. . .) For all the things that have already blurred in my mind's eye, the first 24 hours of knowing I was pregnant are crystal clear. 

Mark took the best care of me. We had a CSA that provided fresh fruit, vegetables, and chicken. My body craved fruit and protein, so I listened. I continued to drink raw milk and eat raw cheeses and allowed myself small cups of beer. I was lucky to never lose my appetite despite feeling nauseated 24/7. The notion of coffee (my first love) suddenly became unpalatable, so I switched to the antioxidant juice Ningxia Red every morning before milking. We decided we would stay in Vermont for the birth (ha!) and continue working the farm (ha!). I can see now that it would have been too much to reckon with if we thought we were having a baby and quitting our jobs and moving home. That is exactly what happened, but God knew the ways of our hearts and I'm grateful for those first weeks of imagining a Vermont birth. It allowed us to choose a home birth midwife in Vermont who was wonderful and ushered us into pregnancy very gently. When her heartbeat came through the dopplar for the first time, we wept. We would both weep in the 17th hour of labor when her heartbeat stayed steady and strong while she rested stubbornly in my birth canal. Our Rosemary Isidora, child of the good earth, waited until she was perfectly ready to join us and not a moment sooner.


—S