Dear sweet little Tulsi Ma, this is the story of your birth. It is by far the most sacred experience I’ve ever known.
It was April 8th. My contractions started around 2 am and slowly picked up pace throughout the morning and afternoon. We spent most the day in town wondering if you were coming that night. We were home long enough for Patrick to put all the groceries away when my contractions got stronger and more painful. It was then I knew I was actually in labor and was excited but a little nervous, too. We went outside and soaked in the hot tub. Patrick pressed into my lower back with his palms while I leaned over the rim. Oso was standing guard (as he always does) and was looking concerned. I remember he climbed the wooden steps and licked the water off my shoulders. Maybe Joan can just come up here, Patrick said. That would be great, I thought, I’m dreading the long drive to town. A home birth would be awesome, but we decided to birth at the center since it was across the street from the hospital, just in case of an emergency.
I didn’t realize that Patrick was timing every contraction and writing them down. After 20 minutes in the tub, they were 60 seconds long and 4-6 minutes apart. Our midwife Joan was surprised my contractions didn’t slow down with soaking. She told Patrick to leave right away and she’d meet us there. My sister happened to call and got really excited to hear I was in labor. She must have then called my parents who called a minute later to cheer me on.
I was on all fours in the back seat leaning on pillows stacked on the base of your car seat. Your papa tried (with no luck) to get a cop to pull us over and escort us with flashing lights. It was the first time I gave him permission to drive as fast as he wanted.
I closed my eyes and began to ‘om’ as each contraction came and peaked and subsided. I can still hear Patrick om-ing, too. The sound OM quickly became my friend and strength. The contractions were more intense than I could have imagined, and I knew they would get a lot more intense as the night went on. In the stillness between one of the contractions, I saw the almost-full moon rise over the Sangres. It continued to glow in the darkness behind my closed eyelids into the next contraction.
Breaking time into small segments has an abstract affect. The drive seemed to fly by. My water broke the second Patrick parked the car in front of the birth center’s open door. It was clear.
Joan, Kiersten, Sally and Dara were outside waiting for us. It was 7:30 pm. I leaned on someone thru another contraction in the dirt parking lot. There was a cool breeze that felt so nice on my forehead. The contractions were a minute long now and 3 minutes apart. I headed straight for the ‘pink’ room. The bedspread was prettier, and well, I was sure you were a girl. (We never could decide on boy’s name…) Plus, there was a painting of a cowboy, his wife and their baby. Kiersten told me about the cowboy’s wife who gave birth in that room so quietly. She sat on the bed at 9 cm just talking softly with the midwives. Then she got up, squatted next to the bed and gently pushed her baby out.
Joan asked me to lay on the bed so she could measure me. No! I responded. Why not? She said a little surprised. Because I’m afraid I’m still only at 1 cm. She laughed, don’t worry, you are definitely not at 1. She was right. I was at 6 cm. (My friend Lindsy had just told me her son’s birth story, how she labored at home for some hours and was in so much pain she could barely make it to the car. When she arrived at the midwifery center, she was only dialated to 1 cm.)
The next 5 1/2 hours are both foggy and crystal clear. Labor had begun taking on a whole new reality. Or surreal-ality. Time became warped, and the only real tangible thing was the exact present moment – each second, each breath, each sensation, each set of eyes, each touch. At times the waves felt like tidal waves, but each one I swam thru was replaced with a deep-rooted strength I never knew I possessed.
At one point my legs shook uncontrollably, and Sally covered them with warm blankets and rubbed them. Joan filled the tub. I felt lighter in the water. I immediately felt comforted when I discovered the altar Patrick set up on the side of the tub. My eyes locked into Maharaji’s eyes and your 31 week ultrasound picture. It was amazing — you were knocking at the door to this world!
Although my memory of the physical pain has softened quickly since then, I remember it was hard at times to focus on you. The pain in my lower back was overwhelming. It felt like someone was prying my sacrum apart with a crowbar. Patrick leaned all his weight exactly where my hands directed him. I’m not sure how much it actually helped with the pain, but knowing he had my back helped me feel stronger. At one point, he tried to leave to eat lazanga, but I grabbed him and held him close. (He did manage to sneak out later to eat because I remember him returning and telling me how awesome it was!) Although labor was more intense than anything I’d ever felt, this pain served a purpose — there was nothing “wrong” — and I wanted to feel it and all the emotions and beauty that came with it. Labor was moving along perfectly. My body knew exactly what to do, and I felt completely safe with the midwives. In between each contraction was a gentle, sweet silence. I rested in Patrick’s eyes.
I remember my om’s growing stronger with the contractions. I think they were more like om-moans. I rode my birth tiger thru all my fears. Everyone kept reminding me I’d meet you on the other side. I rocked my hips kneeling in the hot water and drifted in and out of darkness. Then Elaine arrived.
Elaine is a dear friend of ours. We’ve backpacked a lot together, shared many ‘physically challenging moments’ together and laughed thru them all. She had also delivered many babies as a midwife on a hippie commune when she was younger. She knelt next to the tub and we locked arms. She was radiant as always and dressed in tiel and turquois and purple with beads to match. “There are 20 women at my house doing Sedar right now,” she said. It was Passover. “They are all holding a space for you and the baby.” I dove head first into my next contraction, and upon returning, Elaine said, “Ok, Jenny Sue, stay with me for this next one. Don’t close your eyes. Stare into mine.” As the next one approached, I locked into her bright, sparkly green WIDE eyes. “You can do this,” she whispered. “You’re doing great.”
And something shifted. An opening. The contractions became expansions. I felt held by everyone in the room because I let them. Joan took cleansing breaths with me when I’d feel the next contraction coming, and she fanned me when I got too hot. Sally fed me slices of pear and gave me sips of juice water. Kiersten and Dara kept checking your heart rate. And Patrick’s calming, loving touch was constant. Soon I was at 9 cm.
Then, somehow, I became really sleepy, dozing off in between contractions. I was exhausted and overheated so Joan had me get out of the tub. I tried walking and sitting and went backwards down to 6 cm. It was hard to hear, but somehow I kept going and made it up to 10 cm.
That was the first marathon. Pushing was the second. The rest of labor is a little fuzzy. I was back in the tub, this time with Patrick, my back leaning against his chest. Every time I pushed, Joan checked for signs of your head with a flashlight. Joan announced you’d be born with the full moon. It was 12:01 am. I pushed but you weren’t moving. Then your heart rate dropped to 80. You seemed to be stuck at the pubic bone and stressed. Joan immediately ordered me out of the tub and had me try several positions in order to find one you liked – the birthing stool, the ball, squatting and lying on the bed. Kiersten checked your heart rate with each position. I was in transition and in some altered state. I clearly remember sitting on the birthing stool and Joan saying urgently, “Someone hand me the picture of Neem Karoli Baba,” and she held his photo in front of me. “Focus on this.” I had several pregnancy dreams of Maharaji holding you wrapped in his wool plaid blanket. I prayed to him, and he helped me thru that moment. I moved to the bed, and your heart rate shot back up!
Patrick held me in his arms. The midwives put an oxygen mask on me to help you, although in the moment I didn’t understand that. I was whirling around the room from corner to corner. It is the closest to an out of body experience I’ve ever had. Patrick chanted to Hanuman and Ganesh in my ear and told me over and over I could do this, that our baby was almost here. The five women cheered from the bottom of the bed and showed me in a mirror as your head started to emerge. You had lots of dark hair, and your head moved slightly out with every push and then back in. I was amazed at what my body was doing, what it knew to do. Still, I knew it would take more strength.
Patrick held my left foot, Dara held my right. The contractions flooded one on top of the other. I locked eyes with each set of eyes in front of me. There was some urgency in Patrick’s voice. I knew you needed to come then. I tore the oxygen mask off and pushed harder and deeper staring into the painting of Guadalupe dressed in royal blue, standing in a golden sky. Patrick kept ‘cheering’ me on. The pressure was unbearable when I wasn’t pushing so I pushed and pushed until your head opened me. I immediately recognized the “ring of fire” I had read about. It was a new sensation that I welcomed with delight! With the next contraction your head was out. Your teeny 5 lb 13 oz body slipped out next. You were here! April 9th, 2009, at 12:52 AM. I fell back into Patrick’s arms, and he hugged me. It was the happiest moment of our lives.
Then came the scariest of our lives. I don’t remember everything that happened next. I was still in a shamanic state. When Patrick tells the story, I cry every time. I just wanted to hold you in my arms, look into your eyes and nurse you. But I couldn’t. I could feel angels in the room but wasn’t sure of their agenda. I heard Kiersten say to call 911. I could see her suctioning your nose and mouth. They gave you oxygen. You were blue and covered in meconium. After a few minutes, Patrick could see you were a girl. Kiersten lay you on my chest for only a few seconds. You were warm, wet, limp, listless, but you were so beautiful. I whispered “I love you.” I wanted to keep holding you, but you had to go. Joan asked if we had a name for you, and I called out, “Tulsi”. Immediately, everyone began calling you Tulsi. These whisper welcomes were your new cords connecting you to this world. It seemed like your spirit just hadn’t quite caught up with your little body yet.
Within a few minutes, Kiersten and Patrick ran out the door with you swaddled in blankets. The next moment I was shaking uncontrollably again with so many emotions,, nerves, exhaustion.
It was a good thing our birth plan consisted of only one thing: no matter what, present moment, only moment. And that’s just what we did. Your papa went with you to the hospital. He sang every bhajan he knew to you, and he never left your side. He took your first plane ride with you while the full moon set and the sun rose. I stayed at the birth center long enough to deliver your placenta, bathe and regain ‘enough’ strength to walk (I was a bit wobbly after laboring). Then I joined your papa and you at the hospital in Taos. I was relieved to see you pink! I talked and sang to you for hours. The doctors said you inhaled meconium into your lungs and had to go to the nicu in Albuquerque. They wouldn’t let me fly since I had just given birth so our friend Jon drove me. When I finally rejoined you and your papa, he and I cried and cried. It was the first time either one of us could allow ourselves to let go into what we were feeling. Until then, we had to stay so strong, alone. It was the hardest thing ever to be separated from you and your papa.
You were so teeny and hooked up to all sorts of wires. At first a machine had to breathe for you, but you healed quickly. You are a tough little bird! I’ll never forget when I finally got to hold you.
We stayed with you for one week in the nicu – it seemed like forever to us, but it was so little compared to the ‘sick’ babies in the nicu who’d been there for weeks and months. And although that first week was nothing like we’d hoped – we wished we could have simply bundled you up and took you home the day you were born – we had the most precious first week (and every day since) with you.
As I finish this story, you are 6 weeks old and flourishing! Tulsi, we love you so much and our joy-cup is overfilling!!
Left to Right: My midwife Joan, Me, Tulsi, Sally & Dara (midwife students). Kiersten is missing in the photo. ALL of them are angels and are so incredibly special to us! I have oceans of respect for these women and ALL midwives.
Our first family portrait at 2 weeks.
Our labor altar reset up in our hotel in Albuquerque with the addition of Hanuman Jyanti prasad from the temple and your Ganesh doll from Aunti Elaine.