An Open Letter to My Daughter
by Erica Chase-Salerno
Quinlan Boe Chase-Salerno’s Birth Story: An Open Letter to My Daughter
Quinn, your birth story is nine months long. Well, technically it’s two and a half years long, from the time that your brother was born. To really be complete about it, it’s actually even longer, depending on how I reflect on your journey to come to us, and my own path as preparation for your arrival. For right now, in celebration of your one month birthday, I’m writing an open letter about your actual birth day, March 6, 2006 through the separation of your cord five days later.
My water broke at around 3:30 a.m. on Monday morning, March 6. March 6 was the exact day you told me months ago that you would be born. My “official” due date was March 7, but I was determined to let things run their course and was planning to welcome you anytime through the end of March. I was excited because the water volume was much more than the “leak” that precipitated Declan’s birth, so I knew things were off to a great start. I considered my options – get out of bed and start walking, which didn’t feel right intuitively, or stay in bed and try to get a little rest before your arrival, which I decided to do. I have trusted my body throughout this entire pregnancy, and I wasn’t about to stop now. While I was laying there, I felt two different kinds of contractions alternating back and forth, which I’d never heard of before. One type seemed to push you down lower, and the other type seemed to open my cervix. It was so peaceful and yet strong, like ocean waves. I wondered if labor would slow down or not progress, I wondered when things would kick into high gear, but any time I began questioning into the future, you continued your communication with me, which we’ve had together for months and months, and you wouldn’t let me go there, into a place of fear. You refused to dignify my fears with a response other than, “You don’t need to go there.” So I trusted, as you have led me to do throughout this pregnancy journey.
I woke up with daylight and tended to daily life as usual – getting Declan dressed and ready for the day, making eggs, feeding the dogs, and doing laundry. Your father decided to work at home that day, realizing your birth was imminent. He jokingly asked if I knew when you’d be arriving since he had a call to take at 11:30. I answered, “I think I’m going to be birthing then,” but then I felt strange saying that, only a few hours away, since I didn’t want to “wish away” labor or rush things and close my body off to nature’s course. The energy in my contractions, or surges as they really felt, picked up and by 10:30 a.m., I was gyrating my hips around, trying to circulate the sensations and remain open to them in my body. I told Declan I was going to be doing a lot of dancing today because it helped me to feel better, and that the baby would be coming soon.
Your grandparents Salerno called to say hello, and we told them that I was in labor. They couldn’t believe it and set to return home immediately from their trip. Then we called your grandparents Chase to let them know. We timed a couple of the surges, and although they were around 5 minutes apart, they didn’t last for a full minute, so I figured I had a ways to go before you arrived. During my last trimester of pregnancy, it became clear to me that you would have an unassisted, or “freebirth.” Since this would be an unassisted birth with no midwife in attendance, there was no one to report these figures to, they were mainly just a reference for us. I was soon receiving the contractions on the floor, on my knees, praying, and chanting “Open, open, I’m open…..my body knows how to do this……trust….open…..” I wondered if I had hours and hours of this ahead of me. I was hoping not. The surges were not what I’d call painful. They were really just so intense, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and so different from my Pitocin-induced contractions with Declan. It wasn’t pain, but more of an all-consuming sensation. I really felt the wisdom of the ocean pulsing through my body, doing its job to help bring you into the world, and my commitment to remaining open for them.
I spent this stage of the labor downstairs while Daddy was upstairs with Declan. I was so thankful that the recent renovations on that part of the house were completed as I passed from room to room, seeking comfortable positions with each wave of energy passing through me. Strains of Genesis’ “Follow You, Follow Me,” continued to sing in my head as a reminder of how the process works, the song I heard last night on the radio that you said would figure into my labor with you. I ended up in the shower, not turned on, just sitting on the birthing stool inside, and my body rejected the positions I tried based on its “instructions for use.” So I writhed on the floor, chanting, meditating. At two different points, I reached what felt like a tranquil bliss. Absolute, total peace, calm, quiet, a dream-like state. The first time, I assumed it was transition, because transition with Declan felt exactly like this, with the urge to push arriving soon after. But several minutes after this rest break, the contractions resumed. It was all so fast, I was surprised to feel like I was in transition already, so I decided that was just a break and I couldn’t name it. But then later it happened again, so maybe you can have two types of transition? I don’t know, but I wondered briefly during each of them whether or not labor had stalled. That question was answered clearly enough when contractions resumed. By this time, around 11:30 a.m. I would guess, I had pulled my clothes off and remained in the shower, still off, enjoying the cool feeling of the tile wall against my face. Daddy and Declan walked in at some point to check on me and stayed there with me silently. Watching. Witnessing. I told your father over and over, I need you here, I need you, and just having him next to me felt so good. Declan rubbed my arm, and that felt wonderful, too. Having them with me felt so grounding.
I soon felt an urge to defecate. As much as you and I have been in tune together throughout this pregnancy, I had no idea you were about to be born. I walked the few steps to the toilet and while I sat there, I was barely able to speak, but I forced whatever part of the brain that is that governs speech, and I got out the words, “Cold…forehead…now!” and he and Declan cooled my skin with wet washcloths. Then I pushed them away, stood up straddling the toilet, and a mighty push overtook my body. I yelled “F–k!” so loud as the push drove through me, and I felt something large come out between my legs. I put my hand underneath and had no idea what squishy thing I was holding. I asked your dad, “What’s that?” He bowed down for a look and came back up and said, “It’s a butt!” I couldn’t believe it — you were coming out!!!! I said, “Cool – what are we having?” He looked again, came back up, smiled and said, “It’s a girl!” Then, nothing. We all just stood there, and waited. For a moment, I wondered if my labor had suddenly stopped, which seemed like a really interesting situation. But I was guided by you to trust, and I was reminded of the birth stories I had read in preparation for you, which said to let my body do the pushing, and that the rest time in between allowed for stretching and regaining strength. So with one hand holding you, and one hand supported on the window, we waited quietly. I didn’t try to push, just waited for my body to do it on its own. Then the ring of fire, and another mighty push surged through me, I yelled again, Daddy told Declan that I was working hard and that it helped me to feel better when I yelled, and he was fine with that. That push yielded your feet/legs and torso. Then, rest again. Nothing. Just calm, and waiting. Finally, the third push pulsed through me and your head emerged, your body held in my waiting hands. You were so calm, composed, eyes wide open, looking around. I remember your cord being wrapped around your neck and torso a couple of times, but your father doesn’t believe that it was. Your dad ran to check the time – 12:18 p.m. I held you and looked at your father with such love and amazement, I kept repeating over and over again, “I did it…I did it……” I held you to my chest and tried to nurse you, but you were too interested in your new surroundings.
We weighed you on the produce scale we borrowed, 9 pounds, 6 ounces, and you cried as you moved away from me. We don’t normally like to hear a baby cry, but after your birth, it was a nice sign to us that you were breathing normally, even though you were still attached to the cord. I tried nursing you again once we were lying down in the bed together, and you were still just looking around, taking it all in. Declan was thrilled you were here! He talked to you, stroked your head, he was so happy. We let the vernix soak into your skin. Your dad cleaned up here and there in the bathroom, then gave me a sponge-bath on the bed. I was ecstatic that you were here, and I kept laughing that you were a breech birth. (Great) Grandma Chase’s signature, who I believe sent you to us, since that’s how my own father was born!
I felt shaky after the birth, like residual energy coursing through my body, and I kept feeling that way lying on the bed. After a couple of hours I think, I asked him to help us back into the bathroom so I could birth the placenta. It just felt like it was time to finish the birth, for it to come out. After a few minutes of straddling the toilet, I moved over to the placenta bowl you specifically assigned me to get for you two days before. (I’m still marveling at that connection – you gave me a mental image of it, along with the name of the store where I should get it. I walked in, and there it was.) I felt one more energy surge rush through me, and the placenta came out. We rinsed it off and placed it in a colander, in your bowl, and we made a little parade carrying all of it, heading back into the bed in the spare room. You and I were separated, you remained attached to your cord and placenta, as you had asked during the pregnancy. You then nursed happily and heartily, and your Dad began calling family and friends with the joyful news of your arrival into this world.
That night, around 9 or 10:00 p.m., the last element of your birth day arrived. You told me during the pregnancy that you wanted me to eat a piece of the placenta. Well, now that time had arrived, and I was not eager to follow-up on this part of the deal. When I touched the cord gently on the end closest to the placenta, you reacted, like a twitch or a little shiver. I was so afraid that you or I were misunderstanding something, that you would be hurt by my cutting into the placenta. I said that if you had changed your mind on this, I would be totally fine with that. But your intuitive promptings were coming across to me loud and clear now. Eat it. You need to eat it. Your father brought me a knife and fork, and I stared at it this amazing organ, having no idea where to cut into it. This was really hard to wrap my head around, anyway. I couldn’t do it. Your dad volunteered to do it, started to try to cut, then walked out of the room saying this was nuts. I felt completely clueless. I wondered who I could even ask advice about this from, and then it occurred to me, they would have answered, “What does the baby say?” So I told you that this was really hard for me, that I was afraid of hurting you in some way. And you answered, “It’s not going to hurt me.” But I protested, pointing out how you reacted when I touched the cord, and you replied, “It’s a release for me. Cut.” So I told you how hard it was to cut and I wasn’t sure how to do it. You gave me a mental image in my mind of how to do it, basically a no-nonsense square cut out, about the size of a nickel or a quarter. I began to cut, and it was not as easy as your image had led me to believe and I really struggled with it. It was like cutting through raw steak, very fibrous. I questioned doing this again, and you got impatient, saying, “There’s karmic shit in there. Eat it.” I asked if this might not be better to do tomorrow, and you said it would be no good tomorrow. So with every single bit of courage I could muster, I carved into the placenta and hated every minute of doing it. I finally extracted a small morsel and put it in my mouth. I figured you would want me to experience it, so I let it linger there. It tasted like our day together, body, fluid, blood. Nothing offensive, just earthy. I swallowed it whole, thankful that the ordeal was over, and that was it. Our first day together, completely orchestrated by you, and performed exactly to your specifications. Plus, “talking” with you about the placenta confirmed that our communication would continue after the birth, which I was wondering after such a rich, connected pregnancy with you.
From Monday to Friday, you lay in various positions on the bed, connected to your cord and placenta, nursing like a champ, so very peaceful. We lived together in that little room while family and friends visited and brought us meals. Declan read stories and played with toys on the bed with us. One morning he came downstairs to greet us with his violin, saying he wanted to play a song for “mommy, Quinlan, and the placenta.” He was very taken with the placenta, sometimes wanting to look at it, sometimes ignoring it, and a couple of times later in the week, seemingly afraid or averse to it until we covered it up. And Daddy helped take care of us. One gift of that special time was watching the changes in your cord, seeing how this thread of life was made as different parts were clearer to see as it dried. The placenta continued to drain, and it got smaller day by day. Another gift was just staying with you in our little “nest” since we didn’t move you from that space. I stayed with you, so I took it easy, rested, napped with you, and my body felt so good. I had no “recovery” feelings after the birth. I didn’t tear, I didn’t feel overly crampy other than the first day or two during nursing as my uterus contracted back to size, and I felt full of life and energy. Since we were doing diaper free “elimination communication” with you, having you in one spot made those initial days very easy and I began to learn your rhythms as you revealed them to me.
On Friday morning, I woke up with you and felt it was such a special day. I don’t know why, it just felt special. I thought to myself, “I wonder if your cord will fall off today.” I didn’t want to wish it away, but it was getting very cumbersome as the cord grew stiffer. You woke up that morning sort of kicking at it, and you seemed more physically present and “into” your body than you had since birth. Your father and I decided that this was a good day for your first bath, and we carried you and your placenta bowl upstairs. You did not seem to enjoy this bath and cried the entire time! We were very careful to watch out for the cord, which you grabbed at a couple of times, which you had never done before. We dried you off, and as I carefully picked you up to put the towel around you, I somehow ended up springing your cord right off. I was shocked. I have no idea how I did it, especially because I was paying such close attention to *not* messing that up. I was horrified, your father was thrilled and set about immediately to planning its burial in our yard. I couldn’t believe I did it. I thought it would just naturally separate in its own time, and here I was, basically doing it for you. Daddy said that it never would have released if it weren’t ready, which made me feel better. Still, I felt guilty to have come so far in fostering the lotus birth and feeling like I’d screwed it up at the end.
Despite the guilt, it was really nice to embrace you full-bodied for the first time since your birth and I bundled you up in a towel and we headed back downstairs. I was still in a state of utter disbelief about the cord. Your father asked where I’d like it buried, and I had no answer. No perfect plan. I had been prepared throughout pregnancy for the birth, but not everything afterwards, and I had no idea. I finally said, close to the stream I guess, and he and Declan headed outside to dig the hole. I realized as we got ready to say goodbye to the placenta that I was very sad about it. This amazing organ had sustained your life inside of my body, offered some sort of physical and later spiritual, metaphysical support outside of my body, and would now nurture our earth. It seemed like it deserved much more of a ceremony, but I had none. I began to sob, realizing that your birth was now completed, it was now over. It was the first day of the rest of your life as “you,” untethered. I had been living in a special “birth bubble” with you for those first days of life together, and now you were ready to be your own person, separate from me and now separate from your placenta. Others would now be able to hold you, and they had waited so long. The four of us stood outside, I said a teary, emotional thank you to your placenta, and Declan and Daddy buried it, and that was that.
I spoke with a friend later, the only person I know personally who has done lotus births for each of her two children, and I lamented the cord’s “early” release from your body. She affirmed what your father said, that it wouldn’t come off unless it were ready, since it’s so strong, and that’s just how it comes off sometimes. I felt immensely relieved. She also completely understood where I was coming from about my grieving the goodbye of this organ. To think that less than one year ago, I had no idea about any of this, and here we were, comparing stories about cords and placentas.
Your light in my life has been a gift from the beginning, Quinlan, and I am grateful you are here with us. I look forward to sharing more of your soul journey with you over the years, as you have communicated it with me during pregnancy, and now in your earthly form. You have nudged your father and me out of our comfort zones and led us to some unique choices about your birth, which were really less about decisions, and more about a mindset. I cannot imagine a more perfect birth for you, Quinlan. Everything you promised in dreams, visions, and meditations to me, you delivered. You told me that this is the way you wanted, really that you *needed* to be born, to birth alone, into your mother’s loving hands, supported and witnessed in love by your father and your brother. No midwife, no caregivers, just us. That we knew what to do. Which in your case was a lot of “not” doing. No labor management or guidance, just remaining open and following my body. You asked us not to cut the cord, hence the lotus birth. You continue to ask that you not have to poop in a diaper, so we practice elimination communication. These were all new ideas to us, Quinn, yet they continue to yield powerful gifts in our family and I feel a profound sense of presence in mothering you and Declan.
Quinn, you have been an amazing teacher and guide, showing me a path that helps me to realize, trust, and claim my own truths. I imagine it is also so that I might help to foster yours in this life, as well. I pledge to continue to honor those truths and be open to discovering and exploring new ones for the rest of my life. I thank God every day for you, Quinn.
I love you.
April 6, 2006