I’ve started to notice recently that childbirth is sometimes referred to as an “ordinary miracle.” The recent experience of my third daughter’s birth really fits that description to a tee. It’s only been three weeks since our little one’s arrival, and yet I’ve already struggled with how to explain how beautifully simple, peaceful, and just…well…normal this birth was. At around my seventh month I wrote in my pregnancy journal, “I’ve been thinking that it may be difficult to write up this little one’s birth story when the time comes, because it will be so simple!” I imagined it would all go something like this, “I had some contractions, baby came out, we all celebrated, the end!” I was so right!
My body had been preparing quite well for its third birthing day for a long time. I was still nursing my second daughter Angelica through this pregnancy, and so wasn’t surprised at all to start having good, strong contractions at around four months, just as I had with my previous pregnancy. At around the end of seven months I also started having ticklish little twinges in my cervical area every few days that were probably the stretching and thinning of my womb’s opening. Naturally, the contractions came more frequently and became stronger as time went on. In the evening of March 27th I was watching a movie with my family when I noticed that those nice, strong, pleasurable contractions were coming every ten minutes on the dot, so I assumed that the birth would be soon. During the night the contractions woke me with their intensity, which was something that I’d never experienced before. I knew that night that our baby would be born the next day, and assumed it would be that afternoon, as was my past pattern.
My husband and I woke up happy and excited but peaceful at around ten in the morning and spent some time alone together talking with a quiet excitement about the fact that our baby would soon be born. When I went to the bathroom I noticed some blood tinged mucous on the tissue, and danced with joy. “This is for real!” I thought happily – I had waited patiently the past twenty days since my estimated “due date”. I was ravenously hungry and wanted a good meal before the upcoming “workout”, so I drove to Burger King for my favorite morning treat: a breakfast sandwich and coffee. It was an unusually beautiful day that day – sunny and about sixty degrees – after having been cold, snowy, and rainy for months on end. I sang along with the cassette tape Angelica was born to the whole way. Burger King’s drive-thru was closed, so I went to McDonalds instead. As wonderful as I was feeling, I still didn’t want to have a contraction in the store and then deal with the employees calling 911 or something equally silly. Instead I had one contraction in my car in the drive-thru just before ordering, and another at home in our driveway.
I waved to the neighbors with a sense of secret delight as I carried my breakfast inside. Christiana and Angelica were still asleep and John was at his computer, so I ate breakfast alone and comfortable, smiling to myself in the sunshine coming through my kitchen window. Full and content, I went to work preparing my “nest.” I swept the kitchen floor and cleared the table. I updated my webpage and sent an email to some good friends, letting them know I was in labor. I called my mom, and gave her the exciting news too. All the while I experienced the most wonderful sense of harmony with my body. It seemed as though my contractions only came when I was ready, or else I was just ready for each contraction as it came. Either way, they came irregularly. Some were as close together as five minutes and others as far apart as half an hour, but there was no doubt in my mind that as soon as I relaxed completely, my baby would come gliding gently into the world.
When I started feeling pain in the lower part of my belly during contractions in certain positions, I went upstairs and set up our video camera. Then I laid a new shower curtain with a flannel sheet over it on my bedroom floor. I hadn’t made any advance plans about where I would labor and whether I would try to capture it on video or not, this is just what I felt like doing at the time. As I labored I found that what felt good to do through one contraction rarely felt right during the next, so I experimented with different positions with each one. Sometimes I rocked on my hands and knees. Other times I danced, and still other times I swiveled my hips while massaging my lower belly. I was surprised to find standing and walking to be comfortable all this time, as being upright had been too intense when I labored with Angelica.
When I knelt through contractions more of the red-tinged mucous would come out, but with one of the last contractions I rode through while standing, my water shot out onto the floor with a pop. This was another new sensation for me, and I shouted about it to John, who was in another room, with delight. In between contractions I talked to the camera about my feelings and enjoyed the enthusiastic attention from my girls, who were awake by now. Christiana actually hopped around, saying, “The baby’s coming! I’m so excited!!” John stayed in the adjacent room at his computer unless I wanted him during this time, and we occasionally called back and forth to one another as is usual for us.
During contractions I moaned and roared and hollered along with the intensity however I saw fit, which felt great. A couple of times I ordered the girls out of the room, and a few I demanded that John massage my back. I feel a little bad for being so brusque now, but it was good to be honest about those feelings at the time. Along with the sense of harmony I described above, I also had a clear and undeniable knowledge that I was emotionally resisting the birth. I literally knew for hours that all I had to do was allow the birth to flow through me – relinquish control – and my baby would be born immediately, but for some reason I just wasn’t mentally “ready” right away. I talked with John honestly about this and he was very encouraging. I said, “I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to do this anymore.” “This” meaning giving birth. He reminded me that I help women get through the very same emotions all the time in my work on the Internet, and that I could definitely find it within myself now to submit to the birthing power too.
All at once I gathered up my courage and began pushing with each contraction. This felt indescribably wonderful! It also felt different from my other births. I didn’t really conceptualize it until a few days later when talking about it to a friend, but the baby was coming out in the same position she had been in for months – head down and facing my right side. Even though she was moving easily and painlessly, the sensation was strange. I felt as though she might exit through my rectum, so I rolled around a bit, grasping my buttocks while trying to find a comfortable way to push. The funny thing is, I remember now having had a dream while I was pregnant where I birthed the baby while in a sort of “crab crawl” position. The concept of giving birth while on my hands, feet, and rump seemed humorous to me at the time of the dream, but with this pressure on my rear it just happened to be the posture I was intuitively drawn into.
Sitting in this odd position, I felt inside to find a head full of hair just a couple knuckles deep. I was thrilled: our baby was about to be born! John asked how much longer it would be and I told him not long and mentioned feeling the head, so he stayed with me. All this took just a contraction or two and suddenly I knew the actual birth was imminent. I said to John something along the lines of, “If you want to call the girls in to watch, this is about to happen.” To which he replied, “What?” (He didn’t hear me.) I gave a final push right then and she slid gently out onto the sheet. Johnny says he had his hand on her as she came out, but all I remember of that moment was thinking how tiny she looked. Later we decided she was likely about 8 and a half pounds, which is larger than our first daughter was, but smaller than our second. That original perception was probably just due to the fact that I’d never seen my own baby being born before. As she lay there freshly born, I was seeing her a lot further away from me than I’d seen either of my other two babies for the first time.
She was beautiful, flawless, and purple, and she lay peaceful between my knees on her left side. I realize now that the odd pressure I had been feeling must have been from her shoulders. She never turned on the way down like many babies do, and came straight out, still facing my right side. My bottom was a bit sore and stayed that way for an hour or two, but I didn’t tear. It was absolutely awesome and deeply satisfying to hook my own hands under her tiny newborn arms and lift her to my own bare breast. Her skin felt deliciously warm and wet, and I savored every single second of that raw, genuine moment. At some point one of us called to the girls that their sister was “out”, and they came right away to smother her with kisses and gentle caresses. As I said, my rear felt a little sore, so we arranged some pillows along the wall for me to lay against, and all the action disturbed her into crying a bit. I tickled her lips, but she wasn’t ready to nurse yet, so we just talked to her and enjoyed her while John snapped some pictures.
Just that moment I noticed that the light on the video camera was off, so I asked John to check it. Sadly, the batteries (which I charged up the month before) had run out sometime while I was still in labor, so we missed taping another birth. I think John had been blocking the view inadvertently anyway, but it would have been nice to capture the sounds of birth and moments after anyway. Ah well…The time was 6:00 p.m. so we assume the birth occurred around 5:50. She started nursing within that first hour, which brought on some of the worst afterpains I’ve ever experienced. After about three of these, demanding more back massage, and two Tylenol, I remembered how good it felt to push with my contractions earlier, and tried it. Out slipped my placenta and immediately the afterpains were replaced by strong but painless contractions. We left our newest little one attached to what had been her lifeline until it was completely limp and white. I knew that I didn’t want to use one of those hard plastic cord clamps on my soft, tender, newborn baby, but John did want to tie the cord with something. So, just to be safe I’d boiled some new shoestrings along with my sewing scissors that morning, and when I finally needed to get up and pee, John tied and cut the cord. The soft string worked just fine, and was much, much nicer than a clamp. With a small squirt of breast milk now and then, the stump fell away on the fourth day after her birth, revealing the most beautiful bellybutton I’ve ever seen.
I knew my first two girls’ names while they were still in the womb, but John and I had never agreed on a girl’s name this time around. I wanted to name this child Sarah Anne, or Annaleigha Sarai if it turned out to be a girl, but John didn’t like these. John liked Annistasia, but that reminded me of the title of a Disney movie we’ve never seen, so we continued to toss names back and forth for over nine months. I really hadn’t wanted to have a baby without a name. When it came down to it, I felt very odd to be naming someone we’d already met, rather than meeting someone who already had a name. But we just couldn’t agree on a girl’s name yet when our little one arrived. The night she had been born, Sunday March 28th 1999, I dreamt of the name Leighanne; a rearranged version of one of the names I had wanted to use. When I woke up in the morning I looked at her and it fit. I told John and he agreed, but he just liked it as a middle name, so we still needed to come up with a first name for her. That morning, while going back and forth with a few more names that all sounded ridiculous, we remembered the name Cierra. It was the only name we’d ever both liked, it sounded beautiful with Leighanne, and it fit her, so it stuck. Our third little blessing is now named Cierra Leighanne Morgan.
I felt wonderful, healthy and energized after Cierra’s birth. John pampered me and encouraged me to take it easy, but I was stubborn and went right back to laundry and cleaning house anyway. My body knew better what I should be doing and a few days later I woke up feverish with chills and muscle aches. I’d felt this way for a little while both times my milk came in with my first girls, so I didn’t think much of it at first, but five days later I felt the same and had to admit that I was sick. I also came down with an unexplainable pain in my left side that hurt so bad it left me unable to walk around. On Friday my mom came to visit and help out for a while as planned, so I hunkered down and camped out on the couch with my little one skin to skin like I should have done in the first place. I spent some more days weepy, hurting, and tired, and even picked a big fight with John one night, but I also got the intense one-on-one time I needed with Cierra and by the end of the next week I’d recovered. I’ve made it a point since then not to do too much and just soak up every ray of joyous sunshine that emanates from this amazing being that I can. I haven’t been disappointed! So that’s it, the story of Cierra’s birth. It wasn’t a terrifying, degrading, painful experience like my first daughter’s birth. It wasn’t a dramatic, intense, life-changing experience like my second daughter’s birth. It was just beautiful and powerful in its simplicity. It was normal. It was birth the way it should be: an ordinary miracle.