December 24 marks the end of Las Posadas in Mexico. On this night, the infant Jesus figurine is placed in the manager in line with the belief that he was born on this night. (We know better, but who can argue with tradition? See also When was Jesus born?) In Las Posadas song, we are assured that Maria was finally granted a corner to shelter in after being recognized as the Queen of Heaven, as Mexican Catholics still refer to her. However, unlike a true queen, there was no mention of attendants to assist her in her delivery. Maria gave birth alone. As those male bible writers neglected the details, today I’d like to share the birth story of Ona, born to Jamie in the mountains of Michoacan, yet another inspirational Modern Day Maria.
I never tested, I just knew. For a long time, I didn’t tell anyone, not even V. Several months passed as this mysterious potency grew within me. Like the sky just before dawn, the light was building and would soon spill out over the mountain tops. And so it did.
I spent the first five months on our land in central Mexico. I live in the tropical mountains of Michoacan, in the Sierra Madres. Surrounded by lush avocado and banana trees, green hills rising out of the valley full of ancient corn. Here, there is more hard, physical labor than one could ever imagine. Though this is my fifth full term pregnancy, it has been completely different than the others. Nothing could have prepared me for how emotionally, spiritually and physically challenging this pregnancy journey would be. A true reflection of my climb up the butterfly mountain.
This is my second completely unassisted pregnancy. Meaning no prenatal testing, no ultrasounds, and no doctors. I chose not seek out a midwife or anyone else outside of myself to check in or tell me how I was doing. I did not even use a fetoscope to check heart tones at any point as I had in my last pregnancy. Instead, I listened to my intuition and to my body, felt baby’s positioning with my hands and cultivated an unwavering sense of trust. I deeply surrendered to the perfection of whatever was unfolding before me.
I did choose to allow the use of a doppler one time to check heart tones, as it was required for a pregnancy confirmation. Because I would be birthing outside of the US and declaring a birth abroad, claiming baby’s US and Mexican citizenship, I felt it would be wise to have my pregnancy documented and on record somewhere in the US. So when I visited family in the states for a month, I also visited a good friend who is a CNM, at her office, to put myself officially on the radar before heading south again.
After returning to Mexico, I had a few episodes of preterm labor, which was a first for me. Once around 29 weeks and again around 33. We got through it and baby stayed in. Stress, workload, and dehydration were contributing factors. I also had a day with some bright red bleeding around that time which resolved itself. Baby was favoring the breech position as well, as had two of my other babies (one resulting in a natural frank breech delivery). When she finally swam head down around 34-35 weeks, she stopped moving for a few days. This was one of many deep lessons in trust and following my intuition. I felt her head wedged at an angle on my pubic bone. I gently lifted ever so slightly, she shifted a little and very soon she was active again as usual. Once I made it to 36 weeks, I felt myself relax a little, knowing that I would feel comfortable delivering this baby at home now, whenever she chose to arrive…
Around the middle of the 38th week, I began noticing regular waves as soon as I laid down to put the kids to sleep. They were mild with only minutes between them. As I lay there, all I could think about was planting onions! It was very dark and quite cold outside, yet I could barely contain the urge to put on my boots and sweater, grab the hoe and till the dirt by the light of the moon and my headlamp. I reluctantly stayed in bed, not wanting my youngest to wake up alone, and rode the waves until they fizzled out around midnight. I planted the onions the next morning, and I distinctly felt the baby move down as soon as I stood up from planting the last row.
Soon the men were in the field, harvesting the corn under a thick blanket of fog. I had the feeling that the baby would be here as soon as all the heavy sacks were stacked up under the red brick arches. She would be “hija de la maiz”, child of the corn, in the most literal way. Conceived at the time those seeds were buried and born just after the harvest…
The day after all of the corn was picked up was my “due date”. I was sure I had at least a week or more until the baby would actually arrive, and had a shopping trip to the city planned for the next day. That evening I lay down with the kids to go to bed, and as soon as everyone in the house was sleeping, the first wave came. It was strong but not painful. A few more rolled through me and I got up and went outside to the bathroom. When my headlamp revealed pink tinged toilet paper, I wondered if I would have to cancel my shopping trip…
I lit a candle in my kitchen and sat down for a while. The quiet was nice. After having several rushes in the chair, I decided to do what the wise women say, and try to ignore it and get some rest. I thought it would fizzle out soon and staying awake would leave me exhausted for the big trek in the morning, so I climbed back into the bed. Each time a wave washed over me in the bed, however, everyone in the room would toss and turn. This happened every time and began to irritate me after a while, so I went back to the kitchen. I sat there in the candlelit darkness for a long time. Thinking, feeling, wondering, waiting… Never believing that I was truly in labor. My mind felt too clear. I was far too present and aware for this to be labor…
To understand how this is all unfolding, picture that our home is quite small inside. There are three rooms with serapes hanging in the doorways between them. Our bathroom is outside… I wandered in and out throughout the night, in my sweater, skirt, and sandals, silently. The stars were bright and the crescent moon hung in the sky. After an elongated stretch of time spent pondering the possible reality, I finally decided that I should get my stuff together just in case this baby was really coming tonight.
Between rushes, I moved through the house like a thief in the night, gathering blankets and towels and remedies. Barefoot, silent, stalking. Let them all sleep deeply, I prayed. I made a nest on the concrete floor in the kitchen, lit two more candles and burned some cedar. I drank water. The last thing I grabbed was the oil heater. This was not easy. I had three rushes on the way to the bedroom and three more on the way back pushing the heater. It made me laugh to think of how I must have looked…
With everything set up, I decided to lay down and see if I could sleep a little. At this point, the sensations shifted and became much more intense. I began breathing like an animal and heard myself making noises. V woke up and came in to see what was going on. He stood there for a while watching me, said something odd and then went out to get wood for the fire. This was the best thing he could have done. He kept himself busy in the next room with the fire and left me alone.
I continued to move in and out of the house. The bathroom was nice and though it was cold, felt very comfortable. My water broke while I was staring at the stars and I heard myself say out loud, “GO BACK IN THE HOUSE NOW”. That was a long walk back to the door. I stood bracing myself on the table, watching the flickering candle flames through a few all-encompassing waves. I had the very clear thought that I needed to get down closer to the ground. I sank down onto my knees and hung over the woven straw seat of a chair. As soon as I did this there was a long pause. I felt completely normal and even had the thought that this would be a good time to go back to sleep! As if perhaps it was suddenly over. Then an indescribable force rocked through my body. Downward energy flowing like a raging river. Fluid heat, crashing and swirling and pulling everything down with it. Gripping the rough wood, I felt burning. The door was opening. The birth force was bringing the baby through. I heard myself unleash a wild sound and felt myself stretch. “Head!” I yelled… “Baby!” I quickly corrected, as I felt everything pass through me at once. Then suddenly I heard V behind me, in shock saying, “Oh Shit! Get the baby!”
I gave birth on my knees wrapped in a blanket. Shrouded in the darkness of my candle lit kitchen, my third daughter flew through the door like lightning into a nest of blankets. There was no time to catch her. I heard the wailing in the blackness and turned around to scoop her up, slippery and still connected to me. It was only at that moment that we realized the baby was really coming that night.
Valentin turned on the light in the middle room where the fire was blazing. He pulled the serape (blanket) to the side allowing enough light to come through to where I was sitting with the baby. He found dry towels and blankets for us and he was the one to notice the rare, true knot tied in her umbilical cord. After examining the knot we realized we hadn’t checked to see if it was a boy or girl. We both thought boy for sure, and were very surprised to see that she was a girl!
After a while, I felt like I was ready to release the placenta and move to a more comfortable spot. It came out easily and then the kids started waking up. All three crowded around us on the kitchen floor in amazement. My four year old said, “Oh, hi baby. Now we get to eat the yummy things in the freezer!” And so at 2:30 in the morning, we put the lasagna and the pear-apple crisp into the oven and got back into bed to rest while they baked.
I took some motherwort tincture and homeopathic arnica. V brought me a cup of hot coffee. I drank what felt like gallons of water. Baby stayed connected to her placenta, which was draining in a plastic strainer inside a bowl next to her. She and I were both very alert and awake while the others slept until sunrise.
After breakfast, I sat by the fire and washed the placenta with warm water. When I took off two chunks with my fingers to make medicine, I noticed she startled a bit. I thanked her and her placenta and dropped the pieces into alcohol. I packed the placenta front and back with Himalayan pink salt, ground lavender and cedar and calendula flowers from the garden. I wrapped it up in a cotton diaper and placed it in a little basket next to her. She seemed to enjoy it and the kids were taking it all in as well.
Over the next several days, we kept the house hot. I repacked the placenta in salt and herbs and new dry cloth diaper twice a day. I let the sun streaming in the windows shine on it and the cord as we lay in front of the fire. By the third day, the cord was dry except for the knot, which I coated with dried ground cedar in the morning. By sunset, the knot had dried out and turned brown like the rest of the cord.
The fourth day was challenging for me. The cord became completely stiff but was still very much attached. It was difficult to move her around, and at that point, I felt ready to move a little more. A real lesson in patience. After contemplating severing the connection, I began asking myself why I felt the need to rush this or move it along at my pace? This was hers. This beautiful brand new birth space will never come again. So I asked my medicine cards what was happening with her, her cord and her placenta. I drew the Deer. Regeneration and renewal. Finding your calling. The picture speaks volumes… To me it looks like the tree of life transferring all that you will become, through the ring of your own eternal history unto a child with open arms… All overlaid on the head of a deer.
I had a dream on the fifth night that she let go of her cord. The sixth day I saw that it was hanging on by a thread. I sat watching her most of the day as she slept peacefully. She grabbed her cord several times and I wondered each time if that would be the moment, but each time she let go. Part of me was ready to be able to pick her up easily and carry her around. But part of me felt sad knowing that these sacred days of sitting by the fire, building altars to the wholeness and beauty of creation, were coming to an end. Everything woven in this new beginning is woven within us and will live through each new dawn…… That night I wrapped her and her placenta up in a blanket, still connected, and went to sleep.
The garden was full of giant white calla lilies that had just bloomed when I went outside in the morning. Baby seemed much more awake and alert as she took in her surroundings. She kicked off her cord as soon as I unwrapped her blanket. She shivered and let out a little squeak, and smiled. Lotus-born on the seventh day.
They say that anyone who witnesses a lotus birth is healed. I believe that this is true. Valentin was against the idea and asked me several times in the first few days to cut the cord. Then one day, while she was laying there with her placenta unwrapped in the basket, with flowers and crystals and shells, and the morning sun streaming in… I saw him stop to watch her. I could see that it touched him deeply and saw something shift and soften. Not that he was less masculine, but that the masculine element had taken in a deep healing. The wound of separation was no longer active and needing to prove itself. I could see this new reality manifesting in many subtle ways over the next several days. My children would gather around her placenta and say how beautiful it is and my four year old even told me he loves it. This birth has been a blessing for our whole family.
I used to read birth stories about women moving through labor, with these amazing, supportive partners, and feel like I was missing something. It made me angry in a way that my kids’ dad was so reserved and didn’t offer loving words or counter-pressure or massage, we never stared into each others’ eyes and didn’t experience that bonded connection that I so often read about. It took me five births-four with him present- to figure out what I really needed. I didn’t need to borrow his strength, I needed to find my own. I didn’t need him to love me and tell me I was doing great, I needed to find a way to deeply love and encourage myself. I needed to claim my own truth and beauty and surrender completely, instead of falling into the safety net of somebody’s waiting arms. This time, I needed everyone and everything to step out of the way. And he did. He allowed me to find my way while holding his natural place. I finally came to honor his natural place because I learned to hold my own. This too is a dance. I finally feel like I got it right. I feel whole and complete. I had my dream birth down to the details, and I am in awe that it really happened.
My labor was five hours from the first contractions until she was born. This was my fifth birth after having a natural breech birth, an unnecessary cesarean, and two hospital VBACs. I free birthed my baby, alone in my candle lit kitchen, in the rural mountains of Central Mexico. Like the climb into the butterflies, I suddenly found myself in a place of raw and potent power. The space between worlds where new life enters, wrapped itself around me like a blanket of stars, holding me and my new daughter as I too came through the hoop and was powerfully reborn.
Onatah Tecolote Miranda
Born December 3rd, 2016
Walk in Beauty…
For the full story and countless other inspirational adventures experienced by Jamie and her family, please go to The Way.