Birthing Josef Elijah

Pregnant with Baby Josef.

Pregnant with Baby Josef.

This is the birth story of my second son, Josef Elijah, born almost three years after my first son Gabriel.  He too was born at home, but the experience was somewhat different than the first. For various reasons this pregnancy was a lot more challenging than the first. For various reasons I chose not to even share that I was pregnant.  By the time I went into labor, only a few of my family and friends even knew that I had been pregnant. Of course, this meant I had virtually been in hiding.  Feeling like a she-wolf in her den, I was so ready to give birth.

After a week of contractions coming and going, I stopped assuming each time would be labor. I silently experienced them, patiently awaiting confirmation. That night I began feeling the contractions around 10:00.  I said nothing.  After midnight we were still awake and the contractions were still happening. I still said nothing. We decided to go to sleep, knowing that it could happen at any time and wanting to stock up on rest just in case. It was the eve of my due date. The first hour of February 11th.

As I slept I still felt the contractions.  My semi conscious mind would make mental notes of the sensations then doze off again.  Again, I was patiently awaiting confirmation. Still I said nothing.  At about 4:30 am the contractions would no longer allow me to sleep. I was too uncomfortable on top of what I already was.  For almost four months I had been sleeping upright in a sitting position.  My pubic symphysis condition didn’t allow me to lie on my side.  I would get a piercing pain in my pubic bone if I did. I obviously couldn’t sleep on my stomach and pregnant women can’t lie on their backs either. The only option was to sleep sitting up.  Not to mention that this condition made it painful to even walk throughout my third trimester.  I was ready to end the physical discomfort. I was ready to meet this baby.

As I got up, I finally told my husband Ivan that I was having contractions and was going to the living room because I was too uncomfortable to stay in bed.  I went to the living room and realized this was the most vivid any of these contractions had been in the past weeks. Every contraction was a nostalgic sensation where my body attempted to do what it did when I birthed Gabriel.  The pains grabbed at my hips, shot down my thighs.  My lower back hurt as it had for months.  But I wasn’t cursing or running around as I had initially when the first contractions hit with Gabriel.  I felt in control and knew that these weren’t off the hook yet.  I breathed and rocked through them. I got onto the sofa on all fours and rested my head on a pillow swaying my pelvis to release the tension in my lower back. Recognizing that my body was doing this, I went back to the room and told Ivan to get up.  He timed the contractions. At about 6:00 am or so we called our midwife Sakina to give her the heads up.  The contractions were real, but still I was in control. I knew how to move, what to do. I turned on music and danced through the contractions. We danced reggae as I hung on Ivan’s shoulders and rocked through the contractions.  With each one I would concentrate on the squeezing of my uterus, my baby pushing against my cervix, opening it slowly.  But that changed.

Gabriel woke up and came out into the living room at 7am.  Suddenly there was no drifting into labor land, losing myself in the contractions as I had done to birth him.  Momma mode kicked in and I began with the orders, “give him his instant organic oatmeal. It’s quick to prepare and a surefire meal that he’ll eat and enjoy.”  I was in tune to my little one.  We had been unsure of whether we should have him present for the birth, afraid that it would affect the labor. I couldn’t envision however doing this again without the very person who allowed me to experience this the first time around.  How could I birth another member of the family with one of us not being present?  I knew there was a risk that I wouldn’t be able to relax, but this was it. I had a child. I was having another.  I did however debate it in my head. Our initial plans to have someone with us had fallen through. Should I call someone? How would that work out?  Lots of questions.

We had already called Sakina again, asking her to come.  She arrived at 8:00am.  I was ready to get this going, despite my hunger. I kept fantasizing about my Ivan’s home fried potatoes that he makes every weekend. It was Saturday and I was ready for a plate of one of his “funk nasty” breakfasts.  My midwife’s assistant, Amanda arrived first.  She was in her last semester of midwifery school and had been present at my appointments the last weeks of my pregnancy. The first time she arrived in my home, Sakina had car trouble and was held up. For over an hour Amanda chatted with my mom and I. We opened up about so many personal things, from birth stories to lost loved ones. I realized that Sakina’s car trouble was a blessing in disguise. It allowed me to bond with this woman who would be at my birth. If my body trusted her, she wouldn’t be a detriment to the process.

Shortly after Amanda, Sakina arrived.  We went into my room so that they could check me and see where I was in my labor.  I got on my bed, confidant.  This was my second time around.  I was going to rock this.  Then I heard the dreaded words:  2 centimeters.  What!!!?????  WTF??!!!! I did all this breathing and rocking and contracting and what???!!!!  I asked what that meant.  Sakina said, “Here’s where you take a break, eat breakfast with your family, go for a walk, make love.”  Huh?! Make love??!!! I didn’t want to make love, I wanted to give birth.  Making love would have absolutely helped the process move along but I was too pissed and uncomfortable to even fathom the possibility.  Then she said they were leaving but would be back later.

I felt defeated.  What the hell was going on with my cervix?!  Standing there in my room I felt duped.  Sakina had stepped out and I began to talk to Amanda about some things that had been going on, and my confusion as to whether to have Gabriel there or not.  So much stuff had gone on with this pregnancy that everything was always a stress. I didn’t want to have to stress one more thing and here I was doing it.  Sakina walked in and heard my concerns.  She told me to let all that go, to put it out into the universe. I had one job and that was to birth this baby and that was all that mattered.  Nothing else around me mattered.  Then she said, “Maybe Gabriel is supposed to be here. Actually, spirit is telling me that Gabriel is supposed to be here.”  Her words were an affirmation. I had always wanted Gabriel there.  I just was giving in to comments about not being able to relax if he was around. At that moment I owned it.  I was going to have a baby and my other baby would be right there with us.  I had no idea how that would work out, but it was what it was.

Sakina and Amanda left at around 8:30am. During the conversation with them my contractions had basically stopped altogether.  I sat on the sofa feeling sheepish and wanting my damn home fried potatoes.  Ivan served me a big mug of coffee.  I was there still pissed, but meditating on all they said.  I sipped my coffee and ate toast in the meantime. Gabriel played.  Suddenly the contractions started up again, except this time they weren’t going to allow me to eat. I just wanted to be alone. I went back to the bed, up on all fours again, rocking.  Despite my disappointment with the dilation or lack thereof, giving in to my desire to have Gabriel around and to stop worrying provided some sort of release.  The contractions started coming in waves back to back.  Ivan came into the room.  Gabriel came too, got up on the bed and curled up alongside me.  They grew stronger and Ivan started pressing down on my lower back to help me get through the contractions. In between we’d talk a little.  Then he put on a movie for Gabriel in his room, which opens up into our room.

Having Gabriel there did make a difference.  I concentrated on each contraction as I should, but I never lost sight of my son.  I could hear everything he did in his room. I swear I could hear the kid breath. My senses were heightened.  I knew I had to birth another baby, but my body and instincts were simultaneously focused on Gabriel, my first baby.  As a result, I felt everything. I was aware of everything.  The same way my heightened senses picked up on all he did, they also picked up on every last pain and sensation of labor. I felt every single damn thing flow through my body, every single second.  I did not move from that bed.  The contractions came faster and Ivan was there glued to the side of our bed, ready for me to say, “ok, here comes another.” He’d pressed his palms down onto my lower back and hold the pressure till the contraction passed. That was the only way I was going to do it.  I’m not sure it lessened the pain. It certainly made it more bearable.  But perhaps the physical teamwork kept us busy and kept the labor moving.  We kept this routine up for over two hours. It became hypnotic.

Although I mentioned hearing everything Gabriel did, there wasn’t much going on in his room. Somehow he perceived that something was happening.  He lied on his bed, quiet, watching his movie. He didn’t come in, didn’t bother us. He just quietly stood by.  I have never witnessed so much self control in a two year old.  Still I remained, painstakingly aware and present.  We had my birthing playlist going in the background.  But unlike with Gabriel’s birth, I didn’t drift into the music and lose myself in it. I barely remember which songs played with the exception of one by Afrika Bambaataa.  It was important to me to have some of the music my brother and I shared a passion for playing during my labor.  I had decided a few days earlier to name the baby after my brother.  But once the pains really set in and we turned off the music to call Sakina back, I told Ivan not to turn it back on. That apparently is what Sakina had told Ivan when he asked how he would know when the labor was really kicking in.  She said I wouldn’t be so good natured, or wouldn’t be talking about home fried potatoes. I would be restless and everything might start to bother me.

It got to the point that I didn’t want the contractions to come.  They were kicking my ass.  I’d labor through them quietly and then say “oh….my….god” matter-of-factly. There was nothing else I could do.  This shit was real, the pains were real. There was no euphoric, endorphin high like the first time I had given birth.  I was in labor bitches! And from what I was learning right there and then, each one IS different from the next.  Still I patiently worked through them.  Still on my bed, I stopped rocking.  I was getting to the point where I couldn’t move. I asked Ivan to place a hand on each of my hips. When the contractions would come his job was to press with all his might.  I felt like my pelvis was falling apart and he had to hold it together. Perhaps in the intensity of the sensations I literally convinced myself of this because I made him press as if his life depended on it, with no regard to how his hands or arms were feeling.  Still I seemed to be in control.  I wasn’t losing it. Wasn’t running anywhere. Wasn’t screaming.  Just giving the “press” command each time the pains arose.  In between I don’t remember what happened because the in-betweens got shorter and shorter. We called Sakina to come back at 11:30am, just three hours after she had left. She arrived around 12:15.

You hear people should move and walk and do all sorts of things in labor to help bring the baby down. I was all but paralyzed at the time Sakina arrived. When she came into my room, she found me wrapped in a blanket, laid out on the bed, quivering.  My lips, my torso, my legs, everything was shaking uncontrollably. She walked in and I wasn’t trying to say anything.  I certainly was not in the condition she had left me in.  Ivan stepped out to check on Gabriel and to pee. I hadn’t even let the brother take a leak for fear that my pelvis could not handle a contraction without him pressing down on it.

Poor Amanda had taken the train from Queens back up to the Bronx after they left that morning.  She got home and barely had enough time to eat before she got the call to come back.  She and Sakina were standing by my bed again waiting to check me.  When the next contraction came I was mortified.  I told Sakina, “No, my contraction buddy isn’t here.”  Ivan was checking on Gabriel in the next room.  Sakina replied, “That’s ok, you’ll get through it.  Just remember to stay soft, soft in your mind, soft bottom, let everything relax.”

Looking up at her, hearing her words and obliging, it actually worked.  Listening to her and softening my body had the same empowering effect that my husband pushing the hell out of my hips had.  So this time, although I didn’t have the endorphins high to rely on, the physical presence of my husband and the supportive words of Amanda and Sakina had the same effect that the endorphins had last time. I didn’t lose it. I didn’t fall apart. My hips didn’t break. I labored and managed and got through it.

Sakina checked my cervix.  She didn’t tell me how dilated I was. She just said I had made great progress since the last time.  I thought back to an episode of Baby Story where the midwife didn’t tell the birthing mom that she hadn’t dilated much.  She told the woman she was doing beautifully and that she didn’t need a number to tell her of her progress.  She was afraid that telling the mom that there had been little change in her cervix would discourage her.  Sure enough her plan worked and the mom transitioned quickly and was pushing soon thereafter.  So since Sakina gave no number, I was convinced I was like 3 or 4 or something far from where I needed to be.  Sakina asked if it was ok for Amanda to check my cervix too.  I said yes.  It wasn’t necessary, but even in labor I was cool with the idea of helping a new midwife in training.  I wanted more women to receive the specialized, nurturing care I had gotten in my births.  She then asked Amanda, “What do you think she is?”  Amanda told her she thought I was 7 centimeters. Sakina agreed, “Yes, I would say 7-8.”  I couldn’t believe it.  Actually I could because I felt like crap.  Transition had to be near.  I assumed that I had a few hours left to go at this point but was relieved that I had indeed made a great deal of progress.

Transition had arrived.  I was miserable. At this point I was whining.  I needed to pee but was so uncomfortable. They offered to help me to the bathroom. I stood up but the pains gripped at my hips again and I felt my legs giving out from under me.  “I can’t walk” I moaned.  They threw their arms around me and held me up.  I complained about a whole lot of other stuff that I can’t recall. Sakina kept telling me that I was doing an amazing job.  I felt like a baby.  I felt like a little whining baby and there were two mommas there just loving me and encouraging me and if I could have I would have curled into a fetal position on their laps and sucked my damn thumb. I was a hot mess. I just needed to be babied. Somehow their words kept me from collapsing.  I needed to pee and couldn’t fucking walk.  They had the perfect solution, “You can pee right here.  You don’t have to walk to the bathroom.” They threw some pads on the floor and were offering to hold me up so I could pee.  Damn that’s love.

My legs wouldn’t allow it though. I don’t know if it was my pubic symphysis condition but the pain and pressure on my hips was overwhelming.  I thought if I didn’t support myself I would fall. I panicked and turned around and took a few steps back to the bed so that I could have something to lean on.  As soon as I got there, I felt a little pop. My water bag had burst, which I hadn’t experienced the first time around.  Instead of pee, salt water or my baby’s amniotic fluid gushed down my legs.  They immediately placed a pad on the floor between my feet.  I looked down and saw small drops of blood falling.  “Why am I bleeding?” I whined. I did lose control.  Gone was my intellect.

Sakina asked where I wanted to birth. I said the living room.  That was probably the last intelligible thing to leave my lips.  She grabbed the oxygen tank and started gathering her supplies to move to the living room. Suddenly my legs finally managed to give out. I dropped on all fours onto the bedroom floor. Some ill animal sounds started to leave my body.  The best way to describe what was happening to me are all those werewolf movies I’ve seen where the transition from human to wolf begins. I wouldn’t be surprised if claws were growing from my fingertips and if in some of those howls and grunts that involuntarily escaped me weren’t flowing out of a growing snout. When Sakina saw me on the ground she immediately knew that operation living room had been aborted.  She started setting everything up right there on my bedroom floor. Never mind that there was a comfortable bed right next to me. I wasn’t moving.

Ivan and Gabriel playing on the mat.

Ivan and Gabriel playing on the mat.

When Ivan realized that I was on the bedroom floor, he thought perhaps the foam play mat we had just gotten for Gabriel, would make me more comfortable.  He started to bring some of the pieces over from the living room.  I was an animal and I was about to give birth.   I began barking orders at my husband. I grabbed the ottoman to the glider and barked, “Ivan sit down.”  I positioned him in front of me.  He sat.  “Closer,” I yelled.  I pulled the whole ottoman, with him on it, closer to me and supported my arms on his knees.  He later told me he thought I was just trying to get comfortable. He had no idea that I was on a whole other primal mission to start pushing.  And push I did.

Gabriel caressing Baby Josef's belly.

Gabriel caressing Baby Josef’s belly.

Gabriel realized something was going on.  Perhaps it was the crazy sounds leaving my body.  He came over, caressed my arm, held his hand up to me and said “ok mommy,” as in, “it’s ok mommy, everything is going to be okay.”  This is the same boy that would touch his nose to my belly button and speak to the baby while in utero.  The same boy who touched his cheek to my belly and spoke to it before I even knew I was pregnant.  Once his message was delivered, in a burst of nervous energy, he decided to continue his dad’s project. He ran laps from the bedroom to the living room bringing in pieces of his foam mat.  As I pushed, in a corner of the bedroom he piled letters of the alphabet and numbers, all made of light green and brown foam.  Between laps, he’d come over and caress my arm again and repeat, “ok mommy” before running off for more letters.  In the insanity of my physical state, his visits would again reassure me that I had made the right decision in having this wise little boy there with us.

The weird sounds that escape you are your body, no one else, telling you it’s time to push.  It tells you that your cervix is wide open and your baby is ready to descend. Your body is ready to release the baby it has carried for 9-10 months.  It is an involuntary act.  You can be told by someone else to push and when and how long.  But quite frankly, your body will tell you just fine. It doesn’t need to be told by someone else if you are unmedicated and can feel everything.  I could say that I pushed, but perhaps it’s best to say that my body pushed and I, astonished, just witnessed it do things I didn’t think possible.  All the work seemed focused around my womb, cervix and my birth canal. My hips and legs felt like a huge detriment to the whole process. They just hurt and felt weak.  Sakina suggested I turn around and let my upper body be supported by Ivan’s legs.  I tried that but it still required that I be in a squatting position and my legs could no longer support me.  I slid down and sat with one knee raised—the exact position that my physical therapist told me not to birth in with the condition of my pubic bone.  But I wasn’t in control here, neither was my physical therapist. My body was calling the shots. It pushed again and I felt the contours of my baby boy moving through me.

Sakina, my midwife hugs me right after the birth!

Sakina, my midwife hugs me right after the birth!

Sakina told me “Your baby is almost here, push your baby out.”  Ivan later admitted that he thought Sakina was lying to me.   He assumed we would be there for hours.  But I looked at her knowing and trusting that she could see my baby emerging.  I surprised it was happening because I had pushed Gabriel for over two hours.  This had just been minutes.  Just a few minutes before I had been standing trying to get to the bathroom to pee.  I fixed my stare onto Sakina’s face for guidance and encouragement.  I could feel the burning sensation of my son’s head emerging.  There I was on the hard wood floor. Like a flame, his head moved out of me and with one last push his warm, wet body slid out past my thighs and into Sakina’s hands.  Around my bottom I could feel the warmth of a sea of blood and salt water swelling around me.  I looked up at Sakina, almost in shock, ever grateful that what she said had come to be. I did push my baby out. I did it. She told me I would and I did.  That marked an intimate moment in which one doubts themselves and another soul shows them their potential and stands aside to witness that potential being met.  When you accomplish the unthinkable and are then able to gaze into the eyes of those who have lovingly witnessed it, there is an enormous sense of satisfaction, healing and empowerment that overtakes you.

Sakina had arrived around 12:15pm.  I learned a short while later that I was 7-8 centimeters.  I stood to try to go to the bathroom. My water broke and immediately my son’s head descended to the point in which my body involuntarily began to push.  Baby Josef was born around 45 minutes after my midwife returned.

Josef on my belly immediately after the birth. I hold my tee shirt to my face, sobbing.

Josef on my belly immediately after the birth. I hold my tee shirt to my face, sobbing.

With Josef, our blood and his fluid emerging from my body, all the pain, discomfort, fears, insecurities, stresses of months and years prior spilled out of me and onto my bedroom floor.  The pain of his and Gabriel’s sibling lost in a pregnancy between theirs, the pain from the loss of my brother, the constant stress of those misfortunes that exist beyond our control and threaten to disrupt the celebrations of our blessings, all those things were disrupted when I lifted Baby Josef’s wet body onto my own and watched as his flesh turned from bluish grey to pink with each breath.  I held him and sobbed. Ivan watched from above us, over my shoulder. Over the other shoulder, Gabriel got a first glance at the baby he communicated with through my belly button for so many months.  We were all there, all four of us, plus Baby Libertad watching from above, my brother, his grandmother, his uncle, all our lost loved ones found in the sanctity of another birth.

Finally a family of four!  Sakina places Josef on my belly as Ivan and Gabriel look on.

Finally a family of four! Sakina places Josef on my belly as Ivan and Gabriel look on.

Baby Josef began to cry a loud, fierce, piercing cry.  It continued as I asked his dad to take him.  I was helped into a squatting position and with a gentle push, Josef’s placenta softly fell from me. I was then helped onto my bed, all the while Josef cried and cried and cried. I grew concerned.

Sakina checks baby brother vitals in our presence, at the foot of our bed.

Sakina checks baby brother vitals in our presence, at the foot of our bed.

As Sakina checked him, listened to his heart and his lungs she reassured me that he was just telling us of his journey.  She laid him on my bed and spoke as he cried, “I know…. Tell us where you came from… and who did you see along the way?…. I know you’re upset but we all have to come back sometime.”  Baby Josef stopped to listen to her words.  Then he replied with more cries.  Sakina asked more questions, he’d quiet down, listen and then on he went with the cries. I watched in amazement as she communicated with this soul.  The baby might have been minutes old but Sakina acknowledged the immortal soul who had come to bless us in this life as our child.  He cried to us, for 45 minutes, the only way he could communicate. Yet the cries had highs and lows, crescendos and sighs.  It was a whole conversation. It was the profession of a journey.  When he was done he focused on nursing and together we commenced a whole new journey together.  Sakina saw that I was exhausted and emotionally overwhelmed and said she and Amanda were leaving the room to give us time as a newly expanded family to be together.

Baby Josef tells Sakina about his journey here.

Baby Josef tells Sakina about his journey here.

Here he was, the resilient baby that thrived in my belly despite the many challenges and obstacles.  Here was the baby that survived when death was all around us.  Here was the child that I was so afraid to embrace while in utero, having come to see life as fleeting.  Here he is to teach that life is meant to be lived and celebrated unapologetically.

Happy first birthday Baby Josef!

My little Baby Josef, or "Baby Jo-fes" as Gabriel would say.

My little Baby Josef, or “Baby Jo-fes” as Gabriel would say.

A few hours after the birth, alone with our sleeping babies, Ivan's first photo as papi of two.

A few hours after the birth, alone with our sleeping babies, Ivan’s first photo as papi of two.

Baby Josef and I napping comfortably in our bed.

Baby Josef and I napping comfortably in our bed.

First portrait of Baby Josef Elijah by Cybele Mendes Photography.

First portrait of Baby Josef Elijah.  Photo: Cybele Mendes

First momma/ baby portrait with Josef. Photo: Cybele Mendes.

First momma/ baby portrait with Josef. Photo: Cybele Mendes.

First portrait as a family of four.  Josef is still vocal! Photo: Cybele Mendes

First portrait as a family of four. Josef is still vocal! Photo: Cybele Mendes

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7 Comments on “Birthing Josef Elijah”

  1. Mily Huntley Says:

    Wow. Thanks for sharing such a beautiful moment! Happy Belated Birthday Josef.


  2. Yasmin, This story is so beautifully written, and I felt so much love and emotion reading your words. I would write to you the parts I love the most, but I can’t separate them from the whole, because it is epic love through and through.

  3. Alpha Says:

    What a beautifully mesmerizing testimony. Thanks for sharing such an intimate testimony of life, loss and rebirth. Happy birthday to your son! Peace and blessings to your family.


  4. Yasmin your birth story reflects a sincere depiction of the events that led up to this joyous moment. I truly felt we were celebrating Josef’s birth. I felt your passion power and strength as you describe every emotion, the details of your pain both mentally and physically. I believe this is an inspirational piece for many expectant mothers. thank you for allowing me to acknowledge your son’s labor birth journey and thank you once again for allowing him to choose me to guide you through this process.

    Asante Sana
    Gracias
    Shukran
    Lovingly

    Midwife Sakina O’Uhuru
    P.S. Let me know if I can use this inspirational journal on my website or post on Gentle Spirit’s facebook page.


    • Lovely midwife, woman who walks to channel our ancestors and help guide us to bring more of their descendants into this world, in their traditions, thanks for believing in me when I had no idea what I could accomplish and for seeing strength in me I didn’t even know I had. Love you lady! You may certainly share this with whoever you want. It is OUR story!


  5. […] Feared pregnancy and the fragility of life. Dodged accidents. Fell on my back at 9 months pregnant. Birthed on my bedroom floor. Learned to love again.  Rejected fear. Battled through postpartum in hidden corners in between […]


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