During my pregnancy, people would say to me, "You're a yoga teacher, that baby will just pop right out of you!" Every time, I would shake my head and laugh. 4 day-long labor. For some reason, that was stuck in my head. A few of my yogi friends recently had experienced 3 and 4 day long labors and I was convinced that mine would be a similar long, drawn out experience. I had come to terms with it and even had embraced it by convincing myself that this way, it would be long enough for my mom to catch a flight out from the East Coast and be there for the baby's arrival. Little did we know, this little babe had an agenda all of her own and would rock our world with her wild entrance.
Flash back a couple of months and Devin and I were deep into our Hypnobirthing classes. We chose this style because it encourages natural, peaceful birthing, free of medication and medical interventions, unless absolutely necessary. We worked with birth coaches and our beloved doula, Tema Mercado to visualize and mentally prepare ourselves for an unmedicated, all-natural water birth. That was my goal and in the weeks leading up to the end of July, I was meditating and breathing into this with every fiber of my being. I made sure to eat super healthy foods and practice yoga as much as possible to maintain my physical strength for such an undertaking. Everyone I sought advice from said plan for the worst and hope for the best, so that's exactly what we did. Here's a timeline of events leading up to the birth of our little mermaid, Luna Wild...
July 23: Our official due date! No signs of baby, just some general discomfort, so it was business as usual. I went for a swim in a friend's pool, then treated myself to a Prenatal Kundalini class where the instructor had us practice "breathing the baby down" and we belly danced with our eyes closed for 11 minutes. We chanted SA TA NA MA, a mantra for releasing limiting patterns of the subconscious to prepare for birth. It was definitely one of the most "hippie" things I participated in during my pregnancy but it turned out to be the most spiritually connected I ever felt to her on the inside.
During the final meditation, the instructor asked us to listen to any messages the baby was trying to tell us. It sounded silly at first, but once I really tried to dial in and receive, I ended up having this beautiful conversation with Luna in which she said, "Mama, I need you to be three things for me. Be OPEN, STRONG, and LOVING." I have chills all over my body as I write this because that was such a profound, turning-point moment for me in my pregnancy where I, for the first time, really listened to her guidance and finally let her take the lead. Soon enough, she would become my biggest teacher and show me the way...
Later that night, we went out to dinner with friends and I made sure to order the super spicy pasta arrabiata and a glass of limoncello. My attempt at trying some Italian old wives tales to kick start this baby's descent.
July 24: Still no baby. Knowing that these are my last days to be completely selfish, I drove 30 minutes north to Encinitas to indulge and take one of my favorite classes of all time -- Bhakti Brunch at White Peacock Yoga. Audrey Sarquilla teaches this special class and it brings me to tears every time. I was craving the deep mind/body/soul connection and that's exactly what happened. My older sister Brandi came along for the ride because baby could arrive at any moment. Luckily, we made it through the entire 90 minute class and I left feeling so rejuvenated and ready for whatever the Universe wanted to send my way.
Later that night, Devin and I went for our usual Sunday night beach walk and watched the sunset over the Pacific Ocean with friends. As we walked back up the hill to my house, I felt my first big shooting sensation wrap around my back and travel up my belly. I never had Braxton Hicks or any discomfort like this at all during my pregnancy, so I knew right away something was happening. At around 9pm, I was feeling super uncomfortable so we called my doula Tema and she said to just relax and take a bath. Devin was hovering over me asking, "Are you in labor? Are you having contractions?" Being a first time newbie at this whole thing, I had no idea the difference between an intense cramp and a real contraction, so it was a little confusing and overwhelming. In the movies, I had always seen a big dramatic water breaking as the first tell-tale sign of being in labor. My water had not broken, so I figured it was just pre-labor and we needed to chill because this could last a while.
Around 9:30pm, I crawled in the bath tub and my girlfriend Rozy came over to keep us company. Remembering what we had learned in class, we quickly downloaded the "Contraction Timer" app and started timing the contractions. (Side note: in Hypnobirthing, we call them waves or sensations over "contractions" but for the sake of keeping everyone on the same page, I'll go with contractions for this story).
You're supposed to head to the hospital (or already be there) when your contractions are 4 minutes apart, lasting for 1 whole minute. At this point, they were anywhere between 15 and 5 minutes apart, lasting for about 30 seconds. I spent the next 2.5 hours in the bath tub going through my contractions with Rozy there rubbing my shoulders and holding me up, while Devin packed the hospital bag and got the car ready.
At midnight, I got out of the tub and started bouncing on a giant exercise ball to relieve the immense pressure building around my tailbone. The contractions were now consistently 5 minutes apart, getting really close to a full minute in length and taking me out at the knees every time I tried to stand up. Then, out of nowhere, the contractions jumped to 2 minutes apart lasting for a full minute every time. Devin, Rozy and I all looked at each other wide-eyed and semi-freaking out, like OK it's game time! My doula was on speakerphone and urging us to get to the Birth Center ASAP otherwise we were about to have an accidental home birth.
July 25: After what seemed like the longest, worst car ride of my life (picture Devin driving the fastest yet somehow the safest he's ever driven meanwhile I'm in the back seat screaming at the top of my lungs down the 5 South), we arrived at UCSD Birth Center at 1:45am. Seeing my doula's face in the parking lot was the biggest sense of relief I'd felt all night. Her strong, reassuring embrace, combined with Devin's supportive energy behind me -- I knew everything was going to be OK.
As soon as we got checked into our birthing suite, the midwife came in and did my first pelvic exam. She happily reported, "You're 5 centimeters dialated! Congratualtions, you labored half way at home!" At that point, we were so excited to hear the progress we'd made, but also nervous of what's to come. To be completely honest, the next hour of my life was a blur. I was set up in this big, beautiful, sturdy 4 poster King sized bed where I alternated between clenching the headboard, laying on my side in fetal pose, moving into a table top position, occasional cat and cow poses, upright holding onto the bed frame, and eventually ended up on my back in a variation of happy baby pose.
One hour after checking in, at 2:45am, the midwife came back in to check our progress and quickly blurted out, "You're 10 centimeters! The baby's head is right here, do you want to feel it?" OMG. Words cannot describe the panic I felt at that moment. Everything had progressed so quickly and now the baby was actually coming! All I could think was, we were just watching sunset, just the two of us, like 5 hours ago, how did this happen so fast?!?!
The midwife called her team of nurses in to quickly prep for a birth nobody was truly ready for. Looking back, I think me being a first time mom, they maybe thought I was exaggerating in describing the intensity of the contractions. Or maybe, from their experience, they thought I would get "stuck" somewhere between 5 and 10 centimeters and we'd have at least another day before baby, which happens quite often. Either way, all 6 women in the room plus Devin, all at once, collectively realized that my water hadn't broken, this baby was coming en caul (inside her amniotic sac) and there was no stopping her! My doula had to constantly remind me to keep breathing and stop clenching. Ironic, I know, considering that I've been teaching this to other people for more than 5 years. Subconsciously, or rather very consciously, I was trying to hold her in. I was trying to slow down the process, and somehow enjoy the moment, but she had already decided that this was her time. With fierce conviction, my doula urged me to listen to baby Luna. Through every contraction, Tema reminded me to talk to her, connect with her, breathe and open up to this experience.
Lying flat on my back, with Devin behind me massaging my shoulders, Tema on my left side doing aromatherapy and holding a mirror so Devin could the progression, my midwife told me to really bear down. After 10 minutes of deep, focused pushing (what felt like pushing out a water balloon since she was still in her sac), baby made her way through little by little. First the head, then the shoulders, and as the bottom half of her body came through, she stretched her little right arm out straight and burst through her sac. Devin was able to watch the whole thing happen. As the water poured out of me, baby Luna emerged down her very own slip-and-slide and was quickly placed on my belly. From there, she did the famous "breast crawl" in which newborns instinctively army crawl up your body and find the breast on their own. She searched around for a few seconds, then tried to latch on and nurse. Meanwhile, I birthed the placenta after just a few quick pushes. Compared to a baby, the placenta felt like nothing! We delayed umbilical cord cutting and kept her connected to her placenta for another 10 minutes, until it naturally stopped pulsing.
By 2:59am, after 6 hours of active labor (5 at home and one in the birth center), our sweet baby girl had arrived! Weighing in at 6 pounds 14 ounces and 19 inches long, Luna Wild Burstein came out with a full head of blonde silvery hair and bright blue eyes. My favorite part of the whole labor experience was the few hours following her arrival. Between 3 and 5am, she laid right on my chest for some precious skin-to-skin bonding and learning together how to nurse. After that, I needed some time to clean up and process everything that had happened, so she went over to Devin for father-daughter bonding. Around 6am, I crawled back in bed with the two of them and together, we watched the sunrise from the window of our birthing suite, as a family of 3. I hadn't cried at all during the labor, I was more in shock and struggling to find my breath, but at that moment, as the sun came up on Monday morning, July 25th 2016, I finally broke down. She was finally here! I did it! We did it! In the end, it was much quicker, more painful and intense than I ever could have imagined (the midwives called it a precipitous birth, aka"FAST AND FURIOUS") but I am happy to say we ended up having the all-natural, unmedicated birth we had dreamed of and prepared for.
Our little baby girl had arrived safe and healthy earthside, in her very own water world! In the coming days, we would find out that being born en caul has a very special meaning. Many cultures believe that "caulbearers" have psychic abilities, are natural healers, and have a special connection with the ocean. During my pregnancy, she was alongside me as I taught hundreds of yoga classes, led many moon circles and goddess gatherings, and she even experienced a temazcal (Indian sweat lodge) while inside my belly. Her connection to the divine seems to have been established long ago. In the 6 weeks since her birth, she has already taught me so much about myself and the power of the divine feminine. I cannot wait to see what other lessons this little mermaid is here to teach us!