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Sofia Fonseca's Home Birth of Twins
This is the story of the birth of our twins at home. It was our third birth. The first was at a hospital, and the second at a birthing center. For all the planning and preparation that went into our homebirth, all the milestones we had to pass to have a so-called high risk delivery, as a twin delivery is routinely termed, it was not recorded by video cameras or photographs as I had originally intended. I suppose the story was meant to be passed on in written form. This story can be written because two individuals: my husband George and our midwife Pat Jones supported me in the decision to birth at home pretty much against the whole world. They held a place for me to find and follow my motherly instincts and to keep my faith in myself and in the birthing process. They stood alone in a crowd of disbelievers, supporting me in spite of their own fears.
Ten days before this night that was about to unfold, the doctor that along with Pat had been checking our pregnancy progress, conclusively said that he would deliver the babies by c-section because one baby was breeched. Our doctor was one of three in Houston that would even consider a natural birth for twins. He admitted that the c-section was necessary as protection for himself because he had been sued before, not because of the conditions of my twins: their considerably smaller size than our 9 pound 2 ounce second son Marco being a most important one. The risks associated with a twin birth exist, and have led to a practice of predominantly c-section deliveries. Set against the background of these risks, our choice was one to test our faith and our trust in the process of life.
For 38 weeks, I watched my body developing the miracle of new life. My job was to provide the right ingredients for the recipe through proper nutrition. God's life force created the miracle. I rested well and exercised. I kept a modicum of peace and serenity while we remodeled our home, and went through the life changing decision of closing my husband's law practice of 10 years and seeing him accept a job at another firm. But my body acting as God's laboratory created the miracle of new life.
This laboratory of my body is part of the earth, shaped by the same forces that shaped mountains and oceans. My muscles moved with the forces of nature, like the tides respond to the phases of the moon. They extended to create first a home for the babies and in due time opened a path for them to exit to the world. A slow vibration, the rhythm of life that fashioned my belly into a 45 cm round ball, set into my uterus around 1 am on June 7th, 2004.
The night labor began, we had made a list of things left to do: buy the video camera, make the comfrey tea compresses, wash the last batch of receiving blankets, put together the bassinets, borrow the double stroller, and install the car seats. The rocking of the contractions came and went. After lying on my left side for an hour timing contractions, I woke up George. Hearing the words: "I am in labor" startles him every time. They startle me as in uttering them, I get their finality - the end of my pregnancy and imminent arrival of our babies. We called our midwife. After just a few more contractions that were quite long, we got busy very quickly. George made the comfrey tea used as postpartum remedy for my healing, and got his tarps to protect the newly installed carpet. I started washing clothes and helped prepare the two layers of plastic and two sets of sheets that George would put on our bed for the babies' delivery. When the contractions came we would drop everything and I would get on my knees, or hang on to George's neck, or I would fold myself over a chair. As the contractions got huge, having pressure on the small of my back would be all that could help some and George was there each time to apply it, respectful, present and so helpful.
Our oldest son Stefan who is 6.5 awoke around 2:30 am. Our little boy is in tune with me. Just as he predicted I was pregnant before anyone else, he may have sensed that the babies were arriving. I let him know that I would be roaring like a lion soon, as we had practiced in our sibling birth class, and I suggested he go back to bed because it would take a while. He did.
When Pat arrived at 4:30 am I had labored for 3 hours walking around the house, doing laundry, getting things ready. I was ready to go upstairs, starting to feel overwhelmed by the contractions. She found me on all fours, half way through the stairs, breathing deeply. I was beginning to shut off the external world. I heard her encourage me: "That is great work Sofia." My body was opening up making way for the babies' arrival and I needed to let go of all other connections. I closed my eyes at this point and barely opened them for the next 2 hours until the first baby arrived at 6:30.
The second midwife Happy and the birth assistants, Dore and Pam, arrived at some point, Pam carrying her baby on a sling. Pat had put together a team of four, two persons for each baby. Between the contractions, I could feel Pat quietly preparing the room. I glimpsed at an oxygen tank and fetal monitors on my way from the bathroom to the bed. My husband was busy taping tarps and sheets down over the carpet. He would come to my side when the contractions came, which was very often now. I was focused inwardly.
I was entering the deep stages of labor where the body takes over, and my will has to surrender fully to its work. Modern science has intercepted at this stage with pain medication. I received analgesics and an epidural during the birth of our first son at the hospital. Medication created a barrier between my sensations and the world. With it, I became removed from myself and felt no pain. At the birthing center and at home I birthed without pain medication. Birthing naturally, I felt part of the process one inch at a time, letting my muscles do their miraculous work, while I did the frightening and magnificent work of surrendering. Birthing taught me my limits, and expanded my courage as I faced my pain.
I allowed my body to dictate fully where and how to labor. A dance of sorts began. My body moved from place to place to its own rhythm. I sat on a chair, on the bed, on the toilet, got on all fours. I followed the lead of wisdom much greater and more ancient than my own. In pregnancy, I trusted my body's wisdom to create these babies under God's watch. Now my body knew the best way to birth our babies if I just let it. I could not succumb to my fear, or let the pain divert me from this truth. I had to surrender, to get out of my own way. I had to swim into the pain, let the pain be my friend. I had to remember that each painful contraction was a wave that was making way for the babies, and with each I was that much closer to having them in my arms. The pain is not me, but mine. "In the midst of darkness, I will praise God, who gives me life."
Around 5:30 am the contractions were rippling through my body and I was roaring with each of them in full surrender. I had laid down on George's side of the bed. It felt safer. Marco, our 3 year old son walked into our room between two contractions around 6 am, when I was doing my hardest labor. I reached across the bed to hold his little hand and assured him I was fine even though I was roaring very strongly now. He roared once with me, when a contraction came and then told me he would be watching TV with his brother downstairs. I remained in that unusual position that I taken in reaching for my little boy's hand, with my lower body facing up and my upper body turned down. It felt so right. I believe this is when the baby that had been breached turned. I was sweating intensely. There was a belt of pain low in my pelvis, connected to my back. My uterus would tighten, become very hard. I was in a zone, with my faith in God and my hand wrapped tightly around George's.
The first baby moved deep into the pelvis. I felt burning, a tight sensation, an irresistible urge to push coupled with the fear that if I did the pain might be more than I could bear, because I already felt at the edge of all pain. I took a deep breath and said loudly: "I can't do this," to which I heard a resounding: "Yes, you can, you are doing it" from Pat. I grabbed on to the bed sheet, looking for my strength. Happy, the second midwife, put her hand on mine and I held it with might. There are acupressure points in the hand that assist in labor, not that I was thinking of that in that moment, but again the body on its own looks for what it needs to deliver the baby. My husband's hand was an anchor and now I had another one.
This small gesture from someone in the delivery team shows their attentiveness to my needs, their watchfulness and respect, their trust that I could birth these babies. They never interfered with the unfolding of the birth, except to let it happen safely, to respond to me when I needed or requested something. They were there to assist me, but I only noticed them in small moments like that. They checked the babies' heart rates with the fetal monitors regularly, and my blood pressure. In all they did, much of which I am counting on my husband's story to tell because my eyes where closed, they preserved the sacredness of the space that birthing safely requires. Because of that profound respect they allowed, I could feel closer to God than I have ever felt. I thought of the Virgin Mary, alone with Joseph in a poor manger. She did this. She pushed Jesus into the world.
I knew the baby was coming fast, and I screamed that loudly next: "This baby is coming." It is liberating for me during labor, as in all of life, to say loudly what I am feeling. Hearing someone outside of my cave respond to me, helps me validate my sensations and I become grounded. In the space of a few seconds I realized that pushing was the only option. All I had to do was push, the first willful act that my body needed from me after having surrendered up to now. The burning sensation was tremendous. I felt the baby right against the end of my spine. Pat suggested I turn over so that I could catch my baby, and I did. With the next contraction I pushed with a large grunt, feeling my baby move to the edge of me. "Touch your baby's head Sofia," Pat said holding up a mirror for me to see. "The baby's head was there." I had done it. "With the next push Sofia, the baby will be out." And it was, a round beautiful head of dark hair, a baby half way between my womb and the world. George and I were crying.
With the next push the shoulders were out. George from one side and I from the other held this 6 pound 3 ounce slippery little body under the arms. I felt our child traveling skin to skin out the birth canal one quick inch at a time. The sacredness of our vagina. The first skin to skin contact for most babies. George said: "Oh my God. Our baby," and we continued to cry of joy in seeing the perfection of this newborn. George asked what sex it was and Pat said we should check ourselves. It took us a minute of sheer enjoyment in watching the baby laying over my chest and rubbing her back before I pulled her up to check. "A girl. It is a girl." More tears of gratefulness fell between my husband and me. Pat clamped the chord and asked if we wanted to say something before cutting it. "Welcome little girl. God blesses you each moment of your life. May you know deep joy and profound love. We love you." Just as I said that and we were beginning to dry her with warm towels, a powerful contraction indicated there would be little time before the arrival of our fourth child. After both babies were in my arms, I would find out that this first baby had two loops of chord around the neck. Pat removed them with such ease that I never even felt it happening.
Holding on to the first baby with my left arm and to George's hand with my right hand, I let the second set of contractions take over my body again. I sensed the fear that this baby had been breeched. Would it be head first now? I touched that fear lightly and prayed to Mary: " Mother, You birthed at a manger alone in your husband's presence. Make me strong. Be with us." The fear was smaller than my trust. I measured them against each other, and trust measured higher.
God was with me. I felt loved. And I cried: "Mami, Mama" like a long slow uttering springing forth and beckoning at the same time all the true love I have ever felt in my life, starting with my mother's love, that ever present unconditional love, from which all other loves of mine spring. I then felt my father's love. He was coming from far away to be with us, heeding a most unreasonable request of mine that he come to be with me during the birth, in spite of all the reasons there were for him not to come. I sunk into that love as the contractions took me to the tunnel of life. I held on to my husband's hand feeling his love like the only IV I needed for this process. On the other arm, my precious, healthy, beautiful newborn, a daughter, more love than I could comprehend. In love, I was in a space of power and strength and mightiness. "Let's do this." My bag of waters broke with a popping sound, sprinkling all the attendants that had moved very closely to me, to check for head or toes. This was a most holy of sprinklings, considering all the love I was feeling, and yet even in the pain, I found a quick second of humor in seeing all these faces turn away. God has a sense of humor, I thought. The contractions again caused me to groan. This baby was at the door too. It felt larger. It moved down, and I could feel my skin defining the circumference of a head. A head!!! Such pain and such joy along with Pat's words: "Look at your baby's head Sofia. Touch it." I had one baby in my arms and was touching the head of the second. What wealth of emotions. What power, what love, in the beginning of life. I felt the overwhelming sensation that I was in the presence of a miracle, and I need not any more grunts or screams. In the presence of the gift of another baby arriving head first, I needed silence. The next three pushes were precise, reverent and quiet. The baby was out with the first, one chord turn around the neck, easily removed again. The next two pushes brought the baby out, gently gliding through me into George's and my hands.
Such joy in seeing another healthy, perfect baby!! Covered in white with another long, warm umbilical chord connecting us, the baby came up to my chest. I was thankful dear Lord. I am so thankful!! George was carefully cleansing her with a towel. We still did not know the sex. We were admiring our 2 babies in my arms. They both had eyes wide open, taking in their world, alert and calm. Neither of them had cried. They were peaceful. They were home. "Let's check honey." "A girl!!. We have two daughters, my love." Just like my father predicted, dreaming of them when I announced I was pregnant with twins.
A ray of daylight came in through the window on to my chest, that beautiful morning light that comes into our bed in the morning. I told George that we should find the song "Morning has broken" and play it. No need to go anywhere. Pat broke into song and the rest of us in the room followed with a hum. Morning has broken like the first morning- the Lord has spoken- we've kept our faith. Our babies' welcome.
Stefan walked in the room when both babies were in my arms, the second still connected to me. He took a peak and left again. We had given the choice of coming or going as they wanted in seeing the babies' birth. They had prepared in a sibling class with Pat the week before and seen a video. Most people were concerned about the decision of involving the children in the birth. I believe that having the boys in the house during the delivery gave them both a sense of respect for their sisters and me. They have been loving, careful and attentive without a trace of jealousy.
I asked for the phone to call my mother who lives next door to me. She had been so concerned, and yet, since I told her about my decision to birth at home, she had kept all her worries to herself. I thank her immensely for that. "You have two beautiful new granddaughters mom." I knew she could not take in what I had said. "What are you saying?" "Your granddaughters have been born." "How come you have not called me?" "Everything has happened very quickly." "Are you OK?" "Yes mom. Come now." Mom arrived before the second chord was cut, and we both cried of joy together. She put her hand in George's as he cut the chord and we gave our blessing again.
We had no names for our babies that seemed fitting for such glorious moment. They were baby A and baby B for a week. We wanted to find names that reflected the beauty of their personalities, and also of the birth- names that spoke of songs, joy and hearing God's voice. We found Sabrina, for princess and Estela, for star.
After nursing the babies for two hours, Pat prepared an herbal bath for me and the newborns, warm delicious coffee colored water to soothe my aching body in the glow of a candle lit bathroom. I sat up for a moment rubbing my belly with deep appreciation, recognizing I was home of my children to whom the Kingdom of Heaven belongs.
Our midwife is an angel God put on my path to allow trust to blossom fully in my heart. She has given me room to feel my power as a woman, to experience the wisdom of my body, to feel the spiritual journey of bringing life into the world. In the space she and my husband created for me I have felt the sacredness of birth, the healing power of God working inside me and the overflow of that grace and love into my marriage and my most important relationships. I have birthed two babies, one marriage and a new woman.
Through my children's births, I have come to see most clearly Who I Am. The births of our 2 older sons taught me what was required and possible in birthing. In birthing our twins at home, I have learned to listen to my voice, to my body and to the will of God. In becoming a mother, I have become myself and as such my whole life culminates in this last birthing experience.
Thank you, dear Pat, for your courage and for the conviction of your vocation. I pray that you may open the door for many more women to feel the call to be midwives and for more to want to feel the beauty, the strength and the sacredness of the birthing experience in birthing at home. Thank you Happy, Dore and Pam for believing in me. Thank you George, my love, for being the faithful companion of yet the most important journey of my heart.
Sofia Fonseca de Niņo - June 2004
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