Serena Rose Hunter Black was born at 10 pm EST on July 9 at The Birth Cottage, as planned. She was born in the birth tub and caught by her dad. Her sister cut the cord like she’d been wanting to. Serena Rose weighed 10 pounds 7 ounces, is 23 inches long and has very soft golden hair and dark blue eyes.
The birth was attended by my wonderful and beloved cazador, both our kids, sandhawke, queen_of_wands and my mother and stepfather, as well as an apprentice midwife, Natanya, and Adrian Feldhusen, one of the midwives who runs the center. It was the perfect combination of loving support, and I’m deeply grateful to all of them.
Serena is the Spanish word for Serenity, and is pronounced so that it almost rhymes with henna but is also sort of like seh-RAIN-ah and has a sweet rolling ‘r’ in the middle. If you speak Spanish you can probably say it more clearly than I can; if not just have Martin or I pronounce it for you.
Rose is a beautiful flower and also a verb. Hunter Black is our family names, Martin’s and mine.
My coven gathered on Sunday night for a Kabbalah workshop I’d expected to miss due to being home with a new baby. I was eleven days past due at that point and starting to feel very cranky and depressed about it, just this overwhelming sense that I could not actually give birth to this baby. My body had gotten so big I couldn’t walk well; my round ligaments would spasm and leave me on the floor crying in pain if I walked more than a few steps. I spent a lot of the night lying down.
At the end of the class, they offered to do some energy work for me to help call the baby. It was a very polite, sweet ritual with my beloved covenistas holding my exhausted body and encouraging the baby to be born when the baby is ready. There was some lovely chanting and prayer in Pagan and Hebrew contexts, and a beautiful intention to support a healthy birth, a healthy mom and a healthy baby.
And then I grabbed one of my coven sisters and said, “Look, I can feel you holding back on this. Don’t be afraid to hurt me. Nothing you can do to me would be worse than a medical induction and I am running out of time.”
So they got serious about laying on hands and moving energy down and through my body. It clearly hurt and exhausted the woman driving the energy, who needed a lot of tending afterward. But I woke up Monday in labor, so the effort was not wasted.
We’d stayed Sunday night at sandhawke‘s house, and in the morning cazador went to work for a few hours while S worked at home and the kids and I watched a movie in bed. The pains got steadily more intense but stayed pretty far apart – 8-9 min – until lunchtime when M came back to be with me and S went to MIT. queen_of_wands arrived and I labored quietly and easily at the house for another four hours with wonderful support from her, getting gradually more intense and closer, until around 4 when we decided to head up to the birth center.
By the time we got there at 5 it was clear this was where we needed to be; I was starting to have contractions too powerful to walk, let alone talk, through. That said, the first two hours there were pretty easy. The Queen came right along behind us with Rio, Sandro arrived with Ian, my mom and stepdad showed up with movies and snacks for the kids and I tried to sit and socialize with everyone for awhile. Things seemed to be going really well.
The labor had been gently ramping up from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and then it hit me like a hitting thing. Around 8 I started feeling very tired, and in a lot of pain. Adrian was not there yet, and the apprentice midwife and my mom were very invested in this Tough Love routine to try to get me to breathe more deeply and relax my body. They were coaching me through each contraction, saying “Relax your shoulders. Don’t use your vocal chords. Take deep breaths. Every time you use your vocal chords you make the labor last longer. When you tense your upper body you are tensing your cervix, don’t do that. You need to be selfless for the baby. You need to take deeper breaths. We have to be tough with you for the baby’s sake.”
I’d been at the birth center for about three hours and had only been seriously tripped out in Laborland for about an hour. My vitals and the baby’s were consistently great, and my first labor had lasted 36 hours. Which is all to say, I am Not Convinced that I needed this much babysitting/coaching at this point in the labor.
It was all good advice, given with love and a lot of encouragement about how awesome I was, how strong and brave and successful, but in my Laborland head trippy place I was hearing it in a way that made me feel very all or nothing. If I can’t do these contractions in perfect, grounded centered silence, I cannot do them at all and I am hurting my baby to even try. Since I couldn’t do exactly what was being asked, I started feeling like a total failure. Every time my mother said “Don’t use your vocal chords, just breathe with me” I’d try and then scream “NO! Fuck you! I can’t do this!” Eventually I forgot what I was saying no to and starting rejecting the labor itself, just screaming “NO” when a contraction started (which feels really good, since it has that deep low O sound).
At one point Natanya told me she was afraid I was sabotaging my labor, willing something to go wrong like it had the first time, which was sort of true. Still believing I was in early labor and imagining another 12 to 15 hours of steadily increasing pain, I responded by saying, “OK, I am sabotaging my labor. Can we just take me to the hospital and get it over with?” and then insisting that I wanted someone to come with an ambulance and knock me unconcious. Wake me up after my C-section, please. I feel ashamed and confused about my willingness to give up there, and have been chewing over it a lot this week.
queen_of_wands saved the day with a Third Road option: can you try one contraction the way the midwife is asking to do it? she asked. I could, and it immediately helped lessen the pain; Natanya was 100% right in all the things she wanted me to do, she just wasn’t very effective at getting me to cooperate with her. Natanya contracted with me for another ten minutes of labor time, saying she’d be back at 9, and said she’d look into getting me to a hospital if that was what I really wanted after another exam.
Then she left and there was this long moment where cazador and sandhawke and the Queen just held me around the birth tub. We talked a little, they kept encouraging me in creative, positive ways. I’d yell NO and M would say, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”, S made me laugh somehow, the Queen priestessed the center. Every contraction got a little easier. I realized quickly I’d be fine having the baby right where I was. I didn’t say so, because I was afraid things would get worse again, but I don’t remember anyone talking about a hospital again during the labor.
Natanya came back half an hour later, not ten minutes, though Martin said she peeked in and saw I was doing better so she stayed away. She had me get out of the tub and into bed, and when I declared my intention to pee on the waterproof pad in the bed she said, “You can walk to the bathroom, please do.” And you know, she was just wrong about that. I could not walk to the bathroom. But M and S could carry me most of the way there, or at least stop me from injuring myself when I slid to the floor. I crawled the last bit. Very slowly, with a lot of physical support just to keep me on my hands and knees. Like, stayed still for a contraction, slid forward a bit and contracted again, etc. Don’t imagine for a second I managed to control my bladder the whole way there, but I made the trip.
When we got back to the bed, she finally did the exam and found that I was about ready to have the baby, somewhere between 8 and 9 centimeters. We did a few intense contractions on all fours in bed before the midwives came back and asked me where I wanted to have the baby. I was feeling kind of panicked because I was starting to feel pushy and had not been given the go ahead to push – I remembered being told I was 9 and a half centimeters dilated with Rio and then being rushed to the hospital when I started feeling pushy.
This time I got back in the tub and Adrian came into the room and said “Go ahead”. I was so happy. I could not believe her at first and held back for another contraction so I could ask if she really meant it. Yeah, go ahead she said. No more exams, no more challenges or instructions, just “Go ahead”.
So I did. Letting Serena come out was the most incredible sensation, and I loved how alone I got to be with it. No one told me what to do, or interfered with my body. The midwives asked me to check how she was coming and I just put my hands between my legs and could feel her inside me, moving down. The bag of waters was intact until the last contraction; I held it in my hand as she began to crown and it burst in my fingers. When she was coming out, I remembered we’d forgotten to take out my clit jewelry and I just reached down and held it with my fingers so it wouldn’t stretch or tear. Her head came out and her shoulders stuck for a moment, and the midwife was so calm, she said just wait for another contraction and we did and then she slid out of my body in one squirt, straight into Martin’s waiting hands.
The whole “pushing stage” lasted about five minutes. Then there she was in the water. Martin laid her on my chest and everyone exclaimed how beautiful and peaceful she was. She was totally limp and did not breathe or cry or move and for a moment I worried about her. Then she began to snore and I realized she had just slept through her birth!
We were all so sure I was having a boy, voices around me said “Oh he’s beautiful! He’s so big! He’s so calm!” and then I looked and said, ‘Oh Martin! He’s a girl!” Sandro handed Rio off to Martin and she came over so reverently to touch her new sister in the water, gently caressing her face and hands. After a few minutes we moved to the bed, where we all cuddled for about an hour. The midwives did a newborn exam right on the bed, and my mother and Rio dressed the baby in her first clothes.
Gradually people went home. My mom took Rio back to her house for the night and S took Ian. By the time Serena was two hours old, we were alone with the Queen and the midwife. I got up to take a shower, almost fainted, waited fifteen minutes and tried again with more success. It took about an hour of moving very slowly and lying down to rest between projects, but I got cleaned and dressed while The Queen loaded our van.
By the time Serena was four hours old Martin, baby and I were snuggled in our bed at home, which had been amazingly cleaned by the unstoppable roozle and primal_pastry. Everyone got a great night’s sleep.
The birth did not feel like a great accomplishment. People kept saying how amazing I was, how powerful and strong. I kept feeling like I was cranky and weak-willed and wished I’d been more centered-in-my-power about the whole thing. It’s odd because after Rio was born, even with all the complications and the trip to the hospital, I felt amazingly powerful, like I could do anything. And this time I felt like “Of course I could do that thing. What’s wrong with me that I ever questioned myself?” On the other hand, in the whole long hard labor with Rio, I never lost it like I did with this one and I wonder if there’s a connection. Not sure which way the causality works – did I lose my mind because my body did as much work in two hours of this labor as it did in 15 hours of labor with my first baby, or did my body work so efficiently because I let myself go totally into the labor without holding onto a cord of polite dignity?
A word about water birth: not only did giving birth to a ten and a half pound baby not particularly hurt (though it was incredibly intense), there was no tearing or even abrasion and within 48 hours I felt more like I’d had kind of rough sex than like I’d pushed something the size of a bowling ball through my vagina. I gave birth to Rio, who was not small either at 9 pounds six ounces, in a conventional hospital setting – epidural, on my back, etc. – and could not sit down for a week. Which is to say, if you are going to have a baby, do it in the water if at all possible. At least if your body is anything like mine.
Serena is this amazing sacred gift, and I feel deeply grateful that I had the chance to birth her so simply, but it also seems so obvious that birth would go that way it’s hard to feel mighty for having weathered it.
The days since have been a blur of wonderful visitors, great moments with our new family and physical challenges. I caught a stomach virus that had me vomiting for 24 hours on the second day post-partum, and Martin had a milder version which kept him under the weather for about three days. I’m getting better at the rapid rate I hoped for now though, and am throbbingly grateful for the loving support I’ve received from friends and family. People have been incredibly present with food and help with kid care. primal_pastry basically adopted Rio for two days after the birth, and others have stepped in to help with her transition as well. I’m so grateful to all of you.
Serena’s as calm as her name suggests. She sleeps all the time, so much that I have to pump milk because she only wants to wake to nurse every few hours. She gets mad when she’s wet or hungry, but has so far been easy to comfort and generally calm and happy. She’s beautiful, and when she’s awake she’s fascinated by light and by her father’s face. Her body is perfect in every way. I continue to be staggered by how large she is. As roozle put it “What’s it feel like to give birth to a six week old?” She can not only lift her head, but hike herself up on her shoulders to move her head around to a more cozy position. She rolled herself over at 14 hours old. The newborn clothes and receiving blankets we had prepared are too small for her. Etc. It’s interesting.
I’m sure this is the first of hundreds of posts about how amazing she is, so I’ll bring it to a close with the song from Witchcamp I keep singing to her.
Life is the light at the heart of the Rose
All of love covers the earth
All of love the limitless dancing
Rise sleeper, kiss me and open
Rise sleeper and dream no more
More birth photos are here. Those are all from the first two hours after birth (and not new to anyone who saw them posted in sandhawke‘s journal). More will be posted as I get it together. Also videos.
Sierra Black is a blogger, writer and mother. Her personal essays have appeared in Mothering Magazine, the New York Times and Babble. Sierra writes primarily about parenting, personal finance and green living. When she’s not chasing deadlines or toddlers, Sierra spends her time gardening, crafting and finding new non-toxic ways to get crayon off the walls. Before she answered to Mommy, Sierra was a features reporter for the Eagle-Tribune newspaper. Check out her personal blog, ChildWild.