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Birthing Asha, a letter to my 6-day old son

Klara Miller

Words by Allison Korn

Asha, this is your story.

I reach down and feel your head between my legs, touching your beautiful body for the first time with my hands. I am squatting on Marco’s knees. I push down once more – the rest of your tiny body slides out. You are here! I pull you up to my chest, holding you there, in awe. I feel so much love for you and so much joy. I hold your tiny body in my arms and spill my love to you through words. You don’t make a single cry, but slowly open one eye, then the other, and look up at me for the first time. The doula tells me, “Look, he recognizes his mama’s voice!” as you peer up at me, seeing this world on the outside for the first time. I am so happy that you are born; so happy that you are born in peace; so happy to be alive and present for your birth.

How can I find the right words to tell you how beautiful and healing your birth was? Do I start by telling you about your older brother, Lucas’s, birth? They pulled him out of my belly under glaring white lights, but this, I don’t remember. I was unconscious. For four days and nights my body had worked through excruciating pain to bring him down and out. My son’s birth wasn’t supposed to be like this. My dream had been to birth him naturally, in the calm of our own home.

Now, I remember your daddy, Marco, gently shaking my shoulder. I was so deeply asleep in a world of dreams that I didn’t want to leave. I finally did wake up from my profound unconscious slumber and Marco handed me our little Lucas. I was in a hospital gown with an IV in my arm. Had my baby been born already? Where had I been? Then I remembered feeling the scissors cutting into my skin, screaming to the doctors, filled with fear, realizing the anesthesia had not affected me as they began my c-section. A nurse had run over to me and shoved a mask over my face. Your brother was thus born and I had been dreaming, unconscious. I met him an hour later, and fell in love with him at once. I now know that it is possible to be filled with immeasurable love and immense pain in one single moment.

How do I know just where your story begins, Asha? With the night I was sitting on the couch with Marco and Lucas watching a movie, and Marco turned to look at me with that strange look? “I think you’re pregnant,” he said, and I laughed, because how could I be? We had been using contraception, and there was no way.

A few days later I sat by myself at a table in The Penny coffee shop, while outside snow was blowing every-which-way, knowing that the pregnancy test that I had just thrown in the bathroom trash might have a faint, but undeniably present, second blue line that told me you were really here. I sat staring at a book I had open in front of me, tables of people chattering around me, not knowing what to do and filled with disbelief. Time slowed and opened. I was not ready to be pregnant again. I felt alone, lost, and so out of control. Both Marco and I were struggling to finish Master’s programs, rarely able to keep our heads above water as we tried with all our might to find a balance between the academic pressure of the program, giving Lucas the time, love, and attention he needed and we wanted to give him, and nurturing our own relationship as partners.  The idea of being pregnant with so much instability filled me with fear.

I cried a lot in the beginning. Most of the thoughts that raced through my head were driven by fear. But behind all that fear, I knew that our lives needed to be joined in this way and that you came to us for a reason. My doubts often got the best of me in those first few weeks; I tried to be mindful of them. And despite all my emotional instability, I had a solid and steady knowledge, like an undercurrent, that told me that you would bring me peace; that you were peace. You were coming, and I needed to deal with my fears. Asha, you would help me do that. Often I felt guilty that I was not able to give you my best energy. The beautiful thing is that I knew you understood that this was part of my path –  part of our path – and that you had come to help me grow and overcome this fear.

With each day, I accepted and embraced my pregnancy more. I continued to meditate and would always come back to my breath when the world got too big for me. I joined a Tai Chi class. Most of my classmates were living the last years of their lives; I was “the young one” and had a brand new life beginning inside of me. One evening, the instructor gave a demonstration. I sat on the floor and watched, hands on my growing belly, soaking in the simple grace of his movements and the flowing energy he created and worked with. I felt so happy to bring you, my Asha, into a world where so much beauty and joy existed.

And through all this painful and wonderful growth, I learned a beautiful thing: that nothing is forever. As things die, new things are born. I began to work on healing from Lucas’s traumatic birth. I realized that during his birth I had been too scared and timid to stand up for what I needed, I had been too quiet, too willing to please. I could not let this happen again for your birth. I began a wonderful process of healing that has made me into a stronger, more confident woman. Most importantly, I have become honest with myself and know who I am. Asha, you were with me on this whole journey, giving me guidance, giving me peace. What a hard path it was, but how it made me grow! I could not be your mother without having gone through this pain and healing.

Five weeks before you were born, we moved all of our belongings in 7 suitcases to Montreal, where we stayed for three weeks. We needed to do this because we were given an appointment for an interview at the U.S. consulate in Montreal in order for Marco to get his U.S. residency. Montreal was a lovely space for leaving Lethbridge behind and for preparing myself for a new life in Ecuador, where we had decided to move back to for your birth, Asha. It was hard to leave Lethbridge, not because I loved the life I had there, but because it had become comfortable. Now I felt like I was about to jump off a cliff into the unknown, moving back to Ecuador and having a new baby all at once. But I worked with my fears, and realized that I could either be afraid of jumping off, or excited for the thrill of the unknown. I chose the latter. Two days after the interview, we spent three tired days of flying to finally arrive in Cuenca. Two weeks later (three weeks before your due date), you came so quickly into our lives that we didn’t even have time to think about what was really happening. All we could do was be present, instinctive, and give ourselves in to your birth.  

The day you were born, Lucas, Marco and I went to the zoo in Cuenca. I had been feeling so tired lately – this pregnancy was physically much harder than Lucas’s, with aches and pains and lots of dips in energy. The zoo was a steep, uphill hike, and because we had just arrived to Andes of Ecuador two weeks before, I was still adjusting to the altitude and was constantly short of breath. I decided to stop after only ten minutes of the uphill hike, and waited for Lucas and Marco to explore the zoo on their own, as we were literally the only people in it. There I sat, on a bench that had a beautiful view of the city, for an hour and a half, with nothing but a bottle of water. I took this time to breathe deeply and to meditate.

I think I instinctively knew that you might be coming soon, but my mind still wanted to believe I had another three weeks before you were to come, enough time to finish unpacking from the move, wash Lucas’s old baby clothes, and have Lucas adjust to his new home and surroundings a bit more before he would meet you, his new little brother. But you came in your own perfect time. As I sat there by myself at the zoo looking over the city and at the mountains, I spoke to you and told you that I loved you and that when you came out I would be waiting with open arms to hold you close. I told you that it was okay for you to come out, that we were ready for you, with lots of love, no matter what. I felt at peace there, just sitting and breathing with you, looking out over the mountains.

After the zoo visit, we went to El Maíz Restaurant to have a nice lunch, and then came back home. Lucas went out with Marco. I was so tired and wanted to rest, but I felt like time was running out, and I wanted to finish planting some seeds I had been meaning to plant for a while. Later that evening, I started to cook dinner. Around 6:30, as I was cooking, I started to feel pressure on my belly, but I thought it must just be Braxton Hicks (practice) contractions. With one of them, though, the pressure was so strong it made me stop what I was doing and crouch down, but I still believed I had at least another three weeks till I would meet you.

When Marco and Lucas came home, I told them I had been feeling weird pressure, but that I was sure it was just Braxton Hicks. At 8:30, the pressure waves started getting measurable, about 7 minutes apart, lasting about a minute. At nine o’clock we put Lucas to bed, but in the middle of reading him a story, I told him I wouldn’t be able to continue because the pressure waves were getting stronger, so Marco finished putting him to bed. I told him his little brother might be coming soon, but I still didn’t totally believe it.

I went to lie down in my bed and started listening to the Hypnobabies CD. I did the Fear Clearing Session, which works on containing any fears you may have so that they don’t dominate you in that moment. As I listened, the pressure waves were getting intense, so I decided to go into hypnosis. My mind was not too focused on the track I was listening to, but the fears I brought up were of not being ready to have you come yet – in general, for a lack of confidence in myself in raising two young children, and in the practical sense – wanting Lucas to have a bit more time to adjust to his new home, this new country, and the new language, and me needing just one more day to get all of Lucas’s old baby clothes out of storage (we didn’t have any newborn clothes ready for you!).

Towards the end of the Fear Clearing Session, I felt I had to go to the bathroom. I had some diarrhea, and just as the voice on the Hypnobabies track was counting me out of hypnosis (still on the toilet), my legs started shaking. I went to lie down on the bed and then my whole body started shaking. “Oh, shit!” my mind raced, “I think I’m in transition!” (transition is the period right before the baby is born, and is often accompanied by shaking). This was the first moment I realized that I might really be in my birthing time. I really believe that dealing with my fears through hypnosis allowed my body to open up, and for my cervix to dilate even further.

I started listening to the track meant for the beginning of the birthing time. It was hard to “focus”, per se, but I think all the work was being done on the subconscious level, just as hypnosis should work, since I was just in a zone. Luckily, Lucas fell asleep quickly, and when Marco came out of his room, I told him he should call his sister, Gladys, and tell her tonight might be the night, and that she might have to come over and watch Lucas if we needed to leave. Right after, I told him to call our doctor, Elbia, who runs an independent birth center, just 5 minutes from our house. When she answered Marco’s call, she spoke in a whisper. She was attending another woman in her birthing time. Normally she would have come to our house to check on me, but because of this situation, she said we should come to the birthing center.

A taxi came. Still listening to the Hypnobabies tracks, I put on my slippers, slowly walked out to the dirt road, and got in. Marco grabbed a backpack and stuffed some “baby” clothes in it (it turned out everything he had put in was from when Lucas was a year old, way to big to ever fit a newborn, but they were the only clothes we had available since everything else was in storage). The cab driver looked shocked as I got in; I just kept my eyes closed and listened to the tracks. The pressure waves were intense, but I breathed through each one.

When we got to the birth center, the doctor, Elbia, was waiting for us at the door. I had to stay in the cab through one more pressure wave before I could get out. We then went upstairs and Elbia measured my dilation. It was about 9:45 pm. I had previously told her she could measure my dilation, but that I didn’t want to know what it measured was until I was at 10cm, ready to push. I had wanted this because with Lucas’s birth it had taken me 4 days to dilate to 10 cm, and I didn’t want to be discouraged if she told me I was not very dilated. So she measured me, smiled, and just said, “Good, you’re doing well!”

Then she held my hands, looked at me in the eyes, and said, “Everything is great, but I have to tell you something. Another woman is in her birthing time and you have to tell Asha to wait just a little bit before he can come out.” I said, “Okay”, but my body was not ready to wait. Just a week before, Elbia had told me that she had never attended two births at the same time because babies know when to come and space themselves accordingly. Well, babies do know when to come, but you were not going to space yourself at all!

Then a doula, Diane came in. She was a volunteer from Minnesota who lived half the year in Cuenca and the other half in Florida. We were supposed to have met her in a few days to see if we wanted her to be at the birth. Since the doctor and her assistant were the only ones attending two women and their partners birthing babies, Diane’s presence was definitely needed, and greatly appreciated. She came in, introduced herself, and said, “Wow! You’re already at 9cm!” She didn’t know I hadn’t wanted to know my dilation. In reality, I didn’t actually believe that I was at 9cm and I thought Diane must have been confused with the other woman who was birthing. But, she was right – I was 9cm only one hour after thinking that I might really be in my birthing time and three hours after starting to feel “weird Braxton Hicks pressure.”     

My pressure waves started getting much more intense – first I was just sitting on an exam table in the doctor’s office (the other woman was using the birthing room) and with each pressure wave I would hold Marco’s hands and we would chant a long “Peeeeace” together. “Peace” was a cue-word I had learned that brought me deeper into a relaxed hypnosis. I think I was still listening to a Hypnobabies track, but at some point the earbuds fell out of my ears. I didn’t care and just kept saying “peace” through every pressure wave. As each wave ended, I would smile and take a deep breath. It relaxed me and reminded me that this was all part of the beauty of bringing a new life into this world. I remember Diane, the doula, saying that we were the textbook perfect birth, so calm and working together. Soon the Peace-chants became deep and loud Peace-moans, and I started to feel a pressure pushing down inside of me. I got up on all fours on the table and rocked back and forth.

By then the doctor realized that you were not going to wait for the other couples’ baby to come out first, so they moved the other woman to different room and filled up the tub for me. I got in when the water was still shallow. I don’t remember feeling a great sensation of relief, as many people say about getting in the tub, but I did like it.  After a while (was it 5 minutes or two hours?), Elbia said that I was relaxing too much and that she thought I should get out to keep things moving. So I did and went back to her office space (we had to get creative since the birth center was only set up for one birth at a time and there were two babies ready to come out!). Looking back, I’m not sure if my pressure waves were actually getting less intense, or if I just seemed deceptively calmer because of the hypnosis doing its work.

I began pushing and it was hard work. Elbia kept telling me I had to focus my energy downwards. I would chant “Open, Open, Open, Come Down Asha!” Apparently I was fully dilated but you were not coming down into my birth canal. This is the one part of the birth that I would change if I could do it over. Although I was fully dilated and definitely feeling very pushy, I was able to breathe through my pushes, but Elbia told me I needed to push harder and stronger. With each wave I would push with all my might, but it seemed that nothing would bring you down. Now I know that you actually were coming down, just at your own relaxed pace.

“I can do this! I can do this!” I would shout – partly to release energy, partly to convince myself that this birthing feat was possible. Diane, the doula, would reply, “But, you are doing this! This is happening!” Finally I started to feel your body come down. Between pressure waves you would move back up. The doctor said I had to push with even more energy. I was pushing with all my might, so the idea of finding more oomph seemed pretty ridiculous to me. I remember thinking “this is purple pushing!” but I didn’t tell Elbia I didn’t want to be doing that. I think it was so hard to tell her because during Lucas’s birth I had pushed and pushed for what seemed like days, and he never was able to come out. I was afraid that you might get stuck like Lucas had. With you, I ended up pushing for about two hours, which now seems like a lot; in the moment it did not really seem that long, nor did it ever get overwhelming.

Now I see that I could have breathed you out, like I had wanted to, because eventually the pushes that I created with all my might began to be followed by some super-human powerful force over which I had absolutely no control and that surprised even myself. I now realize that these were the pushes that would have brought you out without all that imposed effort on my part. Though I was fully dilated, my body and you needed time to naturally descend into my birth canal, which you would have done anyway, had I just let my body do what it knew how to do.

Finally, I felt you coming down with those beautiful surges of energy that came when I let go of my control. My hips were opening. They said they could see your head, full of black hair, which made me so happy. Even at this point I was still smiling through some pressure waves and between the waves. I was so excited because you were finally coming and we were doing this together.

At this point I was on a birthing stool on the floor of Elbia’s office, with Marco supporting me from behind. Diane ran to get Elbia, who was with the other birthing couple. She ran in, saw that you were close to being born, and told me I should get on the table. She showed me how to sit on Marco’s legs, who would be behind me, so that when you came out I could just lean back and hold you in my arms. The last thing I wanted to do was move off that birthing stool, but in a momentous effort I quickly heaved myself up and onto the exam table and sat on Marco’s legs so that my butt was slightly elevated, while I leaned back on him and pushed.

As your head began to emerge, I felt what they call “the ring of fire”. I tried to breathe anesthesia there, like I had learned through the Hypnobabies program – I could not visualize it like I had when I practiced it, but the “ring of fire” didn’t actually feel so bad; again, I think all the hypnosis practice paid off on the subconscious level. Finally your head popped out. Whooo! What a beautiful feeling! I felt your round head right between my legs. Soon the rest of your body slipped out. I pulled you up to me and held you in my arms. It was like meeting someone I have known forever for the first time. You came out so quietly and peacefully, opening one eye and then the other, looking right up at me. I rubbed your whole body covered in white slimy vernix, telling you how much I loved you and what a great job you had done.

I took off my bra and you soon started nursing. I immediately felt cramping in my uterus. Our umbilical cord stopped pulsing and Elbia passed the scissors to Marco, who got to cut it. A few minutes later, my placenta slid out easily. I had torn a bit, so Elbia stitched me up. She didn’t use any anesthesia, but I didn’t feel it at all. I kept you on me, both of us naked and covered by blankets. We stayed like that for an hour and a half. It was pure bliss, just holding you, being so present for such a miracle. I then carried you to a bed they had set up for us. We slept together, for the first time you on the outside of me, and I felt the preciousness of your breath, our hearts in synch. You were never separated from me, not once.

I have been filled with joy for having birthed you, my beautiful son, with such peace, confidence, and strength.  You were three weeks “early”, weighing 6 lbs., but really, you came in your own perfect time and you are a bundle of perfection. The first six days of your life you have been so calm and peacefully observant, soaking up this new old world. The first three days after birthing you I had so much energy and I felt so healed and alive. I also felt like my body had been hit by a truck, all my muscles achy and sore, but in the very best and healthiest way possible. Now, almost a week later, I am feeling achier on my bottom, healing from my tear and some hemorrhoids that appeared during pushing.

But this is healing the way healing is supposed to happen, healing as a natural process and part of life. I am so happy I had my VBAC (vaginal birth after c-section), so proud of myself for being so strong and gaining back what I lost in the c-section of Lucas. I have regained confidence in the power of my body and the power of my mind and spirit. Most importantly, I was able to give you, my little Asha, a peaceful, powerful, and beautiful welcome into this world. And now, my love, we have the rest of our lives to get to know each other. Thank you for coming

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