I dreamt you before I met you. In this lifetime anyway. We were living in the RV at the time. You, just a handful of hopes and maybes nestled snugly within my womb. Your father, your 6 brothers and your 1 sister. I dreamt you so vividly. In my dream I was squatted on the big bed in the master bedroom of the RV and you slipped out all slick and warm and it didn't even hurt and when I awoke I could still feel the subtle weight of you in the palms of my hands. I dabbled with all sorts of ideas of birthing you throughout the pregnancy. A friend offered a tee pee in the mountains of Nevada. A couple others offered their homes. I contemplated an ocean or river birth. Honestly, birthing in the RV was the last thing I intended on doing.
But then life changed everything because life has a way of doing that. My own mental wellness became of utmost importance in the midst of a whole lot of turmoil. Some of the storms were others creations, some I had stirred up myself. But here I was very intuitively and suddenly aware that if major shifts didn’t occur soon I was not going to be properly prepared for what was coming.
Not you as in “Oh wow a baby, this is hard work.” I mean YOU. You , the being who was very much an old soul who had chosen to come to me and transmute my life lessons into gold. But I was going to miss it. If I didn’t lean into the winds I was going to miss it.
I felt the fervor within my soul. And granted, I didn’t handle that sense of urgency in wisdom and slowness. I very quickly and abruptly slammed doors on any distractions and poured myself into seeking God and hearing my own voice.
I kept a love letter journal for you. And somewhere along the way I screwed up the dates. Added 2 extra weeks on. So that, when my water broke with a gentle thuddy-pop at 5 pm on November 12th, 2017 I was a little nervous because I was only 34 weeks. Or so I thought. My first born had been born at 35 weeks and had needed a few days of incubation. But my belief was that it was more due to the interventions that had occurred (drugs to slow the preterm labor, then Pitocin, artificial rupture of membranes, etc) so I was hopeful that this time would be different.
You had been a very calm baby throughout the pregnancy. Nothing like your siblings! I didn’t even feel you move until I was 20 weeks along. And you never kicked hard or often. A few gentle reassuring nudges are all I would ever get. It tested my faith in the process. I was 100% dead set to honor the pregnancy and labor and birth with no outside interventions. This was a private dance between just you and I and we trusted each other's ancient wisdom.
But when labor began a few hours after my water broke I began to worry. You hadn’t moved in hours. You still weren’t moving. It was only myself and my children and I felt my first sense of uncertainty. I contacted a group of ladies on FB who had all themselves walked this path before me and asked for their thoughts. Not one gave me opinions. They all simply asked me what my instinct was saying. I stepped back and meditated into you and considered the awful what-if that was hovering in my mind. What if something was wrong? I faced that fear. And realized at that point it had been about 15 hours since I had felt you move. If something had happened it was already too late and the last thing I wanted was to birth a stillborn child in a hospital in a strange town all alone. If my worst fears were a reality, I wanted to have this time alone with my baby. No matter what. I resolved to continue on with my plans. I wasn’t any less afraid of that possibility. I just had peace with my decision to stay where I was.
Laboring with you was hard. Hands down the hardest thing I ever have been through in my life. 27 hours of labor. HARD labor. I don’t have predictable labors. I peak and hit transition and then it lasts for HOURS. Most women have a transition phase of 20 minutes. Mine last and last and last. Your biggest brother Zane was incredibly helpful. 16 years old and he fetched me snacks and water as I requested him to and corralled the youngest 2 for the entire time I was in labor. Your other siblings all stayed occupied and gave me space and quiet. I went gradually into my own sense of self. They say 2 times a person is truly all alone is death and during labor. This used to be a scary feeling for me. But this time the deeper into myself I went, the more courage and strength I found.
When I grew weary I decided to rest. I asked you to wait and the contractions ceased. I napped for 3 hours until the contractions picked back up.
This was labor. Sweaty and shaky and loud and exhausting. I gulped water and sang loudly and roared through the contractions. I felt primal and powerful. I chanted out my fears and responded with my mantras. The RV smelled like amniotic fluid and sweat/. Sweet and sour. I noticed the fluid was tinged with green and sent a photo to a few friends who assured me that was really okay. I listened to my gut. I kept going.
Right around hour 25 you moved. I wasn’t sure. It was in the middle of a contraction when a nudge came at my left side. “I think the baby just kicked!” I excitedly typed out to my free birthing tribe.
Then I waited. And you did it again. Strong and solid. THUD THUD THUD. I wept in relief. You were okay. You were okay. YOU WERE OKAY! I had been facing the possibility of the worst for 25 straight hours and now I knew all was well. That new information gave me a sense of urgency. I wanted to be DONE. I was worn out and hyped up all at once.
But I felt stuck.
Turns out I WAS stuck. Quite literally. Or at least YOU were. Someone suggested I change positions. I thought she was making ludicrous suggestions. I was stuck and she expected me to shift and move? I felt like a boulder stuck in the ground. No way.
But then I tried. And I did. And I felt you inching down. I reached a finger in and there was your head. Dear sweet Moses and Mary your head was RIGHT THERE. So close!!! I was almost done!
I reached further and realized a lip of my cervix was blocking your full descent.
Sonofabitch. If I had done that sooner you probably would be out by now.
I bore down during the next contraction while simultaneously pushing the cervical lip out of the way and felt your head slip down even lower. You were RIGHT THERE.
I was anxious. And I swear it took ages for the next contraction. Suddenly moving was a piece of cake. I was pumped full of adrenaline. I stood up on the bed, clung to the bookshelf above the bed and begged God to help me.
Then I was on my hands and knees on the bed, back arched and then dipped. Then back up, roaring into the books, then down into a squat. I pushed once more and your head peeked out and I yelled for your siblings “Guys! The baby is coming like NOW!”
One more push and you were out. No pain. Nothing but relief with those 2 pushes. Squatted on my bed, your subtle weight cupped in my palms. Just like in my dream.
My God you were so small. So perfect. I laid you down between my legs and moved the umbilical cord. A tiny vulva. Another girl. I kept saying in awe “I did it! I did it!”
You fussed only a moment. Then quieted. Your color was perfect. Your breathing is strong and steady. You had the liquidy wise eyes of a newly-born old-soul. I held you a bit until I birthed the placenta. I swear the placenta was bigger than you! Waited 20 minutes until your cord was pale white. Cut the cord. Drank a placenta smoothie with raspberries and orange juice. It wasn't as awful as I had expected it to be. Just fruity. Got up to take a hot shower and change the bedding. Hot water and clean sheets felt amazing! Bathed you because you smelled of the meconium you had passed during labor. Settled into bed to eat a taco salad and nurse you. You latched immediately as if you had done so a million times. I think you have. It was everything I thought it would be. And better.
In the weeks and months that followed I discovered something.
Your birth had cracked me wide open. I had birthed a new ME in the process. I was fascinated by this. I used to hate yellow. Now I was drawn to the color and obsessed with it. It brought me joy. I discovered I no longer enjoyed spicy food. I used to be terrified of months. I wasn’t anymore. The light in me that attracted them didn’t frighten me any more. I was bolder. Louder. Braver. I quit smoking. Started writing poetry again. Found my voice. I broke all of the molds and smashed all of the labels. I had struggled with math my whole life and all of a sudden I was balancing the budget and doing complicated sums in my head like it was cake. I didn’t even KNOW me anymore!
And through those first few weeks……I kept on facing fears. You were such a tiny thing. 3 1/2 pounds at birth. 4 pounds was what I told everyone because I know how some people feel about unassisted births and I was scared of someone calling CPS on me. You had a difficult time regulating your temp. So I dressed you in layers and wore you against my chest 24-7 and kept the heat at 90 degrees in the bedroom where you stayed. In the afternoon when the sun flowed in the bedroom window I would strip you down and lay you in the patch of sunlight to help your jaundice. I nursed you on demand. You had one incredibly terrifying , albeit brief, moment when you stopped breathing. It was just a beat. About 15 seconds. But It scared the shit out of me. I didn’t sleep. Even when I did I never slept deep. You slept on me. Through all of this I never realized how early you were. I just assumed you were tinier than the typical 34-weeker due to a true knot that had formed in your cord.
When you were almost 1 year old I was reading back through old letters I had written back when I was still pregnant with you. And lo and behold. The math had been wrong. You had been only 32 weeks at birth.
If I had been aware of that fact when my labor began I absolutely would have gone to the hospital. It would have been a totally different experience resulting in interventions and a few weeks stint in the NICU. But because of an oversight which was truly the most gracious of gifts from the universe,I was unaware of the path my fears could have led me down.
And we did it. You and I . We did it. You applied all of your old world wisdom. I trusted my instinct and kept you eating and breathing and warm. And here we are.
You didn’t have a name for the first week of your life. Nothing fit. Until something did. Primrose and Astrid were both names I loved but they weren’t quite right as a first name. So they became middle names. Starshine was the last name I picked for you because I wanted you to be unbridled from the burden of a name that held nothing but generational curses and expectations. I wanted you to be a new beginning for your own story.
But a first name….that took some time.
Until it came to me. A portion of a book I loved. The Color Purple by Alice Walker.
“I seen my baby girl. I knew it was her. She look just like me and my daddy. Like more us than us is our self…. My little girl she look up and sort of frown. She fretting over something. She got my eyes just like they is today. Like everything I seen she seen, and she pondering it. I think she mine. My heart say she mine. But I don’t know she mine. If she mine, her name Olivia.”
There it was. Olivia. Ole-livia. That was who you were. Who you are.
You are the tiniest warrior princess pocket baby I have ever known. You are so much joy and power in one tiny package. 15 pounds at 1 year old today. As I type this it has been exactly 365 days and 5 minutes since you arrived. Since you slipped out and into my open, waiting hands and world.
It has been my greatest honor to know you and in turn know myself through you. I am deeply grateful for you. More than words can properly express.
365 days ago I birthed you in a cramped RV.I didn’t know how early you were. I had no idea how hard it would be at times. I had no clue what was coming. Thank God for lack of hindsight. If I had known I never would have jumped off that cliff. Free Falling has been the most glorious, exhilarating experience of my life. I celebrate not only the beautiful being you are today, I also celebrate the woman I have become as a result. I am deeply honored to have been chosen to walk beside you on this journey. Thank you.
Happy Birthday, sweetheart.
I love you, Olivia Primrose-Astrid Starshine. To the moon and back.