Photos by Isabell Steinert
(see her original photo set here)
“Inside all of us is a Wild Thing.”
– Maurice Sendak
I don’t know where to begin. My daughter’s birth story spans several dimensions and I would like to lay them all out one by one.
We can start on the Thursday before D-Day. I was getting annoyed at the lightning pain cramps I was experiencing on my right thigh during those last couple of days. It would sometimes shoot all the way down to my leg and it would strike at the most random times of the day. It even happened while I was waddling down the mall carrying two big shopping bags and I had to stop in the middle of the walkway because the pain was unbearable.
I finally got in touch with a hilot (traditional birth attendant/masseuse) my doula recommended me. Ate Aida came over after dinner and examined my 39 week pregnant tummy. What I thought was mere cramping was a result of my baby’s head pushing down on the right side of my pelvis, hitting some of the nerves there. I’ve known for a couple of weeks already that my baby was in a cephalic position (meaning the head is already facing downwards) and I was just hoping it was in a good enough place for an easier delivery.
Ate Aida swaddled my belly by slipping a towel underneath my back and rocked my tummy from side to side. Then after she massaged my limbs, she already warned me to look out for three dates: September 5 (the coming weekend!), September 10 (my due date according to my first ultrasound), and September 15 (according to her, the last possible date my baby could come out). After she left, Joel and I were in awe at how quick the baby descended. The area below my bosom softened significantly and I was feeling more pressure down below.
The next day, a Friday (September 4!), we went about our day like nothing happened. We even had a late night dessert run to Wild Flour (I badly wanted their strawberry shortcake, it deserves a mention in this story) with my cousin and my sister and her boyfriend. The only noteworthy thing about Friday was that I was starting to shed my mucus plug. Since I wasn’t feeling any contractions, we figured we still had some time.
Come Saturday (September 5!), we only made plans to hang out in my grandmother’s house for a despidida lunch for the aforementioned cousin who was visiting from Australia. We spent the whole afternoon there hanging out and then we made our way back to Makati for dinner with some friends. During this time, I was my usual waddling self, peeing every thirty minutes and struggling walking from one place to another. We didn’t notice anything unusual and we were relaxed knowing that the car had a tank full of gas and the trunk was stuffed with all our birthing gear already should anything happen. We had been on standby since week 38.
Joel and I got ready for bed at around 11 pm and were ready to pass out after the whole day of schmoozing.
Then at midnight, I finally felt the first real contraction. I’ve been having false labor pains for weeks already but those were pains were brief and uneventful. This midnight one was PAINFUL. It felt like a really awful menstrual cramp and it was the kind of pain that I needed to work myself through. I shook Joel awake and told him to start timing the contractions already, and to text Betty, our doula, to let her know that we were starting early labor. As that was happening, I started crying. I haven’t had any real fear up to that moment when it was finally there. I was clutching my pillow and whimpering to Joel, “I can’t do this.”
Joel let me cry it out for a bit, then after a while, I took a deep breath and told him that I was ready.
Betty told us to try to relax and go back to sleep. She told us to start texting Ate Lornie, our midwife, so that we know when to start heading up to Shiphrah Birthing Center in Taytay. Ate Lornie was in the middle of a birth when we texted so she was wide awake. She told us to text her when my contractions were consistently five minutes apart and one minute long.
My contractions were still irregular but they kept on coming. We tried to go back to sleep but I’d get up on all fours to move my hips each time a contraction hit and Joel kept timing everything. Then sometime when the contractions were 7-10 minutes apart, Joel and I showered and got dressed already. At 3:30 am, while I was working on another contraction in bed, I felt a “POP!” and Joel heard it!
I stood up and the minute I steadied my legs, a strong gush of water cascaded down my legs! That, folks, was my bag of waters breaking. I read enough literature explaining that the breaking of waters didn’t really happen the way they did in the movies (like a balloon bursting) and to expect it to be more like trickles down your leg. But boy, look who got her movie moment.
We checked the contraction app and saw that we were clocking steady 5 minute intervals so Joel called up Ate Lornie. Joel hung up and then told me that it was time. We got in touch with Betty again and alerted our photographer Isabell.
So in the morning of September 6, a Sunday, our little baby was kind and considerate enough to make its debut on a day with no traffic. This was Joel’s biggest fear, that we wouldn’t be able to make the trip from Makati to Taytay. I already felt God’s hand protecting us as we made that realization. That was a big, big answered prayer.
Makati at 4:30 am was gloriously peaceful and cool. We made a pitstop at the Family Mart near our apartment to load up on snacks and drinks for our cooler. At this point, my contractions were getting stronger and I remember having one while Joel was in the convenience store. It kept on going while we got on EDSA then on C5. I even had to tell him to ease up when the road got bumpy but everything was pretty manageable. I just needed to curl my toes and grip my right hand on something. It didn’t occur to us until much later that we did most of our early labor on our own.
Joel and I big believers in signs and as we trekked to Taytay, we were graced with a beautiful view of the sky. We never wake up at that time anymore and we were awestruck at the pretty lavenders and cotton candy pinks the sky was casting over us. It was going to be a wonderful day, we just knew it.
As we pulled into Shiphrah’s subdivision, we saw Betty’s husband Manny on the way down from bringing her. He waved at us and wished us luck. We got to Shiprah in 30 minutes. It would usually take us an hour or an hour and a half whenever we went over there for my checkups on the weekends.
We parked the car outside the center and stayed inside for a little bit more. We got in touch with our families then took a deep breath once more and prayed.
We entered the center at around 6 am. We were greeted by Betty and Ate Lornie’s smiling faces. The other women in the house were also excited. The energy in the place was electric because there were FOUR other mommies delivering babies that day!
Since Ate Lornie is the only midwife who knew how to do water births, I was the lucky momma who had the one water birthing “suite” all to herself. We checked out the room and put down all our things. We had so many bags on us — my bags, Joel’s bags, baby bag, and a bag filled with towels, giant gauze pads, etc. Betty told me that I should seize this time to snack on something. I didn’t really feel like eating but I managed to walk outside chomping a banana and loading up on coconut water.
By that time contractions were getting intense and we decided to take our mind of it by walking outside. It was still early in the morning and we ran into some people doing their routine jogs. Betty is big on letting couples have their private moments so Joel and I paced up and down the road chatting with my occasional collapsing into his arms as each contraction swept over me.
We passed by The Little Children’s home nearby and we heard the kids milling about inside. Joel broke out into a smile when he saw baby clothes hanging on a clothesline outside.
We turned to walk back to the direction of the center and Betty joined us. We lingered at the small chapel down the road and used its front steps as my next laboring location. I made some Rocky jokes while going up and down the steps, but soon I couldn’t crack any more laughs after that because the pain was really getting uncomfortable.
I began my active labor in my birthing room and Betty was trying to figure out what positions would work for me. Earlier on in the game, we already established that labouring on my back was too excruciating. I couldn’t handle the pressure on my tailbone and if I had to stay in that position, I would have asked for an epidural (and the center doesn’t have any, haha). The sweet spot was me on all fours resting on a peanut shaped exercise ball. The next 2-3 hours were all about me switching positions from all fours, to sitting on a round exercise ball, to sitting on a chair reverse (so I could rest on the backseat), to squatting on a birthing stool (which was surprisingly so comfy!). The trick was to keep myself moving and distracted. This phase was all blurry to me already because my energy was running low and my head was already somewhere else trying to maneuver through all the waves of contractions.
Just as everything was intensifying, Ate Lornie popped in to give me an internal exam (they only do it once in Shiphrah, thank God — if I was subjected to several of them, I would have been so pissed). With that one and only examination, she saw that I was already 7 cm dilated! The baby still needed to descend some more but upon hearing my laboring got me that far gave me extra motivation to keep trying.
The use of the birth pool is the last stage in birthing. We were to use up as much contractions as we can outside of it so that I only use the water when I was already transitioning. I wasn’t there yet but I was in a lot of pain already so I got into the pool. The water was kept warm by a heater the whole time so I felt instant relief getting in there. But there was still a lot to go and I even had to step out to switch positions because I already wanted to pass out. The strongest memory I have during this time was me resting my head on the side of the pool and crying all over again to Joel. I told him again that I couldn’t do it. I looked at Betty and told her that all I wanted to do was sleep.
By the second time I got into the pool, I finally understood what transitioning felt like. All the pain that led up to transition was NOTHING compared to the pressure I was feeling down in my nether regions. I finally understood all those silly metaphors — the ring of fire, shitting out a bowling ball covered in hot sauce, etc. Thankfully there were respites in between those brutal contractions. I didn’t even need everyone to tell me that I was only to push if I felt the pressure. I was too tired and whether I wanted to or not, my body was intent on pushing as each contraction hit anyway.
I was too tired and in too much pain to talk so Joel and Betty had no idea what was going on with me. I didn’t even tell them that I already felt the baby crowning and none of them were able to notice because I was doing the final stretch in a kneeling position. Even if I badly wanted to push the baby all the way out, Betty was warning me to slow down so that I wouldn’t tear. I remembered that with every push outward, the baby retracts — for every three steps forward, anticipate a step back. So I struggled with all my might to pause whenever I can and to breathe as hard as I could. I felt like I didn’t know how to breathe anymore and each exhalation was a long, drawn out gasp. Ate Lornie would check the baby’s heart beat with the doppler every now and then and would tell me that I was almost there. I kept gripping Joel’s arms and he begged me to just keep looking at him. Both he and Betty were trying so hard to contain my breathing.
That whole time felt like forever. Then when the pressure was getting too much for me to bear, I pushed as hard as I could finally (after pausing and restraining every breath), and my baby shot out of my body. I knew she was already going to come out, it was just a matter of when. Thankfully my body knew which push would get all of her out and it’s a feeling I will always remember. Once her head was out, the rest of her body followed. I still remember the feeling of her shoulders and limbs. Ate Lornie caught her behind me then I quickly flipped over and she was placed on my chest. Selah Rose Darwin came into the world at 11:02 am. What felt like an eternity pushing only took one hour, according to the clock.
I looked up and I saw Joel across me crying. Originally we wanted him to be in the pool with me, but as I remember the meditations I had while I was pregnant, I knew the task of fetching my baby was all on me. I saw an island with limestone cliffs and at the shore was a line of white sand underneath a canopy of trees. In my dreams, I waded out into the water to pick her up and bring her back with me. Before that day, I remember gently placing her back into the water and telling her that I’ll be back when it was time.