Hard Core Surrender By Joy

Now that Cadel is just out of the 4th trimester, I am feeling inspired to put his birth story in written form. Blended yet distinct were the many thoughts and feelings that colored the weeks before and after his birth. Here are the details I remember vividly...

My homebirth mantras strategically placed on walls near light switches, in entryways, or on mirrors:

TRUST - Deep down I knew that everything was going to work out for the best, I really did - because it always does! But I had to constantly remind myself to TRUST the process.

Fast & Easy - Something a dear friend of mine wrote in big letters on paper and sent me in the mail along with a sweet memo. She was our doula at our first birth which was quite the opposite of “fast and easy.”

Present Moment, Wonderful Moment - Something friends of ours had introduced me to over a decade ago when they were getting deep into their mindfulness practice. This mantra helped me stay in the present especially when I would get anxious about things that were out of my control or when parts of my body would get terribly uncomfortable. I realized that worrying about the past or future was a waste of my time and energy, so why not just embrace and enjoy.....the............ present moment...

Rest - ‘cause we all need to
Relax - open, open, open
Breathe - inhale, exhale deeply, always

Hardcore Surrender - This was coined during my first labor three years ago. Not only is birth such a mystery, but with that mystery comes a surrender to nature’s finest gifts: the beginning of a life. When else in our lifetimes are we given a chance to truly be and wait for this amazing beautiful life changing event to happen?! Although my ego wanted to know when and how long it would take, I needed to trust and surrender to the energy of birth. My only option to remain sane during the last couple of weeks was to surrender on a multitude of levels. A hardcore surrender is what I like to call it...

D        CORE



Prologue Surrender

The moments before labor, during labor, and after labor are such a whirlwind of emotions. It’s a sweet hardcore surrender in that we need to constantly tell our egos to just let go. The hardcore part accounts for the multi-layer aspect of letting go (surrendering) in both body and mind relative to time. I can’t think of any other event in my life when I surrender to this magnitude for an anticipated event.

We need to relinquish the need to know what’s to come and trust that nature will run its course. Since my first birth was equivalent to a grand tour stage race (A 3-week long bicycle race, like the Tour de France. My entire labor was over 50 hours, but it seemed like doing a stage race!), it was difficult to tell myself that this time would be easier. Especially since I only did about 25% of the kegels, prenatal yoga classes, squats, and other preparatory things I so eagerly and enthusiastically performed with my first pregnancy. Jamie and I revisited our Bradley Method book, and discussed how things were the same or different this time around. I knew my labor would be different (the order of things occurring- contractions, mucous plug, water breaking, etc), and even though embracing that fact was relatively easy, I still found myself wondering and sometimes worrying about how this baby would make its way into this world.

One of my favorite quotes from Maria at a prenatal visit was when I shared with her my increasing anxiety over my lack of preparation with this pregnancy. I told her how I was doing so
little in comparison to the first time, and that I felt like it would affect my performance during labor. I remember telling her how
I felt like I was planning to do a ride in the Sierras (called the Death Ride with 130+ miles and climbing over 15,000 feet over 5 passes, which I had done in 2010), but was training with only short rides here and there. She looked at me and with confidence said, “Joy, this will not be another Death Ride. Think of this being like the Paradise Loop. That’s what, 40 miles? You’ll ride to Tiburon and back. I’m not saying it will be easy, but it will be shorter. There will still be some challenging parts but you’ll get through it. Your body knows what it needs to do.” And just like that my anxiety evaporated about what I felt was poor preparation. We hugged. I LOVE OUR MIDWIFE!!!

In fact, a huge chunk of our preparation had to do with preparing Celeste for a homebirth. We set up a plan with back up plans for how we would handle her presence (should she be awake) while I was in labor. We read several books to her about the baby in my belly and how she might hear “mommy and daddy working hard to get the baby out with lots of noise.” I demonstrated what she might hear from mommy and we would grunt and breathe together. In Welcome with Love, one of the homebirth books we read to her, the illustration of the baby coming out of the mama looks like the baby is coming out of her bottom. One morning in early June, Celeste said, “The baby is coming out of mama’s butt!”

The full moon in June was 1 week before my due date. Comments from others about how second children come earlier than expected, and that I looked “so big that my baby was definitely coming early” made me want to believe this baby was going to come before June 20th. Plus, Maria, our midwife, was leaving the state to go to her daughter’s nationals volleyball tournament 3 days after my due date (she had informed us of this from the beginning). Trust.
The weeks before my due date were possibly more mentally challenging than my actual labor.

Are we having a boy or a girl? Will my labor be as long and challenging as Celeste’s? My conscious attempt to be more mindful allows my mind to ask the questions, feel what I feel, and blow away any negative thoughts. I remind myself to breathe and be open to the energy of birth. My thought process goes something like this:

  • -  Hmmmm, I wonder if this baby will come earlier than my due date?

  • -  The baby will come when it will come, when it’s ready, and it will be beautiful.

  • -  I really hope it’s ready when Maria is in town! If it doesn’t, could I possibly hold onto the baby and not give birth until she gets back into town?!?!??

  • -  It will all work out. The baby will call upon its own birthing team.

  • -  I really want to have this baby at home just like we did with Celeste.

  • -  I need to be open to the fact that that may not happen and it will still be ok.

  • -  Could I really endure another looooong ass and challenging labor like Celeste’s? What

    if it’s even longer and more painful?

  • -  Of course you can! But hopefully you won’t have to. You are experienced now. Your body will know what to do...

    I went on maternity leave 3 weeks before my due date. Giving myself this time was truly very special. Out of the whole pregnancy, I feel like I did most of my connecting with the baby during this precious time. I remember taking long walks with Eddy, our dog, and cherishing moments with our daughter as her “only child” existence was ceasing. My daily walks with Eddy consisted of me waddling up an uphill section in the Ecology trail that is minutes away from our apartment. I would talk to the baby and envision having him/her at home. With my heart pounding in my chest and my breathing heavy but deep and controlled, I would take wide steps forward, practice my walking meditation, and take in the scenery. The air hung with fragrant sweet eucalyptus and earthy smells. Eddy running up ahead but staying closer than usual, looking back and watching me walking like a duck. I remember Celeste, Jamie, and I doing things together as a family of 3. Although I was excited to become a family of 4, I knew I wouldn’t be able to give the same amount of attention to Celeste as an only child. I can’t explain it well really, all I remember is that it was bittersweet. Present moment, wonderful moment.

    My body was definitely doing things much earlier than it had with my first pregnancy. I started wearing maternity clothes very early on. My pubis symphosis was experiencing strong sensations of pain in the first trimester especially getting into and out of bed. Braxton hicks were occurring as early as week 28 when I would take long walks or push Celeste in her stroller going uphill. Of course, I was more aware of these sensations so it made sense that things were happening earlier than the previous time. Oh yeah, and hemorrhoids made an uncomfortably strong debut around week 38. There were times I couldn’t bear to sit. I used frozen witch hazel soaked cotton balls 24/7. I started to feel labor contractions at night 2 weeks before I gave birth. The contractions would wake me up and last about half a minute. Only one or three at the most when it was dark outside. A gentle reminder that my body is getting ready to have a baby.

I am a wuss when it comes to spicy hot foods, but I made an attempt to increase my tolerance once we reached week 38 with a variety of cuisines - Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Mexican, and
Indian. Anything that we made at home got a healthy squeeze of sriracha on the side (miso soup with a little brown rice and a fried egg was one of my favorites). We started perineal stretching and evening primrose oil around week 36. Alli, our doula, suggested several wonderful preparatory exercises for us. One of them was to walk around the apartment and identify our labor stations. Hanging from a baby sling wrapped around a pull up bar actually took a lot of pressure off my back so that was one, another was the exercise ball, the glider, our bed, and of course the “aqua doula”!

Certain revelations became more clear to me as June was passing by. Since I felt my laboring contractions in the early morning hours, I felt like maybe this was an indicator that the baby was coming well after midnight but before sunrise, just as our daughter had almost 3 years ago at 5:44am. Sunday is also a special day for us, as Celeste was born on a Sunday. Every Sunday we make time for our family to do something special together. “temps pour famille” as it is stated on our google calendars (corny but necessary so we don’t make plans that compromise our family time). So maybe this baby is coming on a Sunday!?!

The final revelation that came to me the week before I gave birth was that perhaps I would have to somehow rely on extrinsic factors as I did so heavily with Celeste’s birth. My contractions were far apart during my whole labor with Celeste that we used practically every tool in our toolbox to welcome contractions (herbal tinctures, acupuncture, acupressure, squats, nipple stimulation, clitoral stimulation, music, hypnobabies, walks, positioning, and then lastly my mind-encouraging-my-exhausted-body-to- have-a-contraction-once-I-was-fully-dilated-when-I- would-have-a-conscious-moment-between-bouts-of-falling-asleep!). I wondered which tools we would revisit again and waited...

Hardcore Surrender aka The Birth

The week before our due date Jamie and I intend on gettin’ it on (if ya know what I mean) and 24 hours pass by with other types of intimacy, just not the “gettin’ it on” type. Finally, early on summer solstice Saturday morning (the day after my due date), we do, and my water breaks instantly! For the rest of the morning and day, practically no other signs of labor present themselves, just some brownish bloody mucous but nothing like my first time. I have 2 smallish braxton hicks laboring crampy contractions and that is it. Later in the morning, Eddy and I go on a looooooong walk around the Presidio (Ecology trail, Inspiration Point, El Polin, Lovers Lane) complete with a dozen squats or so and still nothing. I let Maria and Alli know that my water has broken via voicemail, page, and text, and in the afternoon they both check in with me. Then later in the early evening Maria advises us to get some castor oil and make a smoothie with orange juice. “Use a blender to break up the oil so that it goes down easily,” is what she recommends. “Do I have to chug it?” I ask. “No, just make sure you drink it all within 5 minutes,” Maria replies.

I had a feeling it would come to this: a castor oil smoothie! Just over 5 weeks earlier, my bff since 2nd grade went 10 days past her due date with her second child and was horribly uncomfortable. I remember jokingly asking her if she had heard of using castor oil and heard myself saying, “If I go 10 days past my due date, castor oil will definitely be part of my plan!” Of course, I just blurt it out without really thinking about it. I know of a few situations where castor oil had been a part of the birthing process. An SF homebirth mama friend of mine had her water break and 2 days pass with no signs of labor, her midwife advised her to have a castor oil smoothie and voila! 4 hours later her baby was born! However, I had also read and heard of other situations where absolutely nothing happens or the mama just pukes and shits her brains out with no signs of progressing labor, resulting even with a trip to the hospital.

Jamie and I talk about our increasing excitement over what Maria advises us to do. We are buzzing over the fact that this could be it! Castor oil is a laxative, I have to remind myself. Everything is falling into place beautifully. Breathe.

3 things happen after Maria suggests the castor oil smoothie:

  1. A text is sent immediately to my friend who had her baby 4 hours after she took castor oil almost 3 years ago. Elizabeth calls me back instantly and it’s her husband’s 50th birthday party. So funny, ‘cause she was going to invite us but knew I was super pregnant and hundreds of miles away, so connecting over the phone was in a way our way of celebrating together! She comforts me and shares with me her experience again. I ask her if I should eat a huge dinner to give me energy for the birth and she says,

    “No! You’ll just puke it out! Or you will have even more diarrhea!” I’m glad we talk for so many reasons, but that was probably the best advice, since I seriously was thinking about having a substantial dinner! Also, I have NO idea of what to expect and am still in the realm of “this labor could possibly last super long just like my first experience.”

  2. Another text is sent to a friend of mine who wrote and sent the “Fast & Easy” mantra and memo. She was at our first birth so connecting with her to let her know and ask for any encouraging words was a no brainer. Lu is at another celebration, a wedding, and I am stoked that we connect as well. I want to get her take on things and “trust trust trust that this is the right thing to do” (taken from my text). We talk and I feel supported and ready. 3. We call our dear friends Jordan and Jamie, who we truly and wholeheartedly take up on their “let us know if you need anything” offer. They have been super supportive and present during this pregnancy. We ask them to pick up some castor oil and OJ and come over. They arrive and the Jamies set up the aqua doula together.

I am feeling 100% ready to take this next step, yet embrace the fact that nothing could possibly happen. I call Alli, our doula, and inform her of the plan. I am excited and calm. The tub is ready to go and filled with warm water. The sun is making its way behind the trees and I know it is time to drink my concoction. I measure out the castor oil and OJ in a mason jar and blend the ingredients with an immersion blender. I take a sip and add a couple of frozen mango chunks. The consistency is smooth and it tastes surprisingly good! I remember what Maria said about cutting the oil well with the blender and press the button a few more times. I am zoning out and into what I am about to do. I hear Jamie and Celeste in the background carrying on with the evening as if it was like any other. It is 8:30pm, I drink the smoothie in the kitchen while looking out the window at the grassy upslope and tree tops in the distance. My eyes are wide open and I rub my belly. Cheers to a hardcore surrender!

We put Celeste to bed and I talk with Maria to let her know the smoothie has been consumed. I text Alli. What happens next reminds me of the scene in the movie Trainspotting when Ewen McGregor’s character is sitting on the “worst toilet in Scotland.” The force of his shit flying out of his ass is so strong that his feet leave the floor. His legs straighten and shake every time poo and air fly out of his butt and into the toilet. This is exactly what I feel and think about while I am on the toilet. I find myself taking deep breaths and chuckling to myself. Fortunately, I only have about 2 episodes of this type of soul shaking diarrhea. (TMI: More came later but not as much mass came out. The diarrhea continued even after the birth, lasting for 24 hours post smoothie.) Rest.

We decide to go to bed around 10:40ish and get some zzzs before the peristalsis of my GI tract triggers my uterus. I light my special laboring candle that is part of our birthing alter on our dresser. Around 11ish I start to feel contractions and we start timing them. They seem to be legit so we call
Alli and summons her arrival! Alli arrives around midnight and assesses the situation. She is super calm and comes into our room to check in. She says that I am still in early labor and suggests we try to rest and sleep in between contractions. We totally agree with her suggestion and I think that we could definitely need the sleep now, especially if we’re going to be in this early labor stage for a while.

Then sometime around 2-3am-ish my contractions start picking up. The intensity is definitely increasing as is the frequency. Our game plan is to time the contractions and when I am at 4 or 5:1:1 we call Maria to tell her to come over. Next thing I know Alli is calling Maria and updating her. Maria says she’s on her way.

The contractions start coming like a TGV speeding down the rail, I find myself trying to relax (open open open) but also feel my muscles in my pelvis and back tense up during the contractions. I am on all fours with my head buried in my pillow. Jamie's hands are on my hips doing pelvic squeezes that relieve much of the pressure during the contractions. Alli whispers the best imagery to me in my ear. She has me pretend I am a dolphin diving into the waves as they crash over me. The waves being the metaphorical contraction of course!

This imagery helps me through this next level of active labor. I am the dolphin. I am swimming in the ocean. When a wave is about to break, I dive below it and let the wave crash over me and roll off my body. I stay relaxed and open. My uterus is contracting but I relax my back and neck (at least I try). I feel TONS of pressure in my perineum like a coconut is trying to make its way out of my butt and realize that my body is wanting to push. I tell Alli this and she calls Maria. Maria is about 10 minutes away and instructs Alli to have me exhale through my teeth and make a “ssssssss” sound to hold off the urge to push.

Just before Maria arrives, I hear Alli bringing in birth supplies into the bedroom. She is in Joy-is- going-to-have-the-baby-in-the-bedroom (possibly-before-Maria-gets-here) mode. My mind remembers the having-to-resist-the-urge-to-push feeling I had with Celeste and I panic for half a minute. This just feels different. Maria arrives at 4:20am.

She checks me in the bedroom and says, “I don’t feel any cervix.” And I am like, wait, what?!?!? “You can push! Let’s meet this baby!” Maria exclaims. “Can I still try for a water birth?”
I ask. “Sure!” Maria responds. We make our way into the main room where the tub is set up and “WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGHHHHHHHHHHH,” I have a contraction in the doorway of our room right outside Celeste’s door. I am draped over Alli and can barely walk. I take chunky staggered steps towards the tub about 15 feet away from where I have the contraction. Jamie and I get into the tub and we start the pushing phase of this hardcore surrender.

I have 2 sets of pushing contractions (where I am LOUD and letting my birthing cry out of a consciously dropped jaw) before Maria reminds me about holding my breath to push the energy down and out. Oh yes! But of course! Like I am taking a dump! I remember this from the last time she told me when I was pushing out our firstborn. I hear the doppler magnify the baby’s heart rate after every contraction whoosh whoosh whoosh whoosh. I start to feel the relaxing influence of the warm water on my labor. The contractions aren’t quite the same intensity coupled with a strong urge to push, and my pushes suddenly don’t feel as effective. I notice my buoyancy along with Jamie’s hands doing hip squeezes that I am actually coming out of the water while I am pushing. We are facing each other and I am leaning back on the side of the tub.

Celeste wakes up. She is still in her room and we hear her crying. Maria gently encourages us to stay focused and for Alli to comfort Celeste in her room. Having Celeste watch my face contort and hear me moan and scream while Jamie is yelling, “PUUUUUUSH! YOU GOT IT BABY! YOU CAN DO THIS!” is not something she may quite comprehend this early in the morning. (I believe it takes me about 40 minutes to push the baby out. I’m a little fuzzy on how many sets of contractions/pushes that was. However, I do remember pushing the baby’s head out in the tub!)

Another contraction comes. Maria is reaching down and helping the baby’s head come out while I am pushing. The baby’s head is out! I feel a round head in between my legs, my pelvis stretched apart. Maria says something about getting me out of the tub. And just like that, my protective mama instinct kicks in and in 3 seconds I am out of the tub and sitting on the birthing stool about a foot away from the edge of the tub. Jamie is still in the tub anticipating our plan of how we are going to carefully get me from here to there. (He tells me this later after the birth.) The 3 seconds goes like this: I immediately stand up in the water, throw one leg over the tub then the other, and take a step before I sit down. Maria’s voice has a certain tone I don't take for granted. Although it isn’t anything anxious or negative, my oxytocin-riddled brain senses some type of urgency that causes me to pop out of the tub and on to the birthing stool swiftly.

After settling in on the birthing stool, I know I have to push this baby out! I think about all the emails, phone calls, texts, and conversations I had in the past week. With our first birth, these messages caused more anxiety than I wanted. But this time I feel the love. I mean, I really feel it. I feel it so much that I envision each text and email and person who sent them to me as a bundle of energy. I have piles of energy bundles to help me push this baby out! This vision of the bundles with their energy on the baby is what ultimately assists me in pushing the rest of the baby out. I feel the baby’s torso pushing through and out of my pelvis and it is definitely larger than it’s head!

The baby is LOUD! The baby is a BOY! He is big and beautiful. I did it! We did it!

Epilogue Surrender

Subject: Our Newest Addition is Here!
On Jun 22, 2014 9:31 AM, Jamie Gilpin wrote:

Hello Everyone!
After listening to Celeste say, "I'm going to push my baby out!" for these last few days, Joy
has pushed the baby out!

We are pleased to announce the arrival of Cadel James Gilpin!
We are all doing wonderful after a beautiful home birth. Just like Celeste, Cadel was born in the Presidio.
He was born at 5:15 am today, weighing in at 9 lbs 6 oz (4.25 kg), and is 21 inches (53.3 cm) long. Love - Jamie, Joy, Celeste, Cadel, and Eddy
PS - To the cycling fans out there: the name Cadel is not related to Mr. Evans, but rather the first 5 letters of Joy's maiden name. We thank Mr. Evans for testing Cadel's name for the past 35 years.

Wow! What an amazing journey during the shortest night of the year. We are so blessed to have this little man enter our lives. Cadel (“Kuh - DELL”) is beautiful, and I am in love. I couldn’t have done it without my loving and ever so patient husband, super kind and loving daughter, lovely and wise birthing team, and amazing family and friends.

Other mantras on a piece of paper placed on the wall in front of the toilet (these have been there since before Celeste was born!):
balance calm centered
easy deep full
healthy relaxed happy open
flow energy

Posted on August 23, 2015 .