This is me. 3 days before my life changed forever.
Thirteen years ago on March 7th I became a mother. With the herring spawning season, comes the reminder of how my son was born. Three days before I gave birth, I looked out at the ocean from my window and with bountiful excitement, I saw the incredible sight of a turquoise stream filling the ocean beside my gulf island home. The herring spawn was happening right in front of my house! During the time that I called this small island home, every spring I’d wait patiently to catch the nearly shore bound fish to pickle or fry up fresh, and to dry the row laden seaweed out for soups and winter meals. If you’ve ever been around the herring spawn, it is an incredible event! It’s like a birthday party in the sea that involves incredible synchronicity and timing. It is a significant gathering of sea mammals, birds and fish of epic proportions.
The turquoise that you see? That my friend is the simultaneous sperm release of thousands of the little male fish. These little guys fill the water with their milt (aka fish sperm), fertilizing the millions of eggs that are also being simultaneously released by the female fish. When herring spawn, their eggs attach firmly to strands of seaweed and other structures in the water so they float around and hang out for a few weeks until they hatch. The spawn happens spontaneously and instantaneously. It’s as if a light switch is turned on in the ocean and all at once, the ocean is filled with the potential for baby herring life!! If I could choose a musical soundtrack to put to it, I’d probably choose a live version of Bohemian Rhapsody…or maybe Cosmic Love by Florence and the Machine.
Welcoming the Power of Birth
I opened my front door and breathed in the sight and smell.
When I saw the familiar glow in the water I stopped. I took a breath and decided that my focus was on one-thing-only. I turned to my doula friend (who was visiting) and partner and eyed them closely. I had their full attention. Like the captain that I was of my own birth team I commandeered: "Get the pails! Buckets! Nets!"
Enormously pregnant and bulging with my womb filled with a sweetly nestled baby inside, all I wanted to to do was try to catch some fish!! I wanted to make some pickled herring after tasting my friend’s home made recipe from the fish I had caught a few years before…so I put a scarf around my head and went out the door.
I could feel my baby's head reaching far down into the deeper depths of my pelvis. As I waddled swiftly down the beach, my baby floated and swayed in his own tiny ocean.
Did you know that amniotic fluid has been proven to be quite similar in salt composition as sea water! The wondrous womb never ceases to amaze me.
Amniotic fluid has about 2% salinity while Oceans are 3.0 to 3.5% dissolved salts. All life does seem to have originated from the ocean, and the fact that us humans carry our own little micro ocean during gestation is pretty magnificent, don’t you think?
It’s a pretty cool reminder of our collective connection to Earth and Water life.
With my breath feeling full of baby pressing on my diaphragm (my organs and ribs officially feeling jammed like sardines- ;)), I squatted on the shore and breathed in the cold ripples of wind and sea. I warmed up with the thought of my own approaching birth.
Little did I know, was how powerful this fishing excursion would be on my connection to the incredible capacity of life, and in my own surrender of the wild current of birth that pulsed everywhere around me!
I went to bed listening to the sea lions feasting and hollering along with the forlorn song of the winter loon. I was lulled to sleep with the fresh sounds echoing around the house.
A few days later, I felt the pulse rise in me of my own birthing time. I was ready and things were about to get real crazy.
Facing my Fear of the Unknown
I woke up and decided to do a silent meditation for the day. I wanted to go inwards and not talk to anyone. I wanted to simply watch and listen. Later in the afternoon, the phone rang and I almost didn't answer, but I did. It was my best friend Dejana, calling to check in and to say hi. I was so glad it was her...then I gasped as I felt something quickly change. While laughing with her, my mucous plug released!! I laughed hared and then another surprise! Amniotic fluid trickled down my thighs. It wasn't a gush or popping feeling, just a gentle flow of water from my mini ocean womb.
That night was a new moon, and I spent it actively in birth with the house dark, feeling warm, safe and comfortable. I yelled at my partner to turn of the bright lights, but alas, it was just the glow from the woodstove on the other end of the house!!
This is the ideal environment for any mammal to give birth in, and it is imperative that it remains undisturbed. I could clearly hear the deep guttural quakings and songs of sea lions coming from across the straight. My doula friend joked that they were cheering me on. I smiled and loved the quiet and the slow pace of my breath. I sat in stillness for a few minutes before the break of dawn. My favorite time. This stillness was my incredible body's way of giving me a rest, as transition was about to roar me onto the wild shores of becoming a mom.
Just as the sun began to rise, I felt the urge to push. I hesitated and felt a lip on my cervix that prevented me from fully dilating. I couldn't fully open. Sensing that I was holding something of the emotional realm back, my doula friend gently and gracefully asked me "What are you afraid of?" She reminded me later that I simply replied, "I'm afraid for him to be here". A part of me was afraid and I hadn't even known it, but I was afraid to become a mom. There were so many unknowns that this represented for me. This simple yet invaluable verbal acknowledgement helped me to let it go. With the next few waves of my uterus hugging my baby, bringing extra blood and oxygen with each contraction, I was ready. I was open.
I was now ready on all levels, in my mind, heart and body to become a mom. The door was open. Time stopped as I pushed my baby out on my hands and knees and I felt his head emerge in one push, too quickly to feel the ring of fire. But what was that on his face?! It looked like a clear veil covering him. The amniotic sac. My baby was still fully enclosed in his bag of waters! He was born in the caul! The amniotic sac felt slippery and strong just like fresh seaweed as gently separated away from his face. As he felt his own transition of the cooler air on his skin he blue out what was in his mouth. Still on my knees, I wove him football style between my legs and I held him close, collapsing on my back, surrendering into motherhood and embracing my need to rest. Forgetting for the moment the feat of the long night, I stared at my wondrous little baby. The currents of life taking me into a whole new realm of responsibility, I was gently yet swiftly carried onwards into my journey of motherhood.
Childbirth was the most fulfilling and intense experience I've ever had, preparing me for the huge task ahead: the enormous role of being a mother.
Womb Wisdom Reflections
Through sharing this with you, I'm brought back to that moment with so much awe and revelry for the power that is birth. Sometimes it's the simplicity of life, and the answers that we have within us that can nurture us the most. Just as the wild ocean currents seemingly brings with ease an abundance of life, there remains a delicate balance in the life cycles. I am reminded that we have the wild currents within us to give birth, and it is a simple yet delicate process. We each have all that we need inside ourselves to give birth in our own way, in our own time. This is the wild nature of birth, which will always be a part of us.
It is necessary, now more than ever for us to revere and respect the incredible power of human birth. To connect and surrender to that part of ourselves that knows exactly what to do. To find balance and make the best choices with all of the amazing options at hand. To trust ourselves and this incredible capacity means to respect this delicate balance as we would with witnessing or respecting any other birthing creature in this wondrous wild world. Birth is a primordial act and connects us to the most wild and ancient wisdom that rests in the deepest parts of ourselves.
This is the season of incredible breath taking, bounty of life. The ocean comes to life with the pulsing urge of birth in the wind, the water and shores. Warmed by the sun and with all of it's ecological resilience, the ocean reaches a point of dynamic stability that is ideal for the reproductive physiology of the herring. All at once, the birthing process of new life comes pouring forth! Gulls and eagles serenade the skies, seals and sea lions frolic and float. They are all free to be, free to lay, to soar, to live, embracing their power of wild existence.
In the next few weeks, the eagles will have their turn to lay and sea mammals to birth their live young. It is an incredible time of witnessing, celebrating and to revel in the swollen potential of life... it's everywhere! I can't help to compare this birthing forth of freedom to the natural physiology that we carry as humans, and where we are in our freedom to embrace our own autonomous power, originating within the primordial experience of childbirth.
The Birth of Spring & Celebrating Childbirth
As a doula and mother I witness this dynamic surge of spring with so much awe, fully aware of the delicate balance all around me that awakens this wild, natural cycle that simply knows no bounds. It pulls, it pushes, cools, flows, warms & releases, takes flight and calmly allows itself to be carried by the current... all in it's own time, it's own place, surrendering to itself with it's own power within to bring forth life! To revel in the wildness of life and it's uninhibited, unbound abundance of power is an important way to connect with that part of ourselves that knows exactly how to give birth.
If you'd like to learn how you can embrace your amazing inner wilderness during this ripe time in your life, I will help you feel strong, loved and resourced like a mother. I'm offering 2 in person sessions this spring locally and it will be available online SOON!!!
My Greatest Coaching Take-Aways and How They Influence What I Offer as a Doula:
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You know when you find out that someone has died, and your heart brakes even though you never really hung out? A lot of people had that with Koby Bryant who died a few weeks ago. I personally didn't have that with him because even though I'm a basketball fan, he didn't impact me. He didn't inspire me.
Today I feel heartbroken because for me, this person was Claudia Booker, who left me feeling like there was something that I needed to do, and that's enough to feel real grief. Because of how rad she was, and now that profoundly inspiring radness is just something to remember, frozen in the timelessness of death.
I'm at a loss to say how much of an impact Claudia had on me. We never really know how deep inspiration goes until we need to use it. Sometimes we draw from it out of necessity, sometimes inspiration just becomes a part of our life and a part of us in our day-to-day routines. Inspiration nurtures resiliency, resiliency fuels inspiration. They both rely on each other like that. They're cool like that and ultimately, another person's influence can go so deep that it can change and confirm how we look at the world all at once.
After I gave birth to my second son, I was left feeling a newfound pulse in me. I soon realized that I had to connect with others on this wavelength of feeling freedom as I reclaimed my power from saying no and yes to all of what felt right to me. I was freshly inspired and rose stronger after I gave birth to my baby. My son was 4 months old when we boarded a train in Seattle, just the two of us. I was still feeling tender and tired all the time, but was determined to venture to San Francisco to meet with others who felt this intuitive pulse. I got off the train and carried him in my carrier while breastfeeding and lugging a bag on wheels with my purse dangling from the handles- into a terrifyingly huge public Bart train station (I had just come from a remote island in Canada with a population of approx. 1,000 people). I was in a postpartum state, 2 ferry rides, one train ride and roughly 1, 700km between where I stood and my familiar bed. I was on a mission to connect and to feed this need to be with other birth workers who felt what I did, with a desire to learn from seasoned midwives and doulas.
I got lost several times before I found my way to my final destination, Squat Fest located at the Woman's Center, in the chaos of San Francisco's downtown. This surge of inspiration combined with conviction guided me. I heard Claudia speak upon those same sources that seemed to guide her. Claudia had inspiration and conviction, but also so so oh so much confidence to speak her truth, to storytell reality as a midwife, a doula of color in America who also traveled and worked and founded the DC Midwives of Color, a group dedicated to improving the birthing experiences of women all over the American capital.
When I heard Claudia speak to dozens of us from around the world, she brought a lot of details and info about where we are at in modern maternity health care. This was at Squat Fest in 2013. Since then, through social media I've heard her actively call people out and fight for fully informed consent. She brought to light from experience and impact the reality of the infant and infant and maternal mortality rate in America.
That weekend changed my life. I met so many amazing people and some are still my teachers and friends as I write this. What I recall about Claudia is that she fervently shared truth, adamant about how far we need to go to create an equal ground for us to meet upon. To give birth upon. I'll miss your sweet fierceness Claudia. I won't forget it.
To me, even though we weren't friends, the loss of this passion is reason enough to be sad. When I met her in 2013 at Squat Fest I was familiar with the echoes of her passion and her deeply rooted trust in the birthing process. This echo resonated consent, the need for trust and transformation in the birth room. The need for trust and a shift in relationships in modern times, in relationships among every single person who is in a birth room.
That summer, I came home from this trip and changed my business name to Birthing Freedom, which was a significant growth spurt from Birth Song Doula Services. With that resiliency and inspiration exchange dancing with my breath, I am so so grateful to those who speak their truth. To Claudia and for the babies and moms who teach us so much. I won't forget you. I am grateful for her for being an advocate, a bad ass midwife, doula and icon of consent.
If you'd like to donate to a fundraiser for her family, visit here: "Mama Claudia Says: This is Not My Last Rodeo!"
If you'd like to learn more about Claudia's work, check out these resources:
Vice- These Doulas are Making Pregnancy Safer for Women of Color
Black Women Birthing Justice: 5 Black Women You Should Know About
According to Claudia- Claudia in the media
The video below is a recording of performances and panel discussion from the premiere event for "Tatia's Story: From Life to Death in 10 Hours" held at the Oakland Museum of California on Jan. 14, 2017. The video captures performances by nonprofit multiracial choir Vukani Mawethu and a panel discussion with Jennie Joseph, CPM, LM; Claudia Booker, CPM, M.Ed, JD; Racha Lawler, CPM, LM; and Carmen Traylor Jones, director and producer of "Tatia's Story"
"Birth work is based on heart to heart; The client absolutely needs to find practitioners whose heart sings to her heart. But we have to let our clients know of all of their opportunities and then hope that they still come back to work with us. I believe it’s our job [as birth workers] to take this on so that we can work to enable every group, culture, and society to have the best birth they can while we fight for universal change." -Claudia Booker