There’s something magical about Christmas– about gathering in love and celebrating new life. Last Christmas was no different. My parents and my brother came down from NY to Washington, DC to spend the holiday with my sister and me in our home. My cousin from the Philippines was also visiting and staying with us. Our two-bedroom brownstone was bursting with smells of freshly cooked adobo and sounds of laughter. We went to Christmas Day church service like we usually do, this year being extra thankful for the babygirl I had been patiently growing for the past 9 months. After church we went to Anthony’s aunt’s house to see his family who had traveled from as far as Florida to spend Christmas in the area. We enjoyed Jamaican food and exchanged gifts and our sweet babygirl gave me gentle kicks from the womb every so often to remind me that she was there but I thought for sure she was snug in her cocoon for days to come.
We returned home as things were winding down for the evening. I FaceTimed Anthony who was in California for our nightly chat and to update him about all the festivities of the day. Both Anthony and I had work the next morning so we were getting ready for bed, but it’s hard to sleep when you have a house full of visitors you want to stay up and hang out with. Midnight arrived and just like that Christmas Day turned into our babygirl’s due date. My mom had said all along that she would come on this day, but I gently reminded her that babies don’t always adhere to the timetables we make for them. And then at 12:03am while sitting in the living room with my brother and sister getting ready to say “good night” to Anthony over FaceTime, I had a contraction. In the days and weeks leading up to then I had intermittent Braxton-Hicks contractions, so it didn’t seem like a big deal and I probably would not have even noted the time except that it was her due date. We all laughed about how maybe she was just waiting for the clock to strike midnight on this date all along. Ten minutes later, we were just about done saying goodbye for the night when another contraction came, and then 10 minutes later another. This was different than the contractions that I had been getting in the weeks prior; they hadn’t come regularly like this before. Anthony was still on FaceTime and we started talking about how maybe this was the “real thing.” He started looking up last minute flights to come east and I started timing my contractions. After a little over an hour we were pretty sure we were in the early stages of labor and Anthony was on his way to the airport. Anthony arrived at the airport shortly after 11pm PST when it was already after 2am back east. Turns out it is a pretty big decision to say “It’s time, get on a flight” because neither of us had done this before and we didn’t want to be wrong about it being true labor, but we committed to it and hoped for the best. Anthony was able to get a red-eye flight departing an hour or so later. Unfortunately (it seemed) it was last minute on a holiday so the only available flight at that time had a brief layover in Detroit. We were a little disappointed that there were no available direct flights, but layover or not, he was on his way to our babygirl and me, and that was the most important thing. By now I had contacted my doula team from Mamatoto Village to update them about what was going on. My contractions were still 7-10 minutes apart and didn’t seem bad at all. Everyone in the house had fallen asleep by now except for my sister who was up with me. After Anthony boarded his plane I turned to her and asked, “So do you think it’s too late to henna my belly?” We both burst out laughing at the thought at this hour. It was just after 3am EST by now and instead I decided to draw up a warm bath. I filled the bath with lavender essential oil and salts and herbs that my sister had just brought back from the salt mines in Peru a week earlier. I started playing my Belleruth birth affirmations from my doula on repeat and got into the bath to rest.
I went in and out of sleep in the bath for the couple of hours as my contractions started getting stronger and more frequent. At nearly 6am I felt my water break and decided it was time to get out of the tub. When I checked my phone I had a couple missed messages from my doulas (Cassie and Aza) and I updated them about what was going on and then Cassie started making her way to my home. I woke up my sister and my mother shortly after and told them things were progressing. I was working through my contractions in the living room while my sister was making us a breakfast in the kitchen not far from me with my mom beside me and my brother sleeping on the living room couch a couple feet away. My sister and I had practiced different exercises that Cassie had taught us. I found that I was most comfortable laying across my exercise ball. My sister rubbed my back when the contractions came. They came in surges and lasted less than a minute, with a couple of painless minutes between to relax and recover. “It might be painful when the contractions come, but it’s purposeful and transient, my body was made to do this,” my sister reminded me. And I agreed. Cassie arrived and she brought her peaceful demeanor with her. It’s so strange how Cassie said and did most of the things that my sister had been doing, but the way she did them made me suddenly feel at ease. Cassie warned me beforehand that I would need to eat for energy despite not having a lot of appetite during labor, and I remember thinking that was a silly suggestion because I’m not one to typically decline a meal, but she was right. I had not eaten much and had no desire to eat anything in that moment. I thought maybe a glass of chocolate milk would be refreshing, but opted instead for a glass of orange juice and some eggs. By now the contractions were about 5 minutes apart and I felt like I had to use the bathroom, but when I tried to go, nothing happened. After I tried to go to the bathroom twice, Cassie looked at me and said it might almost be time to go to the hospital. She gently reminded me that at this point we knew how I felt and the quality of my contractions but we didn’t know how dilated I was or exactly how far down babygirl was so if we arrived at the hospital and learned I was still early in my labor not to get disappointed. At 7:30am we gathered up my bag and headed for the hospital. I texted my doctor to let him know I was on my way. Around 7:45am my mom had dropped my sister and me off and we headed up to labor and delivery while she parked. On the way up I had a strong contraction and had to stop in the hallway. This contraction felt different, I felt a burning sensation and I told my sister that I was sure babygirl’s head was crowning and she would be here very soon . When the contractions came now I couldn’t move much and all I could focus on was getting through them but in between contractions I felt ok and during those breaks we tried to powerwalk our way to L&D from the hospital entrance. When I arrived at L&D they asked how they could help me today and I remember saying, “I’m about to have a baby… now!” They brought me to a room and quickly checked my progress and confirmed what I had suspected, babygirl was crowning, so they called the team in to get ready for her arrival. By this time it was around 8am, Anthony had just landed in Detroit for his layover and called us over FaceTime again. My mother, my sister and Cassie were at my bedside with Anthony on the phone, all encouraging me on when I felt the urge to push. I gave two big pushes and with each one made a little progress. With each push I felt the burning and stretching sensation of her getting closer to coming earthside. Cassie in her ever-calming way turned to me and said to take my time and reminded me to work with my body however long or short it needed. I turned to her and said, “I think I’m ready for this to be over” to which she responded, “OK, if you want it to be over, let’s do it.” The next surge I felt I gave a big push and out came her head, and then her shoulder, and then her whole perfect self, at 8:23am. I remember the doctor told her colleague at that moment “LOA” and I looked at Cassie super proud because we had been working on getting babygirl in that position in the weeks leading up to her arrival. Babygirl was placed on my chest and my mother and Cassie helped me to start nursing, babygirl was a natural. I was tired and wanted to rest my eyes but all I could do was stare at her perfection while Anthony did the same lovingly over FaceTime from the airport in Detroit. I looked at my mom and Cassie and said “That wasn’t too bad, I could do that again.” We all laughed, and in retrospect knowing now what comes in the weeks after birth it seems like an even more surprising first thing to say after delivery, but in that moment I felt like a superhero. A few minutes later it was time for Anthony to board again and then a couple hours later he joined us, suddenly a little family of three.
In the weeks prior to her birth, Anthony and I had come up with a birth guide about how we hoped the day would go, but agreeing to stay flexible and encouraged by whatever may come. I hoped to have Anthony, my sister, my mother and my doula present. And although Anthony was not physically in the room, I can’t help but be grateful that he had a layover exactly long enough and coinciding with the timing of her birth so he could be part of her arrival via FaceTime. We obviously had no idea how long or short my labor would be, but had he been on any direct flight from CA to DC at that time he would have been in the air and missed her birth. And then there’s the blessing of having my family and Anthony’s in town because it was the holiday. I hoped to labor at home for most of it, which I did. I hoped for a non-medicated, vaginal delivery, which again I was blessed to have accomplished. And lastly, I hoped for a healthy babygirl. When we met her, our hopes and expectations were beyond exceeded. She came into the world at 6lbs 8oz, 19 inches long with strong lungs and open eyes. She came exactly on her due date, December 26th, which was her great-grandmother’s 90th birthday. We gave her the name Noelani Grace Catherine. Catherine for her great-grandmother who she shares her birthday with. And Noelani Grace, meaning “heavenly mist or blessing” in Hawaiian, which we had decided long before we met her, before we even had any children to name. We said that our first daughter would be named Noelani, but how perfect did it end up being that our babygirl was born the day after Christmas and her name starts with Noel. And although she was named before she was formed, she is indeed and perfectly a Noe.
“There is power that comes to women when they give birth. They don’t ask for it, it simply invades them. Accumulates like clouds on the horizon and passes through, carrying the child with it.” – Sheryl Feldman