Nixie Opal Marie Amadou was born at 2:20am on Wednesday, September 7th in the birthing tub on our living room floor, surrounded by our two incredible midwives, her dad, my sister, my dear friend Jen, our wonderful birth photographer and friend Joleen, and Pumpkin the cat. It was an “easy” birth, and was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. This is the story...
Let’s start at the beginning (actually, her conception- which happened through a condom just three weeks after my mom's death in a car accident last year- is the beginning), and let’s get into all the details while we’re at it. This I want to remember.
Three weeks before the birth my amazing prenatal chiropractor told me that my pelvis couldn’t possibly be any looser or more ready to give birth, and then right after that the midwives came for our home visit, checked my cervix, and said I was 90% effaced and 2cm dilated.
So we kind of went into high gear birth prep mode after that. We knew it could still be weeks away, but that it could also be sooner. We had just started moving into our new home a few weeks before, there were still boxes and dust piles everywhere, and I was so big and exhausted that I was pretty much useless.
I called my sister Lacey, who was planning on coming for the birth, and told her what they’d said. She came early, and kicked ass helping us get everything in the house ready over the next few days.
Then it became a waiting game, as the end of pregnancy always is. But we knew we’d jumped the gun a little and that the due date was still weeks away. Still, it felt so good to have the house ready and I will never forget what Lacey did for us during that time. We were often at odds during our teens and early 20's but, between our dad's alcoholism and our mom's death, our relationship has evolved to such a beautiful and mutually supportive place.
I really struggled those last few weeks, as I did with Mycelia’s pregnancy ten years ago. Walking was hard. Turning over in bed was ridiculous. I peed 6 to 8 times a night. My face and feet and everything else were so puffy. And baby’s movements would send shooting pain down my cervix and thighs, so bad I was doubled over sometimes with tears in my eyes.
Mycelia’s birth lasted 17 hours, but I never felt pain (I write about the difference between Mycelia's unassisted home birth and Nixie's birth at the end of this story). Somehow, I knew this one would be painful. I used all those moments of being head-butted or punched or kicked in the cervix as practice for getting through the pain once labor started.
But I was afraid. I felt little shimmers of anxiety at least once a day in those last few weeks. It’s crazy to want something so badly- to get this baby out of you- and to know that you have to go through basically the most intense and challenging thing a human can go through in order to get what you want. And that there’s no escaping it. You have to do it. And you want to do it. But you’re scared to do it. But you have to do it.
About a week and a half before the birth I had a phone call with Stepha, a doula who I knew from Instagram and had met in person at Spirit Weavers a few months prior. I’d seen on Instagram that she was focusing her work on fear and childbirth, and I loved how she countered the popular #birthwithoutfear hashtag and movement with #birthwithfear.
Now that’s some #realtalk because, for most women I know at least, there is fear that accompanies such a huge, life transforming, physically earth-shattering event. I was attracted to what she was doing and loved the language she used in all her writings, so we set a time to talk.
And it was very helpful. I went through each of my fears. She didn't try to talk me out of them or tell me to think positively or say “No matter what happens, you’ll have a baby in the end.” She just listened and worked things through with me.
And somehow, it shifted. I can’t say there was one thing she said or one big epiphany I had, but it shifted. For that last stretch of my pregnancy, the anxiety was gone.
I also felt overwhelming gratitude for my mom in the days leading up to the birth- how much she loved me, how she, and her mom, birthed all their babies naturally in a time when almost no one was and, especially, how she and my grandma had showed up just when I needed them most during my first, unassisted home birth and saved the day.
I mean I sobbed tears of giant gratitude almost every day recalling the moment she'd walked into the room that day. I think of what Ina May says- that it is best to be in a state of gratitude and/or amusement during childbirth. Being awash in thankfulness was a very sweet place to be.
I had a few hours of intense cramping on the morning of Monday the 5th and again that evening. I knew they weren’t contractions, but I could also feel that things were really warming up. We took this photo that evening.
I woke up at 3am on the 6th with real contractions, and lay there until 5 feeling and counting them. They weren’t regular yet and didn’t feel like they were increasing in intensity or duration. I fell asleep and when I awoke at 8 they were still happening.
I got up and told Owen, and then when I went to the bathroom there was blood on the toilet paper. Finally! I had been joking that all throughout the first trimester you anxiously check the toilet paper hoping *not* to see blood, only to anxiously check it hoping for the opposite in the last few weeks (the blood, or “bloody show”, usually means labor will start very soon). We called the midwives and they said we didn’t have to come in to our appointment that day, and to call if the contractions got closer or my water broke.
The contractions slowed down and we called them that afternoon to say we wouldn’t be coming in (the thought of leaving the house sounded awful, especially because we live down a bumpy dirt road). They offered to come out and check my cervix if we wanted, but we declined, deciding to just let the day be mellow and see where it took us.
At about 4pm I laid in bed next to Owen, who spooned me with his hand on my belly, which felt so good, and I cried quiet tears, knowing this was it and feeling such big feelings about everything that was about to happen and change for us. He took this photo around that same time.
We got in bed that evening around 8 or 9 and the contractions started again. Owen had downloaded this contraction timing app and I used it for the next hour or so while he kinda slept. At one point, past 10, I sat on the toilet and one hit that *really* hurt, so even though my contractions weren’t closer than 5 minutes yet (but almost) I told Owen to call the midwives. It was time.
I sat in the glider in the living room that we’d gotten for nursing and continued to ride out the contractions, and I texted the other women we had planned to be here, my good friend Jen and our birth photographer Joleen.
(Mycelia was at her dad’s; she’d been ambivalent about being at the birth- sometimes saying she wanted to be there and sometimes not- so we just left it up to baby to either come when big sis was here or not.)
Everyone showed up within a short time of each other just after 11pm. I was still in the glider, and I felt happy every time a new person walked in the door, so glad each of them was there.
As I’d expected, and again unlike my last birth, these contractions hurt. My legs were shaky and the pain radiated down the front and the inside of my thighs.
For that first hour or so baby moved during about half of the contractions, making the pain twice as bad (because she was hitting my cervix). I wanted more than anything for her to stop moving; I could handle the contractions on their own, but needed baby to stop adding to the pain. I rode those ones out with lots of F words.
Some time after midnight the midwives suggested I get up to pee, then I got on the bed to have my cervix checked. It hurt. But Kathy helped me prepare for the birth by having me push into the place she was touching on my cervix, and it immediately felt better. She said I was 9cm. I wasn’t surprised, considering all the warm-up work my body had been doing the last few weeks, the fact that it was my second baby, and how intense the contractions had gotten in just a couple hours.
I sat up in bed after the exam and asked if someone could pin my braids up, and Cindy did so. I had put them in earlier that day when I realized that labor was imminent.
The tub (which is actually a horse trough, same as I labored in last time) was all filled with perfectly warm water and now was the time to get in. It felt SO GOOD. I can’t imagine not laboring in warm water. This was maybe 12:30 or 1. I had no idea I’d be meeting my baby so soon.
I started out facing the room, and was able to talk and joke in between contractions. After one I said that the toning I was doing during contractions reminded me of the old SNL sketch where Will Ferrell can only speak in a loud monotone. I also talked with Jen about Amy Poehler in one of my two favorite third trimester memes:
Stupid shit made me laugh so hard during my pregnancy (I am partial to basic, stupid humor in general, but was even more so), especially at the end. I soaked up all the memes I could find. I love the one above because that’s exactly how I felt at the end there, and the one below because srsly my face got about that fat.
I also asked the four other mothers in the room (my sister is dedicated to life as Super Auntie), all moms of two, if they had labored in water and heard some of their birth stories. And I told everyone that this baby being born on an odd numbered day was, well, odd for me. Because everyone I’m closest to in my family was born on an even numbered day- me, my sister, my mom, my dad, my daughter, and Owen. But there’s something I really like about the sound of September 7th, so I can accept our little family oddball ;-)
At some point I turned and faced the opposite direction in the tub- the altar Lacey and I had set up weeks ago. Various stones (including a lot of labradorite, which I’d fallen in love with like I never have with a stone before during the pregnancy), whale and elephant figurines (my most loved animals), and my favorite photo of my mom.
Honestly, I never looked at the altar during labor. I knew it was there, I knew exactly what was on it. But I just didn’t want to look at it. I think I was afraid that seeing my mom's beautiful face smiling at me would send me into a deep grief space, which had been one of my fears leading up to this birth- that I'd feel my mom's absence so acutely while going through such a huge experience that I would have wanted her there for. Although, in retrospect, the labor was so far along and so overwhelming at this point that that probably wouldn't have happened.
But, also, my turning around just then was an instinctive act that coincided with the labor intensifying, and I didn’t open my eyes or talk much after that.
The contractions hurt, and the pain down my thighs was a big part of that. But the water was so soothing. And I really consciously worked with each one, knowing my cervix was opening more and more, working with sound and vocalization to help it. I toned and I sang and it was all intuitive and all felt good. I remember repeating the word baby during one and the word open during another.
Owen and Jen both rubbed my back at different times, and that felt really good. I had a painful kink on the right side (it’s often there) and they both focused on that. Jen used some of my St. John’s Wort oil and it felt really good.
During one contraction I saw a sort of psychedelic mandala behind my eyes, radiating out from the center, and I knew I was fully dilated.
Very soon after that I was bearing down with all my might. The pushing had begun. Suddenly everything changed. The sweet and mellow vibe in the candle-lit room picked up. Cindy had been lying on the bed and Kathy was reading on the couch, and (according to Owen), they both popped up at the same moment and soon were both at the tub.
The only thing I was aware of was that a train was hurtling through my body all of a sudden. The midwives let me know that she would be here soon. It certainly felt like baby was coming but it was all just happening so fast I wasn’t sure it was possible that this was really it.
I’d been sitting with my butt on the floor of the tub with my hands on the edge and Owen right there on the other side. I intuitively shifted forward to my knees and started gripping the edge more tightly during each contraction/push, which actually felt like one big contraction/push. I never felt a break in contractions after this point until one of the midwives pointed out that I could relax for a moment, and I did, but then another wave came immediately.
I remember thinking that I needed my toes for grip, and working to get them so that the balls of my feet touched the floor of the tub. It was hard to concentrate on that part of my body when so much was going elsewhere, but I did and I got the foot grip I needed.
And this is where words utterly fail me. What I’ve been telling people is:
It was a four hour labor with ten minutes of pushing, but it was the worst ten minutes of my life.
And that’s pretty much true. It’s just indescribable, that feeling.
That is, I can’t describe what pushing out a baby feels like, but my friend Heather can, and her words perfect capture my experience:
“It was the next push that I did the thing I had thought I couldn't do. I pushed deep into the heart of the pain, into the train wreck spiraling pell mell through my body, and straight down into the base of my groin and the seat of my soul and the raw material of my very being. I pushed into the knowing that I was splitting in half, I pushed into the trust for my team that we would survive, that my baby was right about to be born. I pushed through that whole contraction, and then I stretched it just a tiny bit further, I kept going, I didn't breathe, I just exerted the whole of myself.”
I remember reading this when her daughter Polly was first born and SOBBING, amazed at how well Heather put the birth experience into words. I recalled it a few days after Nixie’s birth and read it again, and this time I SOBBBBBBED, so grateful that she captured this thing that I just cannot pin down.
For me, this birth, it all just happened so fast. I felt in control during he first stage, the dilation. In retrospect, I feel proud of how I consciously worked with each contraction, through the pain, doing my best to assist the cervix in opening.
But then all the sudden it shifted and I was bearing down and SOMETHING BIG WAS HAPPENING.
I heard Cindy say “You’re doing great” and then soon after Kathy said, “You’re almost there, this is it.” It was so good to hear these words, especially “You’re almost there.”
I had *thought* I must be like actually pushing this baby out like right now like all the sudden like HOLY SHIT, and to get that confirmation was really helpful.
I am so grateful for the verbal coaching the midwives did from this point on. I felt like I was losing my mind, so overwhelmed by what was happening. I was crying and shaking, but giving my all with every push. If this was it, then I was going to do my best to work with this giant energy and get this baby out of me! Even if it killed me, which it was clearly going to do.
Owen later told me that our hands were intertwined at the edge of the tub and our heads were together while I pushed her out. I’m so grateful that he was there for me, so close, throughout. Kathy had her hand on my vagina and that felt really good. Like when she was touching my cervix a couple hours earlier, it gave me a focus point, something to push into.
At one point I felt a hand on the crown of my head and that felt really good too, a counterpoint to the hand on my yoni. I later found out it was Lacey. She also told me that she and Jen were both crying at this point.
The midwives told me when the head was out, and I did my best to get her body out with the next push. These last couple minutes seemed to take forever. I thought I would collapse. But I knew it was so close.
Finally, it was done. She was out. Lacey says I said, “Jesus Christ.”
I couldn’t figure out how to turn around to see baby since the umbilical cord was still attached to the placenta inside me and was in between my legs, but Cindy helped me maneuver around it.
At this point, facing everyone, I remember saying “Fuck giving birth.”
But then, my baby. She was so small, just like I knew she’d be! And so so perfect. Mycelia came out looking like an alien 10 years ago, pretty beat up from the birth process. Nixie came out so fast that she bore no marks of having gone through anything. She didn’t even have vernix on her, except for a little bit in her thigh folds.
And that head of dark hair! Owen and I both came out of our mamas with full heads of brown hair, and I was so happy to see our babe had too. Mycelia looked nothing like me at birth and it’s still debatable whether or not she does at 10 years old, but there is something really sweet about seeing yourself reflected in your offspring so my ego was/is digging this babe's resemblance to me (and her papa)!
I checked to make sure she was a girl. Even though the midwives said they’d never seen an ultrasound be wrong in their practice, I was secretly worried throughout that our girl was a boy. I was pretty attached to the idea of having two daughters, like my mama had. Sure enough, she was a she!
Cindy and Kathy had the bed all ready for me, with one fitted sheet on bottom, a shower curtain on top of that, another fitted sheet on top of that, and a chux pad on top of everything. With some serious help, we got out of the tub and onto the bed.
I held Nixie and I think she nursed a little. Owen was next to us and Cindy and Kathy were in front of us. After a while they asked if I was ready to deliver the placenta, saying it seemed ready to come out. I was. I wanted everything out of me and to be done pushing things out of my vagina.
Kathy gently pulled the umbilical cord while I pushed, and it easily came out. Cindy said I barely bled at all. They got it into a bowl and nestled the bowl up next to me.
Nixie was very settled and content and Kathy took her to look her over, there on the bed next to us. She weighed her- 6 lbs and 4 oz. I loved hearing this because that is what I weighed at birth. The last few weeks of the pregnancy I kept saying that she was gonna be small, and I was secretly hoping that she would weigh the same as I had.
At the end of the exam Kathy swaddled her and gave her back to us. She was so content (maybe even asleep at this point), and Cindy asked if I wanted to shower. I remember saying no at first because I just didn’t want to leave her, but I quickly realized that I should take this opportunity.
Cindy had to really help me in and out of our big clawfoot bath tub/shower. I was so weak and shaky. She encouraged me to try to pee while I was in there, but let me know that women often can’t pee after giving birth. After soaping myself off I stood there and tried and tried and tried to pee, but I couldn’t.
Cindy had these big soft stretchy underwear and a postpartum pad ready for me when I got out, and I had a nursing nightgown ready too. It felt so good to be showered!
Kathy had stripped the top sheet and the shower curtain off the bed, leaving the fitted sheet I’d wanted to snuggle up on top of after the birth. She also laid a chux pad down. I can’t say enough how much I appreciate the systems and methods these women have worked out to ensure that mama and baby are well taken care of just after birth. Owen and I didn’t have to think about anything but loving our newborn.
At some point I mentioned the “after pains” and the midwives said I could take Ibuprofen. I was stoked! It wouldn’t have even occurred to me, but I love Ibuprofen and it always works for my pain. I took the maximum dose- three every six hours- for the first couple days postpartum and it really helped alleviate the pretty significant amount of pain I was feeling throughout my pelvic region.
After showering I got back in bed with Owen and our sleeping baby. Everything was winding down. By 4am everyone had left except for Lacey, who was staying with us, and Jen, who ended up staying the night also (or what was left of it). Owen fell asleep with Nixie between us, and I laid in bed for hours gazing at our baby and reflecting on everything that had just happened. Sleep was out of the question.
I can't say enough about how sweet these postpartum hours were. Pure magic, a totally elevated and out-of-time state of being. Both the immediate hours when everyone was still here and we were being so pampered and loved and everyone was getting to know Nixie, and then the following hours when everyone but me was asleep and I was just fixated on my baby's face. It was the transition from night to dawn, there was a bright star just outside the window, and I kept seeing planes flying by all lit up. I thought about all the people on those planes and their lives and the people they loved, and felt a part of something so much bigger than myself.
And then the second there was enough morning light I took our first family selfie :-)
Here is the story behind her name, Nixie Opal Marie Amadou-
Nixie- Female water spirit of Northern European folklore. Specifically, a river spirit. Perfect for a baby born to a water-loving mama and who will grow up on the Yuba river.
Opal- It was my mom's favorite gem and was her wedding ring, it's a stone name like mine, and a four letter O name like Owen.
Marie- The first or middle name of at least the last six women in our matrilineal line (including me, even though I use the name Amber Magnolia Hill online; Magnolia is what my dad called me when I was in the womb).
Amadou- Her sister's last name, one of the most interesting and useful mushrooms on earth. We couldn't decide whose last name to use and were stoked to give these sisters the same one instead of one of ours.
When we found the name Nixie it just felt right. We stayed open to other ideas until a couple days after the birth, when our midwife filled out the birth certificate paperwork, but the family and those closest to us had been calling her Nixie for my last few pregnant months. The water element was so strong throughout my pregnancy, and turned out to be prophetic for her birth too. She was born in the water with the moon in Scorpio and Cancer coming up over the horizon. I love having a mythological name, and that it comes from a place on the planet where I can trace my maternal lineage. In many ways, her name honors my mother's spirit, and I am so grateful for that.
Brief thoughts on my unassisted home birth v this one:
You can read the story of my first birth here, if you'd like. I'm including this comparison for anyone considering an unassisted birth, especially for their first babe.
- One big advantage to having midwives there was the verbal guidance and confirmation I got from them. I really think, and I've said this for years, that Mycelia's birth would have been hours shorter if I'd just had someone there who knew how to coach and guide me. Also, the physical touch helped to guide me, when Kathy had her hand on my vaginal/perineal area as I was pushing baby out. It was so helpful!
- As I said above, I truly did not feel pain with Mycelia's birth. It might have been because it was so long (17 hours) and so many pain-killing endorphins were released. But even from the beginning of that labor I never felt pain. It was SUPER INTENSE of course, and required all of my attention, but it wasn't painful. This one, as I've said, definitely was. But the pain is so temporary, and I knew that, and it's so worth it, to me, to avoid the "cascade of interventions" that often come with epidurals during hospital births.
- Because I was better supported during and after this birth, I was more able to be present and happy afterward. I just felt dazed and confused after Mycelia's birth. I did not feel anywhere near the joy I felt with Nixie. I was happy, and I am beaming in the photos from that time, but inside I was just exhausted and depleted. Then I was like, "Please someone take this baby and let me rest"; this time I was like "Give me back my baby, sleep is for suckers." Oxytocin for the win!
- The bloody aftermath. One thing we didn't anticipate before the unassisted birth was the considerable clean-up. There was blood everywhere. And no one but us to tend to it. Definitely our fault for failing to anticipate that. Having such skilled midwives with a ton of experience meant that they had a super efficient system for cleaning up all the birth fluids, and that we didn't have to think about any of that.
To sum it all up- having support was really helpful. If I did it again, I would have Cindy and Kathy there again. Midwives are angels. I support experienced parents having an unassisted birth, but would really encourage any first timers to have support there.
Where we're at now, over a month later:
Heaven, basically. Nixie is a sweet and easy baby. We've heard about a hundred times that she's an old soul, and it sure does feel like that. Very serene, aware, and grounded.
We all sleep well at night, and daytimes are generally happy too. I'm 10 years older than I was last time and more mellow, less idealistic, more go-with-the-flow. I've spent 15+ years reading and learning about babies and mamas and human evolution. I feel educated and empowered.
As with Mycelia, we breastfeed, babywear, and co-sleep. Nixie is on my body about 20 hours a day, and I surrender to that. In fact, I fucking love it. It's what we both need to thrive. Remembering that, though our minds and culture have leapt ahead exponentially, our human bodies are exactly the same as they were during the Paleolithic guides my parenting practices.
Owen supports me so well, feeding me and loving me and making sure I'm taking care of myself. Mycelia is great at entertaining herself when I'm busy with baby and great at being with baby when I ask her to. We're all adjusting to our new family status. I can't wait to see what the future holds.
For expecting Grass Valley/Nevada City residents:
Our angel midwives: Sweet Arrivals Midwifery
My prenatal chiropractor/craniosacral therapist: Dr. Heather Hunt
Dreamy pregnancy photos: Eleri Design
Beautiful birth photos: Joleen Giuliani Birth Photography