Duke's Birth Story

I was hot. It was hot. Sticky, sweaty, hot. The trade winds had stopped blowing just in time for my last week of pregnancy. Luckily we had AC in our condo that we decided to turn on for the sticky pregnant lady who couldn’t stop talking about how hot she was.

Then we waited.

Actually, we waited a whole year. The miscarriage I had right before getting pregnant with you, tacked on another 3 months of pregnancy before you took your turn. When it was all said and done, I had been pregnant for 12+ months and was really ready not to be anymore. But this was my third time experiencing the last week of a pregnancy and I can’t help but smile thinking back to that torturous last week. Yet again, I was ready for you to be here and yet again I was “trying” with all my might to will you here. I mean, after being pregnant for so long there was no way you would be late, right? In my mind I had told myself you would be at least 4 days early. Your brother was. Plus at your 20 week ultrasound the doctor said he thought you were measuring a few days early. Right then I moved your due date in my mind from July 8th to July 6th. Nothing drastic, just a few days. Since we live on an island in the middle of the sea, we thought it would be a smart idea to fly your Auntie Anna out for a couple weeks to be an extra set of hands. She agreed. She was only going to be here for 2 weeks though. And after what felt like 50 years It was July 10th and Anna had already been here for 10 days. I was at a midwife apointment I thought I would never have. She was stripping my membranes and my mind was swirling. What about the money paid to get Anna there, the timing, the cranky downstairs neighbors, being 45mins from a hospital, not doing really any pre-birth mediation, was there enough food prepped, would I miss a night of sleep? I was ready! I was! But was I? All the thinking in the world couldn’t change the truth. You weren’t ready. It wasn’t time yet. I lunged walking up the hill from stone dam. I squatted while reading books to the big kids. I paced the shoreline at Kalihiwai. I was leaning forward and on hands and knees as much as humanly possible. When I walked I visualized you dropping down in my pelvis. But you knew and deep deep deep in my experienced pregnancy mind I knew it too. Control was pointless. But oh how I wanted to know when it would start and end! How long active labor would be. When and if my waters would break. If the bigs would be awake or asleep. How my emotional support would be after the fact? Would Dad be able to handle all I needed from him? Would I feel baby blues? Postpartum anxiety or depression? But the great design of childbirth doesn’t include these answers. At least not natural childbirth. I was daydreaming about taking back some control. Marching into that hospital, demanding they cut you out of me!! But as much as I needed you with me, I knew I stood to have the ultimate control by giving in to all my anxiety and fear and trusting to a level that feels impossible. Trusting the impossible to be possible. Trusting in the one human act that we all have in common... birth. Trusting that I had a strength greater than the burning sun. Energy that was boundless and a willingness to submit that seems contrary to everything else. The mystery of life giving continues to baffle. Oh, and I still felt really hot. Can somebody put a fan on me? My mind was all over the place. The heaviest weightiest thinking and then, over a turkey meatball dinner the night before you came, me saying I give up. Birth, you win. I am done trying. 12 hours later you were here.

During dinner the contractions changed and everything started seeming more regular. I tried helping to put Nova and Fairbanks to bed. I read a story to them but in the middle had a really strong contraction. I was sitting on the edge of Fairbanks’ mattress on the floor. I had to brace myself on the edge of the bed and I started moaning and swaying a little. I think it made your brother a little nervous because he covered my mouth and said “stop mom!” I finished my contraction and soothed his worries…but I knew that it was something I couldn’t stop...even when in the very near future it would be hard and uncomfortable. I was starting to feel the flood of emotions. We tore a couple more pieces of the paper chain we had made to count down to your arrival that hung over the kids window. I kissed them both to bed and went and laid down on my own bed and stared out the window at the green trees moving in and out of the warm glow of the Hawaiian setting sun. I think this is the part of the story that you would want me to say that in my contemplative mind I found peace and a calmness that would power me through….but I didn’t. I am going to be super honest here because this story has a very happy ending (the happiest that endings can have) but you need to know it all to be able to acknowledge the beauty of this process as a whole. I was kind of a mess. I felt so much fear. Dread even. I felt a choking sort of darkness in my mind. Birth has always been a purging process for me. I have to let a lot be felt in order to be ready to feel what was to come. I need to make space. I was feeling a lot of anxiety and it was hard to know what was hormones and what was circumstance. Natural childbirth is the most vulnerable thing I have ever done. And choosing to bring my babies into the world at home means that space and the energy in it matters a lot to me. We had downstairs neighbors that weren’t very nice to us and it made our whole home feel unstable to me…like at any moment it would topple over or disappear. Not an ideal feeling for the nest you are bringing your baby bird home to. There was an uneasiness that felt crippling. I wasn’t sure how I would be able to do what was coming. Grant laid down next to me and I had a little meltdown releasing all my fears to him and letting the tears soak my pillow. I didn’t want to labor alone in the dark in the middle of the night. I wanted to labor during the day with sunlight and people awake. I didn’t want to feel alone. I think after that initial meltdown stage one was complete. I think that was my emotional “transition.” I took a couple deep breaths and probably texted my midwife friend Lindsay for some encouragement. I think part of our conversation consisted of her telling me, “You are a warrior!” You know what? I was. I am. I could do this. It wasn’t going to be easy, I knew that, I have owned that before. I wasn’t alone. I had all the mamas that the world has ever known lighting a candle for me to add to the fire that was growing in my body. I was Pele the Goddess of Fire. The refiner’s fire inside of me was there to create something more beautiful and sacred than all the volcanoes that created Kauai. This baby inside of me was the most important creation that will ever be and I was his Mother. I WAS HIS MOTHER.

Just like I knew it would, the sun set and my contractions increased. Soon enough the house was quiet. Everyone was asleep, dreaming…I lay with my silent fire in the dark. I was on my side closing my eyes through contractions until I couldn’t lay down any longer. When I would feel the contraction start to build I would get out of bed fast and sit on the yoga ball at the end of the bed, leaned over resting my upper body on the mattress. I would sway and rock through each wave. Coming back down I would tentatively crawl back into bed. Time melted away...8pm, 10pm, midnight..until 1:30am. I woke your dad up with my sounds. I told him I didn’t want to labor alone anymore. He thought it was time to call the midwives. But I wasn’t sure. My contractions were all over the place. Some 3 minutes apart, some 10mins apart. I did not want them to show up just because I wanted to be ready. What if I was only dilated to a 4? Grant sat with me through another contraction and said he was going to call them and just see what they thought. We called and we talked details for a minute. Sharon listened to me work through a contraction and said she was going to start getting ready to come. OK. I think it was about 2am at that point. By 3 am Sharon and the photographer were there. The lights were on in my room. I hadn’t left our bedroom/bathroom area. One thing I was really nervous about was waking the other kids. I joked with the photographer about leaving my hair down for photos and we all laughed. We talked shop and I offered her my video light if she needed it and any lenses she would want to borrow...and then another contraction would come. IT was like that. During my breaks I was chatty and talkative and then once I was riding the wave I went into my monkey brain. Sharon set down her supplies and during a break asked if I wanted to be checked. As she checked to see how dilated I was I just hoped I was at least close to active labor. Just close was all I wanted. Her eyes widened. “You are an 8 1/2!”. Really??!! I started bawling and laughing from relief. I had labored by myself from a 1 to 8.5 from 7pm to 3am. What I initially hadn’t wanted was the very thing I had done, labored at night in silence, by myself. And I was in active labor! I was a warrior. I was strong. I could do this. I was almost done. I want to say I really just let go and went to another world but I felt super present and my mind felt lucid. The next few hours consisted of a lot of moving around. At one point I decided to try working through a contraction on our lanai. We opened our sliding door and the humid air wrapped around my body. That sweet wet smell of our jungle home breathed into me. But after one contraction I wanted back in my cave. It’s funny, cause although I say my mind was lucid my body was in charge and I did as I was told. I got in and out of the shower a couple times. I thought about filling our Jacuzzi tub with water but it never seemed right. I was missing the upper body support that the soft tub with my other two births gave me. We stacked pillows, princess and the pea style, on the floor and I tried laboring on hands and knees but it didn’t feel comfortable. I tried the same stack on the bed but my arms always felt like they were having to do so much work. My shoulders and chest were sore from supporting the rest of my body. I just wanted relief. The waves were getting stronger and stronger. In one of the more defining moments I was throwing up over the toilet, while contracting and peeing at the same time, all over myself and the floor. Oh and I was buck naked. There was thunder inside of me. That implosion feeling of being ripped apart at the peak of my contractions. My body was in control. I was not. I was not. My baby’s heartbeat was fine. I was progressing. I was still alive. I was a machine with one goal: Birth this baby. Maybe this was transition?

Since I was getting cozy in the bathroom, they suggested I try working through a couple contractions on the toilet. There is something called a “sphincter reflex”…that the incomparable Ina May discusses in one of her books. You know how it’s easier to go to the bathroom when no one is watching? Or sometimes laughing makes you pee a little? It’s the theory that when you are relaxed it’s easier for things to open up. Sometimes sitting on a toilet during labor can help you instinctively open up and help things progress. I sat on the toilet and worked through a couple contractions as everyone patiently held the space. After a contraction my midwives asked if I wanted her to help break the water bag. They thought that releasing that pressure might help speed up this last bit. I said go for it. They took a long knitting hook looking thing and tried breaking it open. No luck. They tried again. Nothing. Now keep in mind neither of my other babies water bags had broken until I was pushing. I make them super power strong. My kids like to make a dramatic entrance preceding an exploding bag of water. During the second contraction on the toilet, my eyes widened as I felt downward pressure. “I feel like pushing”. Everyone started scrambling. No one really wanted you to be born into a toilet. Should she drop down on all fours? Can we have her turn around? Throw those chux pads on the floor! In case this baby was a comin’ and fast they prepped the bathroom floor. The contraction ended and I stood up. I can’t remember how it happened but I made my way back to the bed. Nothing felt comfortable. I tried being on all fours. Each contraction was burning and rippling through my body. The pain was intense. My natural voice wanted to yell out wild and high pitched and I had to concentrate really hard to keep my voice low, my sounds guttural. My rebel yell focused on down down down. Sending that energy to my baby and that opening that would bring you into my arms. They suggested turning over on my back, knees to my chest and trying to push that way. Seemed so opposite to how I had delivered before. What was I doing on my bed? Where was the water? On my back???? I was up for trying anything. My body was tired. It was close to 6am. The contractions were coming but not back to back like I feel like they should at this point. One big contraction and then breaks. It would fill my mind with doubt. Was I close at all? But there is no supposed to or right way when it comes to birth. I turned over on my back and I held one leg up as grant held the other. The next wave came and the pressure was insane. I pushed and screamed. “He’s coming! We can see the head! You are doing great! Rachel, breath and keep your voice low. You can do this. You are doing this. One more push. One more push.” The adrenaline surge that was rushing through my body after that one contraction was causing me to hyperventilate. Rachel, breathe! Rachel breathe! Rachel, you need to slow down your breathing. As I found my breath and geared up for the next contraction, our bedroom door opened and sweet Fairbanks had woken up right at 6:00am. What a scene he walked into. Both midwives, a photographer, aunt Anna, Dad and Mom lying on the bed on the cusp of something huge. I am not sure if I said anything but someone asked Auntie Anna to scoop him up and he lay on her shoulder. Standing on my right side. The next contraction was there. Knees pushed into my chest. It was like a movie from the night flashed through my mind and I still battled the trust that this was actually happening. The urge to push came from my heart into my entire body and I yelled out in a release that I am sure was heard on the mainland. One continuous push…fire fire fire, OUT CAME HIS HEAD…push still happening, yell still sounding and OUT CAME THE REST OF THE BODY. In one contraction, one push, I delivered my Duke. It was 6:04 am and the sun was just rising. Had it happened? Did it work? I took a deep cleansing breath, opened my eyes and saw my sweet perfect son being handed to me and placed on my chest.

Like all the births before yours, they were hard, challenging and life changing. They took a level of trust and leaping into the unknown like nothing I have ever, or will ever, experience again. But with your birth, there was a fog that surrounded me in the days leading up to you being here. A force weighing down on me telling me to be afraid, that I wasn’t ready, that things weren’t right. Whether it was hormones or circumstance, it was real and heavy. Until that moment. The whole experience of you being born was so intense for me emotionally that I was still mulling it over in my mind months later when I stumbled upon a quote, “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”― Albert Camus. Goosebumps up and down my arms. That was it. That was what it was like for me. It felt like winter until you took that first breath with the rising sun and then I realized that you were summer. You were the sunshine. The happy. The positive. The light. The trust. The one. And despite the fears and challenges that surrounded me at times during my pregnancy and your birth, YOU WERE SUMMER inside me all along. And once, in my arms, your perfect love and trust healed me. My summer baby. My Duke.

I cried and smiled and laughed and introduced you to your brother and sister (who woke up about 30mins after you were born). They both met you as though you were all old friends. Like you had always been with us. So much sweetness and gentle touch. Everyone’s eyes on you were adoring. Being the third child, the after moments of your birth weren’t as quiet or serene but it was definitely not lacking in excitement. Kids all over the bed. Everyone asking questions. Dad cut the umbilical cord after it had stopped pulsing. Anna made me scrambled eggs and toast. We wrapped up in beach towels and I stared at my little miracle. There was a bird that had kept watch on the porch from the time you were born for an hour or so. The soft misty light of the island filtered in through the windows to greet you. They did a quick stitch on me, we admired your amazing placenta and talked about your extremely strong water sac. They helped me use the bathroom, and then your sweet midwives tucked us into bed. They asked if I wanted help showering before they left, but I declined. I just don’t like washing it all away moments later. I don’t even like washing my newborns until days after they are born. I just want the smells and vernix and sweat to last a bit longer. I am a birth junkie like that. You were a great eater from the start. You had a little stuffy nose that I had to clear out often but because of that you made the sweetest little grunting and snoring sounds. Your cry from the second you were born was strong and meaningful. You weighed in at 8lbs 14 ounces. You looked different than Nova and Fairbanks did. You had lighter hair and a slimmer face. You were you and no one else. I couldn’t stop looking at you curled in my arms content and warm. Here. A few hours after you were born we kissed the midwives goodbye tucked into our clean bed and me asking every few minutes if that actually just happened.

 It seemed like a dream. Part of me thought I would just going on being pregnant forever...and having you in my arms was surreal for weeks following your birth.

I had a friend ask me months ago over lunch what that moment was like, giving up complete control during birth. Giving in to complete trust. Looking back, how did I view myself in those moments? I only had to think for just a moment before tears streamed down my face, “Those are the times I like myself the most. I am incredible and believe it”.

That is what you gave me. A reason to let go of control. To truly BE PRESENT. Not trying to make anything be but just accepting what was. To face the unknown and choose the uncomfortable. To be afraid and KEEP GOING. To feel my emotions but do the hard thing anyway. To choose trust. To choose faith. And in the end be filled with a strength and belief in my physical and emotional abilities beyond what I could ever imagine for myself. I gave birth to you. I grew Summer inside of me and get to keep him for the rest of forever.

Dad and I loved on you and then when the neighbors started pounding on the bedroom ceiling he took the big kids out to the beach so you and I could rest together. He didn’t want to leave us. No one ever wants to leave you. The door shut and we lay in bed together. Everything was quiet except for the birds outside. I was suppose to be sleeping but I couldn’t close my eyes. I couldn’t take my eyes off you.

Koʻu kau aloha pēpē. Aloha wau iā ʻoe.




(All my love to Hua Moon Midwives and their gentle and expert care. And giant thanks to Nicolette for taking so many of these amazing photos for us. They are treasures.)