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Chapter 1 | My body is a vessel: The birth of animikii

Third Trimester Comes to an End

I was 42 weeks pregnant. Yes, 42 weeks. My son was supposed to be born in January and it was well into the second week of February. I was very patient though. I knew I had a healthy pregnancy and that my son would let me know when it was time for him to meet us. Let me take a step back by a few weeks and share what was going on.

I continued working at 39 weeks, 40 weeks, and 41 weeks. Driving to and from work, the occasional grocery store or Target run were the extent of my travels. I felt pretty good for the most part in third trimester. By the time I hit 40 weeks though, the discomforts began to settle in. Fatigue, headaches, hormonal roller coasters (i.e. mostly balling my eyes out at sad parts of movies), waking at least 5 times during the night to uncomfortably waddle my way to the bathroom or get a snack, total decrease in brain power #pregnantbrain, slowly making my way around the house, continuing to walk #happygirl in the frigid winds of North Dakota, cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, and other nesting things all finally hit me like a heavy rainstorm.

I had to slow down and not have so much that I wanted to accomplish in one day. My body needed rest and I listened. I began to take naps, sleep-in, relax. It was nice because I had so much understanding and support from some coworkers to work from home during the 41st week. After 41 weeks had passed, I finally took maternity leave. I passed time waiting for my son’s arrival by tuning into Netflix. I admit it. I fell in love with the Vampire Diaries and binge watched three seasons (yes…all within a weekend). I also tried to remain crafty by crocheting some scarves for my nieces and nephews. I was successful in getting halfway-through one of their scarves before Braxton-Hicks settled in.

I think I’m in Early Labor

It was Monday, February 8th. I had another prenatal appointment and a NST (non-stress test) because I was coming up on being 42 weeks. It was during this check-up that our midwife said I could go into labor at any given moment. She had swiped my membranes and sent me home. I’ll admit, it was uncomfortable for her to swipe my membranes, but it did help kick start my contractions. My appointment was in the morning and by 8:30pm I started getting my first contractions. After that, it had become a long night for all of us- including Happy (poor gal). The contractions made it really hard to eat or do anything without having to stop, brace myself, bend over to breathe, lean on the couch, or brace myself on my hands and knees. I had taken a warm bath, timed my contractions with an app, and after 30 minutes got out. The bath made them closer together, not noticeably stronger, but definitely closer together. By 11pm, I had called the birthing center and they told me to come in.

My husband packed our hospital bags, sacred medicines, baby’s feather, and we were off to the birthing center. The sky was so beautiful that night. The stars truly lit up the milky way. The short 15 minute drive was the most uncomfortable car ride, ever. Instead of being able to go on my hands and knees and move around with the contractions, I was strapped in with barely any room to move. At this point, we had called both my parents and my husband’s mother to let them know I started having contractions. It was so nice to hear the excitement from both of them over the phone, it made me excited, too. So we drove to the birthing center and once we got to the birthing room, they had to check me to see how dilated I was. I will admit- I was not a fan of the checking. Not. At. All. Especially since I was positive for Group B Strep, I didn’t feel like they should be sticking anything up there unless it was absolutely necessary. But- that’s just me.

I stripped down to my giblets, and put on the birthing dress I had sewn especially for this occasion. All the nurses loved it and asked about the significance of my outfit. That in itself, made me feel so welcomed and empowered. I had my son’s colors in it; the ribbons were white, silver, gray, blues, black, and a dark blue calico print for the dress itself. It was the perfect size. That’s what I love about sewing, you can make anything fit or compliment your body. I put a row of buttons on the top so I could make it easy after delivery to do skin-to-skin. I’m so glad I did this, too. I got into my dress and then they checked on my contractions since I was only at a 2 ½ -3 dilation. I thought at the time of asking, my pain level during contractions was a 10. I found out later, what a pain on a scale of 1 to 10 actually felt like.

My parents had arrived at the birthing center just as I had put on my birthing dress. They stayed for over an hour before leaving to get some rest at our apartment. They had wanted to stay but I told them that I wouldn’t be going into active labor over night at this rate and to come back in the morning. The NST was showing that my contractions were irregular and their plan for me was to get some rest and start the induction in the morning.

I tried. I tried to rest. Each contraction woke me up. At one point I had to get off the bed and lay over my birthing ball. My husband tried to get rest on those dinky folding chairs in the birthing room, too. The contractions were getting stronger and closer together as the night progressed into morning. Sometimes, the pain of my contractions would wake him up. He tried to comfort me and I started to have back labor. On a scale of 1 to 10, it was off the scale. That was a pain I never knew could happen to one’s body. And there was nothing I could do about it but embrace it and anticipate the next contraction. It was hard to sleep or try to get rest of any kind. I do remember getting a little bit of sleep. I’m not sure if it was a half hour, one hour, two, three or 15 minutes. But it was amazing and a good thing I got some rest. I was going to need it for what was up next.

Morning finally came- which seemed like a very long time to me. More like 2 nights instead of 1. By the morning at 7am, they induced me and started me on an antibiotic because I was positive for Group B Strep. They aren’t sure in the medical community what causes some women to get Group B and others to not; likewise when a woman has it in one pregnancy and not the next but in the third or never have it again. It’s truly a mystery to them. I was on an IV for the antibiotic and also for the induction- Pitocin (ugh). They had to induce me to help me along with my contractions and dilation. I was still at a 2 ½ -3 dilation. The contractions slowly got closer, stronger, and more painful by the time it was 12pm. I had dilated to about a 5 that time. The nurse staff helped me with breathing techniques when the contractions got worse. One of the nurses was just awesome- I will always remember her and her name. My mothers Sharon and Beth were both there by this time. My dad was there, too. Which I was surprised by because he’s not one to really be about the whole medical scene- but this was a special occasion. I know having them all there was so helpful for me in experiencing my first labor and delivery. I didn’t know what to expect or really know how painful it could get.

I’m so glad I chose a midwife to deliver my son. There was a point during the contractions where baby’s heart rate would drop or wouldn’t show up on the monitor. It happened so much that one of the nurses thought it might be a problem with my placenta since I’m overdue and didn’t think there was enough oxygen getting to it. Meaning, not enough oxygen getting to baby, putting baby in distress. So the nurses called in the midwife to take a look at the graphs and heart rate on the print out. He saw it couple of times and said they’re showing variation at the point where my heart rate drops during contractions. So they just kept an eye on it. They wanted to stick a long wire with a thin screw at the top of it to get a better reading of baby’s heart beat (so yeah, that would mean sticking it way up there onto baby’s head). I was scared. So scared when they brought that out. My eyes widened. I cried inside. I immediately froze. I didn’t know what to do. All I could do was pray. I said to myself with my eyes closed, “baby son, be strong, let us know that you’re okay; you don’t need that because I know you’re okay, please let them know you’re okay. “ I didn’t want that inside of me. I thought it might hurt me and hurt baby. So I just put all my thoughts into my belly, into baby and talked to him. And….it worked. I was so relieved.

It’s Happening, My Water Broke

The contractions had been so bad since they started from the back that I was tense. The nurses called in the midwife again and he checked me. I was still at a 5 but 90% effaced- so things were moving and getting close. He suggested I needed to relax and to try to get into the tub to help loosen up. So I conjured up what strength I could and waddled my way into the bathroom. I actually had to potty so it was timely. I had to brace myself for each contraction because they were very unsettling. It’s such an uncomfortable feeling when you’re having a contraction and you’re trying to use the bathroom. Especially with back labor where you feel like your back is going to snap in half, and you have no control over that. I was just about to make my way to sit on the toilet when I had to brace myself for a contraction. Hovering over the railing on the wall, grabbing the wall, looking up at the tiles I threw my head up, closed my eyes, breathing quickly. I think I just peed myself. But it was a little more liquid I thought than what was in my bladder. At that point, the nurse had turned around for just a minute and it all happened so fast in that short amount of time. She asked me if my water broke or if it was just pee. I said, “ I have no idea!” I kind of laughed inside because I had no way of telling what it was- I kind of couldn’t see my feet you know because of an extraordinarily large belly. She helped me take off my socks ‘cause they were drenched, unhooked the IV and heart monitors, ran the bath water for me, then helped me into the tub.

It was kind of nice. It was also the hardest part. I had the sudden, uncontrollable urge to push. My husband was right by my side the entire time. I rang for the nurse because I wasn’t sure if it was okay to push. She came in (it was a nurse we all didn’t really care for, her demeanor wasn’t very welcoming and neither was her energy). I told her I was pushing and asked if it was okay to do. She pointed her finger at me and said, “no pushing.” I was confused. Why not? My body clearly wanted to push. My son was telling me, okay mom, it’s time for me to come out into the world now. Why wouldn’t they let me do what was naturally happening? I had no control over the urge to push. And honestly, I wish I wouldn’t have listened to that nurse and just pushed because my body and my son, were telling me that it was time to push and get baby here. But I felt somewhat vulnerable. Even with my husband there. I didn’t know that I could flat out say “no, I’m pushing and you better get the midwife here.” I didn’t know I could do that until after I went through my doula training. (which I will talk about more in another chapter).

With each contraction, I was told to not push because “it wasn’t time” to. SO, I had to squeeze with all of my strength, or what was left of it, squeeze my uterine walls, pelvis, hamstrings, even leg muscles to stop myself from pushing even the slightest bit. It was painful. I was mad. I wanted to cry. It was so painful, like lightening shaking my entire body making it hard to breathe. I’m so glad my husband was there with me, holding my hand, helping me move and rock back and forth. He helped me with breathing, trying to relax and enjoy the warm water. He helped me with the pain I was going through. I held his hand the entire time. He let me use it as a stress ball. He then realized how strong of a grip I can have with pain.

The nurse came back in to check on me because I called for her. I told her again I wanted to push. It got to a point where I yelled, “I’M PUSHING!!!” And all the nurse could say to me again with her finger pointing at me was, “no pushing.” I was in distress. Torn. Feeling like my voice wasn’t heard no matter how loud I was. Why wouldn’t they let me just push? What was so wrong with having my son in the bath tub there? Was there anything medically wrong or preventing me from pushing right then and there when it was natural? The answer is no. There wasn’t.

Even though that made me clearly upset, my husband went along with it and in that moment I thought he helped me and he did. But after doula training, I realized I should’ve listened to my own voice and just pushed regardless of the nurse that told me repeatedly not to. (More on this in another chapter, now back to the story). My husband helped me when the contractions became more intense. He said, “breathe, breathe honey. He he hoo, he he hoo. Think of happy girl. Think of her, she’s here with you right now, checking on you, and helping you.” And in that moment, those words and thoughts helped me escape the anger and frustration I had. I immediately envisioned Happy siting next to the bathtub with a smile she always wears, and her paw on the edge of the bath like she would when we cough or cry, and she gently puts her paw on us when she knows we need comfort of some kind. I love when she does that, it’s like she comforts us without having to do much other than putting her paw on us gently with a smile on her face. It’s like she knows, she’s reassuring us and telling us it’s going to be okay. If you ever get the chance to meet Happy, she truly is a good medicine dog.

Then the nurse suggested to turn on the jets so we did. That was when the contractions really began to pick up and get more intense. Just when I thought they couldn’t- it went there. The pushing was harder to resist. And isn’t that just awfully backwards- resisting the urge to push? Anyways, this made me use every muscle I had in my body including my tongue to stop from pushing. It HURT and me sore for long over a week after delivery. In fact, I was sore for at least 2 months after delivery because my muscles were so exhausted and over worked. I was in the tub for maybe 15-20 minutes and the urge to push came on just like that. So I reluctantly got out and my husband helped me waddle my way back to the bed, reluctantly. They wanted me to sit down on the bed again- lame. My contractions were so intense and painful I couldn’t bare to sit down. The nursing staff got direction from the midwife to have me stand and sway my hips back and forth. To my surprise, at this point the midwife who had done all of my prenatal checkups popped in during her break to see how I was doing. She came in at the right time, too. She helped me so much with this part and guided me in the movement of swaying back and forth. The nurse we absolutely loved helped tremendously at this point, too. She was awesome and got me to breathe with her during my contractions and strong urges to push. If it wasn’t for her calm demeanor, reassurance, and experience, I would’ve struggled and may have had to get a C-section. She guided me from pushing too much, too soon.

It was literally minutes, maybe within a half hour of getting out of the tub and enduring the strong contractions that the midwife made the call and said it’s time. Really?! It was a total of more than 1 hour that I was being forced to not push when my body was naturally and ready to push.

The Final Countdown, Time to Deliver

The midwife had all of the gowns and trays ready for delivery. They put an oxygen mask on me because baby’s heartbeat was low with my contractions. I’m glad they gave me oxygen, it helped me take really nice breaths. It was the time I had been waiting for 9 ½ months, it was finally here; time for my son to meet us.

The grandmothers, Sharon and Beth, were on each side of the bed. The nurse standing next to the midwife, and my husband was getting gloves on the other side of the midwife. There was an older nurse, I remember who was helping the midwife with the set up and the nurse ended up lowering my bed too much. Instead of lying at a slant, I was lying flat on my back. I was upset but in such turmoil I didn’t have the strength to yell at her to put it up more. I was slightly overwhelmed with all of the people around me.

I laid there in my birthing dress, with the oxygen mask, listening to the direction of everyone around the bed. My mothers, the nurse, the midwife, my husband; the way they were placed around the bed was kind of like magic. They were placed in a half moon. The thought of a moon, even a half moon, was exactly what I needed at that time of turmoil. To remind myself that generations of women before me had done exactly what I was doing, naturally, in a lodge mewinzha ondaadizike wigamig.

As I was getting coached by the midwife on how to push (which didn’t take much for me to know how to push), I remembered an article I read in third trimester on breathing during delivery. I put my breath and energy into the birth canal and tried to look down as I pushed. I tried to keep my face loose, not tense so the pushing wouldn’t be harder than it needed to be. I did the best I could to not tense up. I must’ve done it for the last few pushes; enough to make my blood vessels pop in my face and eyes. It didn’t show until the next day. I ended up pushing for maybe 15 minutes or less and with each push, I could feel my son entering this world.

There was a point, half way through pushing during each contraction where I sort of blacked out, but not really. I was still conscious. I was still here, physically. But spiritually, my body had taken a short trip to a place that was far away, dark with speckles of light. As if I were in the place where babies come from before they enter this world. I’m still not entirely sure why that is where I went. I imagine it was the Sky World and a sign perhaps that my son was ready to come to Mother Earth. I came back, opened my eyes and was in the delivery room lying on my back, pushing. It seemed as if it all happened in a matter of seconds that I was gone. During that time, I forgot where I was. Once I was oriented to the delivery room again, I had to push again. This time, I was a little tired from pushing, but more so tired from lack of sleep and harsh contractions.

The midwife let me take a short rest from pushing, We had a brief conversation because he said I was a good pusher. My mom chimed in and said I was an athlete who ran college track. I smiled inside, because I knew in that moment how proud my mom was of me. Even though she rarely says it out loud, it was a really great feeling. The midwife asked what events I did, I answered, “I did everything.” I muttered, “pentathlons, heptathlons, everything.” The midwife was impressed and thought it was cool.

Then it was time to push again. Push! Two, three, four, five, six…ten, breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Push! Two, three, four….ten! Exhale. It was this third push and before the fourth push that I had seen something so beautiful, it made so much sense. I would’ve cried if I had the energy. I kind of blacked out again, but not really. It was a vision. I had seen a bright white light, long and tall surround by red and yellow lights. It was a vertical, very long and tall light. As that time, I had seen it, I didn’t realize what it was. When I came back and was on the hospital bed, it occurred to me exactly what I had seen. A vessel. A vessel that goes from Mother Earth to the Sky World. It was absolutely beautiful, I really do think if I could have, I would’ve cried.

Just then, I heard the midwife call out, “crowning! We have crowning!” I heard my mom’s sweet little voice say, “C’mon baby girl! You can do this! Just a few more pushes. You got this baby girl.

Almost there, push Pearl, push!” She also sang a beautiful song that I wanted her to keep singing. At the same time, I heard momma Beth say, “ You can do this. The grandmothers are watching you. You have the strength of your ancestors. You’re a strong ikwe.” All while the midwife was coaching me on pushing and the nurse said when to breathe.

In these last moments of pushing, I took in everything. I took in what everyone was telling me and saying okay and nodding, breathing and pushing. I was talking to myself with each push saying, “I am a vessel. I am a vessel. My body is a vessel. I am sacred. I’m bringing a sacred baby here.” And just like that, with a couple more pushes, the midwife had my son’s head and hand. I heard him say to my husband, “dad, do you want to catch your son?!” And so my husband got to be one of the first ones to hold baby. They wiped baby off a little and handed him to me. I had my birthing dress unbuttoned to we could do skin-to-skin. It was amazing.

I heard his cry. In that very moment, I felt a love I had never felt before. It was beautiful. Unlike anything I could have ever imagined. I felt the midwife pulling the umbilical cord and out came the placenta. They only had 1 stitch to make and I felt like I could finally relax, finally take a nice deep relaxing breath. He showed it to me and they were all in awe, including myself, of how thick and healthy it was. We kept the umbilical cord and placenta. We made a pouch for the umbilical cord to hang on baby’s cradleboard and buried the placenta near a maple tree on our land in Minnesota.

I lay there with my son on my chest, immediately feeling the love and sacredness he has. It was so beautiful and humbling. I listened to him cry and kissed his head, rubbing his back. As he calmed, it was suggested to breastfeed. He latched on his own and it made me feel so beautiful inside and out to be able to provide, good natural food for my son. I never felt more like a woman. I’m here today, because my ancestors breastfed their sons and daughters, and their sons and daughters, and so on. I truly felt love. I truly felt that my body was a sacred vessel. For the hours and days that came after meeting our son, I embraced the essence of motherhood.

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