A midwifes birth through the eyes of an aunt
A joyful family celebrates the new life of baby Rocío del Mar
Open petal flowers in a glass vase sat alongside a very pregnant statue of the Virgin Mary. Candlelight flickered gently in every corner of the room belonging to my sister Vanessa, a midwife in labor with her second child. The Native American flute music I picked out was quickly nixed in favor of Brazilian bossa nova, which did not last long either.
The moment in time when I witnessed the birth of my precious niece, Rocío del Mar, will be eternally emblazoned on my heart and soul. She was born at home to a room full of loving onlookers on Jan. 21, 2011 in Ocean Park, San Juan, Puerto Rico at 12:12 p.m. after an intense 17 hours of labor.
Without knowing it, the assembled “team” defined the beginnings of Rocío’s life. Abuela (grandma) helped big-brother-to-be, Pier, with homework and prepared him for bed while I offered food and a never-ending supply of cafes con leche to everyone else. First-time dad Javier was a bundle of nerves, ever present to Vane’s whims and desires, all the while keeping his parents tucked quietly away in the living room (their presence kept him grounded). Midwives and confidantes Rita (who flew in from Portland, Ore.) and Debbie tended to Vanessa’s immediate needs, listened to confessions, prepared birthing supplies, and chatted quietly about the beauty and frustrations of daily life. Thank you ladies, this kept her grounded.
As the labor pains progressed, my hostess role halted. I shape-shifted into Vanessa’s unofficial doula (a woman who assists and provides support during labor and after childbirth). Seven hours into the process, Rita and Debbie went for a catnap. Vanessa was in the tub, Javier by her side. Midway through one of her more forceful contractions, with a wild look in her eyes, she screamed at us, “Don’t just stand there! Help me!” I instinctively grasped her hand and reminded her to breathe. From that moment on, we inhaled and exhaled in unison. I silently wept through my smiles as my mighty sister went through motions and emotions: fear, anger, frustration, impatience, power, energy, and finally, submission.
As dawn approached, Vanessa’s strength weaned. To our bewilderment, mid labor, she fell into a deep sleep ... for two hours! Debbie believed this would re-energize her. Those of us who only knew the “textbook” process of birth wanted to wake her and make her walk the length of the house. From a sunrise rainfall emerged a magnificent rainbow, divining a splendid day ahead and the house rested. Upon awakening from excruciating pain, she let loose upon us laments and rants, chiding us and defeating herself momentarily.
“You can do it, Vane, You’re one of the strongest women I know,” I told her. “You’re not afraid of anything.” “Shut up Monica!” she screamed back at me. “I am afraid of things!”
The mood shifted. She began grunting, breathing wildly, and pushing. She had reached the peak. Soon she would be holding her baby in her arms and we would all be shedding tears of joy. As she was led to her bed, she instinctively got on all fours (a great position for pain management, but in retrospect Vanessa regretted its non-photogenic visual).
Rocío’s beautiful, dark hair made an appearance (this is called crowning). After a few more powerful pushes, her perfect and tiny head was out and explicitly present. Birthing circles, midwives, and ancient storytellers mark this as a moment when the veil between life and death is at its most intense. For an instant, silence filled the room as doubt crept in alongside fear and took hold of everyone’s breath.
Then, release. With one final push, Rocío del Mar made her grand debut to a joyful, loving, tear-filled crowd. “It’s a girl!” Her gorgeous, big brown eyes quietly scanned faces as she listened to familiar voices. Hugs and kisses flourished, tears flowed, and life magically returned to its glorious schema.
With that, a new soul to be cared for, honored, worshipped, and believed in was tenderly enveloped and caressed with love. Bienvenida a la vida Roció del Mar. Welcome to life! Thank you for the miraculous lessons.
This is dedicated to all you Mamas (especially Vanessa) who stare directly into the deep, dark abyss of labor and, in the process, find your strength and power. Thank you for believing in yourselves. You keep the fires of life burning.