Singing My Baby Into This World
Name: Maiga Milbourne
Baby’s name: Twyla Eulalia Price
Weight: 7 lbs 4 oz
Length: 19.5 in
Gestation: 41 weeks
Birthday: June 21, 2019 (her Dad’s birthday)
Place of birth: At the Gentle Beginnings Birth Center in Elmer, NJ
I felt my daughter before she arrived. She gave me a lot of information about her.
A few months before I became pregnant, I had a bout of Lyme disease. Before I was diagnosed, when I still thought maybe it was a virus, my husband, Kevin, and I went out to see the band Calexico perform. One of the band members mentioned his twin daughters, Genevieve and Twyla. As soon as I heard the name, “Twyla,” I turned to Kevin. We were hoping for a baby, but weren’t trying while I was sick. We both loved the name.
Thankfully, I was treated early for Lyme disease and was fully recovered by August when we took an ancestry trip to Appalachia to visit where my grandmothers had grown up in rural Tennessee and southwestern Virginia. On our first morning of the trip, I sat on a rocker in Johnson City, TN. My grandmother went to college in that town during a pivotal time in her life-- when her mother had hanged herself and her father passed shortly after. As I sat in the rocker gazing at the Smokies, I felt the weight of a little girl on my lap. I felt myself nuzzling her head and her long brown hair. I felt her.
At the end of that week, on my great-grandmother’s birthday (the woman who had hanged herself and changed my family’s trajectory) I conceived.
And at 5 weeks, I miscarried.
I was devastated. I decided to use the experience to be grateful to know that I could conceive and once I had gotten the all clear on Lyme disease. And I decided that it was my business to learn how to soothe myself. I made it my job. I threw everything I had at it-- even after I felt a little more ease. I went to a yoga class. I got a grass fed burger. I treated myself to a massage. I had a cappuccino, sitting on a park bench in Philly, and had a two hour conversation with a kind man walking his dog. I cared for myself.
I asked my doctor when we could try again. Given that the miscarriage was so early, there was no risk to trying again. We did and immediately, I was pregnant again.
In retrospect, I think my great-grandmother was clearing the nest for Twyla.
Twyla had a feeling, a signature, from the beginning. I would get “hits” or insights on what she might want. For example, I found myself more open to knitting closer ties with all sides of the family. Her name means “woven” and even before she was born I found her forging community and support all around.
I also felt really strongly that I needed to move a lot in labor. My practice doesn’t offer epidurals (unless surgery is needed, but they have very low intervention rates) so I had taken classes on pain management. It seemed to me that moving with labor would be best. As I became obsessed with Spinning Babies, an organization that studies fetal positioning, I saw that the pelvis seems best able to open for a birthing baby when the mother is on all fours. I started to understand the birth process as really doing all the work if the mother can work with it. In my birth preferences sheet, I emphasized that I wanted to move and have support in movement.
Unfortunately, I tested GBS positive. I knew I’d have to have an IV but my practice assured me that it would be an unobtrusively placed hep-lock so that I could move.
I felt really strongly that she wasn’t going to come “on time” at the 40 week “due date.” I myself arrived at 42 weeks and my siblings were late too. I felt that I needed to protect her ability to arrive at her own timeline without medical induction. I worked with my midwife practice to try to forge a path where I could go late without intervention.
As predicted, week 40 came and went. On the day of week 41, I went in for a check-up at the midwife practice. Everything looked good. My midwife, Lindsay, knowing how important it was to me to avoid induction, offered a membrane sweep. This is an old practice where when the midwife feels for dilation, she also uses her finger to “sweep” the amniotic sack from the uterine wall. She explained to us that for someone not ready for labor, nothing will happen. However, for someone ready for labor, it can release enough prostaglandins to kickstart labor. I was on the fence-- I wasn’t sure if it would hurt. This was Thursday, June 20, 2019, the day before Kevin’s birthday. I said it was up to him for his birthday. He felt like if I went to 42 weeks and was required to get a medical induction I would regret not having taken a less invasive route and urged me to try it. She checked my dilation-- only 1-2 cm. I agreed to the membrane sweep and while I felt a little bit of quick pressure, it wasn’t painful.
Afterwards, Kevin and I went to a diner for lunch as it was about 1 pm. As my husband paid the bill, I felt low back pain that began to radiate forward. I closed my eyes and felt. I felt a tingling move down my arms and legs.
Prior to this, I had no signs of labor. My friends who were due around the same time described Braxton hicks, lost mucous plugs, and other slow signs of readiness. I’d had a few Braxton Hicks contractions in the second trimester when I got dehydrated but that was really it. However, this matched everything that I’d read about a labor contraction. I called my practice and the nurse cheered me on and said to keep her posted.
I figured it would be awhile so when we got home, I tried to lay down to rest and asked Kevin to get groceries. The whole afternoon I felt a little restless and grouchy but no more contractions. Around 7 pm Kevin offered to make us dinner. I agreed but really didn’t feel like I could eat. Something felt like it was happening. He set up our plates of food and I couldn’t look at it. I went upstairs and began doing some of the positions I’d learned in labor class like leaning on my dresser, swaying my hips, getting on all fours, or laying on my side with the birth ball between my ankles. I was feeling contractions, all starting in my low back and radiating around my front.
I was trying to rest between contractions as I knew that first time labor could go on for a long time and I needed to keep my strength. When I was in my bedroom, it was hard to rest between. I also wanted to eat as I knew that would help me keep endurance. I couldn’t. I did drink a ton of water. I got into the tub for awhile and that really helped ease the intensity in my low back. In the bath, between contractions, I could turn my head to one side and fall sound asleep.
I did feel the contractions doing the work of moving my baby in the uterus and down more deeply into my pelvis and the birth canal. I knew from my earlier visit to the midwife that even though I hadn’t been very dilated that my baby was very low in my pelvis-- station 0 or -1. I had read a lot of Ina May Gaskin while pregnant and she described contractions as “interesting sensations that require all of your attention.” I loved that and wanted to pay attention to the specificity of the sensation-- was it pressure? Tightening?-- rather than paint it all with the same brush by categorizing it all as “pain.” A friend of mine defines pain as a “sensation you want to get away from.” Unfortunately, the low back intensity felt closer to that! I was a little disappointed because I honestly was so curious about labor and felt so honored that I got to have the opportunity to know the experience of birth. We hadn’t even been sure if I could get pregnant. When I did and carry a baby full term I felt truly grateful. I didn’t want to be ungrateful in the big moment!
I got back in the tub where I was managing better. I heard a big summer thunderstorm raging outside and the pressure and intensity felt like it matched my experience. I imagined the pressure in my low back as a huge storm cloud and the rain washing down my legs. It reminded me of one of the birth classes we had taken where a great doula had offered the mantra “down and out.” I began silently repeating that to myself. And somewhere in my brain I realized, this is the energy that brings my baby to the earth. This is the pressure, the force. So I began repeating to myself, “earth.”
Kevin and I are really close. He remains an unbelievable support and he is a fantastic father to our daughter. In pregnancy, I had thought that I’d want him talking to me and massaging me through labor. We identified that we each have different styles of communication that feels supportive. He feels supported by me when I touch him but am quiet. I feel supported by him with really specific communication. I was gaslit as a child and teenager so I want to hear affirmations of what is happening. It makes me feel safe, like everyone is checked in together. He wrote up a list of my accomplishments when I had been brave or courageous.
In labor, I remembered that I had wanted those things prior and silently laughed. In the actual event, I wanted him nearby but I didn’t want him to touch me nor speak. He was attuned and shifted seamlessly in the role of witness and protector. Periodically, he called the midwives. He saw that my labor was progressing quickly. However, I had only been 1 cm dilated that afternoon and I was a first time Mom. Generally, that’s going to be a slow, long labor! The midwives urged us to labor at home as long as possible. I honestly didn’t care. I knew my daughter was coming. I knew there was a chance that she would be born at home. I wasn’t concerned.
Somewhere in there, I also recognized that Kevin would be more comfortable at the birth center and I felt for him. Occasionally, I would turn to smile at him in an attempt to reassure him. Later, he said I looked like a total lunatic, but he understood.
Around 11 pm I got out of the bath and tried to eat some yogurt. I threw up and began shaking. Having read about labor, I thought that I was probably going through transition. Kevin got me on the phone with the midwife-on-call, Alex. She said that people respond to the hormones in any number of ways. In retrospect, my husband also said he thinks it was hard for the staff to gauge how far along that I was because I was calmer than some people are in the same position. I think that’s because I trusted the birth process and I trusted my daughter. I knew that birth works-- and the best thing that I could do was to not inhibit its progress. I kept saying funny things to Alex like, “I thought I would like labor better!”
I heard the midwife say to me or Kevin-- I can’t remember who-- that I probably wasn’t very dilated if I was only 1 cm at 1 pm that afternoon. I thought, OK, we have to get big then. I got back in the tub. I had read a birth story in “Spiritual Midwifery” where a small woman had a big baby and was concerned. The midwife and book author, Ina May told her, “you can get huge.” When the baby was born Ina May was so impressed by how much this woman dilated and opened to easily accommodate her child. The woman said later that she used Ina May’s reassurance as a mantra and repeated to herself, “get huge.” As it occurred to me, I labored in the tub silently repeating, “get huge.”
I had wanted birth to be a spiritual experience-- a rite of passage or sacred portal. It felt different than what I expected. Not bad, but different-- very raw, very animal. I realized that maybe the discrepancy was my idea of “spiritual.” Maybe I wanted something too sanitized. It wasn’t that birth wasn’t sacred, it was that my idea of “sacred” was really civilized and limited. I began to imagine a very wild old crone shepherding me through the initiation of birth. I imagined her completely neutral about and immune to how I felt about the experience. Not that I was in any danger but just that she truly did not care how I felt. There was something in that that felt really reassuring. I was in the grips of something bigger. I was being stretched to meet it, rather than that huge life force being diminished or contorted to what I could process.
Finally, around 1 am, Alex, the midwife, said to Kevin that she knew he would be more comfortable at the birth center. He said, “we’ll leave in about 10 minutes.” I was still in the tub and my contractions were about 3 minutes apart. When I heard him say that I laughed inwardly knowing there was no way we were leaving that fast. I had no concept of time-- the 2 hours that had just passed felt like minutes-- but I knew getting out of the tub would be no easy feat.
I was dripping sweat and wanted to get dry. I also thought I should pee because I knew that a full bladder can inhibit birth. I tried to pee and lost my mucous plug. It took a long time to get down the hall and throw the labor gown over my naked body. I put on underwear as well.
Somehow, we got down the stairs. Kevin had everything set up and had cooled the car. I had actually wanted to get more ready-- I thought that I would have more time in early labor! Everything had happened so quickly. I climbed into the back seat. There was absolutely no way I could sit down so I was on all fours. I felt Kevin pause and told him to shut the door. My one foot dangled with a flip flop on it. I knew that if I lost that flip flop I’d never get it back so I was trying to keep it on.
The drive to the birth center should be 35-40 minutes but as we’d had mammoth storms, it took an hour. And it had already taken an hour to get me out of the house. It was hard to hold on during the drive as contractions came. I was leaned over my daughter’s car seat, sweating profusely all over it. I was just praying that I didn’t throw up in it. Every now and then I could look up and see where we were. One time, Kevin took a turn sharply and I said, “Easy.” That’s the only word I spoke the whole time.
He said sometimes I would almost growl. He felt like he had a feral wolf in the backseat. I was feeling the urge to push. I knew she could come in the car. I didn’t feel like I could contain it so I went with what I felt.
When we finally arrived Kevin ran to the door of the birth center asking the nurses to assist him. They still felt like I was probably in early labor so they came to the car casually. Kevin said that when they saw me everything changed. They assisted me into the birth center. I had a contraction in the hallway. We got to the suite where I would birth and I wanted to go to the bathroom. It took them awhile to get me into the room. They wanted me to lay down so they could check my dilation. I wanted to be on all fours and couldn’t understand why they couldn’t check me that way. Finally, I relented even though it really hurt to be on my back.
I knew that first time labors can go for a long time and that many women get to the birth center, thinking they’re ready to go only to find out that they’re not fully dilated. I prepared myself for that possibility. I heard Alex and the nurses checking me and talking amongst themselves. I asked how dilated I was. They laughed and said, “oh, you are fully dilated and effaced.” As soon as I knew that I was good to go I grabbed hold of the bed rail and hauled myself onto all fours. I heard them asking if they were ready for delivery as the equipment was scattered in different rooms-- based on how I sounded on the phone and that I had only been in labor for 7 hours, they hadn’t expected me to be so far along.
One nurse was scrambling to get the IV for the GBS antibiotics. They were saying they knew that I might not get the antibiotics but it was likely OK because the sac hadn’t broken. They did get the IV in and half the antibiotics.
Another nurse offered me a birth ball to lean on. They tried to get fetal monitoring equipment on me as they didn’t have a baseline on the baby but it was hard for them to monitor me while I was on all fours. I didn’t care. I began to feel her pushing in and out of the birth canal. I knew that could happen and that it wasn’t a bad thing. The compression is good for expelling fluid from the baby’s lungs and it helps me stretch. Alex would say, “push harder” I think to try to get her all the way out! I was pushing but I couldn’t gauge what was hard and what was restrained. And I think part of me wanted to reserve some strength.
I asked them to dim the lights and they did. I still wanted to hear the rain and see the outside night but I couldn’t find a window. It was there, I just couldn’t see it at the time.
Kevin remembered my birth playlist and asked if I wanted it on. I said that I did. The playlist was 4 hours of songs and Kevin started it on shuffle. Jason Isbell’s cover of “I follow rivers” came on. Alex said, “I’ve never heard this version of this song.” Then Peter Gabriel came on and a nurse said she had seen him in concert. I enjoyed this. I had felt a little overwhelmed with the IV and them trying to reposition me. I started feeling like they all loved me and my baby. I closed my eyes and thought of each one of them and said, “she loves me and my baby.” It made me feel calm and connected.
Between contractions I told one of the nurses that one of my premonitions had occurred in the second trimester. I had been in the tub, listening to the playlist, and imagining Twyla’s birth. A song that previously hadn’t meant much to me but seemed sweet came on and I had this flash that felt so real of Twyla emerging to that song as all of us-- me, Kevin, the nurses, the midwife-- sang her earth side. The nurse asked, “what song was it?” Just then, the song, “Dedicated to the One I Love” by the Mamas and the Papas came on. Everyone started singing. I had a contraction and sang. It helped. It helped me keep my jaw soft and open (which helps the pelvic floor stay open and responsive). I was so moved that they jumped right in.
The baby didn’t come on that song but I could feel her coming in and out. She was en caul and I heard some nurses joke that they were “in the ‘splash zone’.” Alex asked if I wanted to break the sac. I didn’t care-- part of me wanted her to be born en caul so she could be the Dalai Lama :) (http://www.louderthanwordsbooks.com/born-with-the-caul-born-with-a-caul/) . I said to Kevin, “it’s your birthday, your choice.” Kevin asked Alex if it would make it easier for me and she said yes. On the next push, Alex barely touched the sac and some warm water rushed down my feet. They saw the baby had passed a little meconium but it was a swirl in the water and she hadn’t aspirated any. They invited me to feel her head and I did!
However, they couldn’t get a good read on her given my position and how deep she was in the birth canal. They asked me to turn on my left side.
Kevin held my right leg. As they couldn’t get a read on her they wanted to play it safe and get her out. Alex told me to tuck my chin and push hard. I did and the baby emerged, both fists by her ears, in one swoop while Leon Bridges “Coming Home” played. She was born at 5:11 am on the Summer Solstice, her Dad’s birthday, after 9 hours of labor.
Throughout my pregnancy, Kevin and I called the baby “Twyla.” It felt like that was who she is-- and we couldn’t agree on any other name. I didn’t want to assume. When she emerged, they laid her on my stomach. I tried to pull her up to me but the cord was short so they dissuaded me. Kevin could see her face but I couldn’t so I asked him, “Is it her?” He said, “Yes.” The nurse asked me if we had a name and I said, “Yes. Twyla Eulalia.” Twyla, woven, the name we heard at the Calexico concert, and Eulalia, Kevin’s great grandmother’s name. The rolling “l”s and vowels felt like a song or a blessing to me. The name felt so musical and meaningful. I loved saying it.
The cord pulsed for 25 minutes. When it was done, Kevin cut the cord and I could finally see my baby, Twyla. She was unbelievably beautiful. I know everyone thinks that but I usually think that newborns look like aliens and I was prepared for her to be funny looking. She was so gorgeous. I looked at her profile and it looked exactly like the ultrasound profile we’d had on the fridge since the anatomy scan. It was so wild that here she was, an actual, real live little human, rooting on my chest.
During that time, the massive placenta had blood clots forming under it. Alex told me I needed to push hard to get the placenta out so I didn’t lose too much blood. I was so tired, but I did it. The placenta was basically Twyla’s twin! It was SO big! And the clots were huge too! Given the amount of blood that I’d lost I was given iron to help me replenish.
Kevin stored the placenta for encapsulation. The woman who did the encapsulation said she usually gives clients 130 capsules from their placenta. Mine yielded 196 plus a tincture! She said that yogis almost always have giant placentas. My Mom practiced yoga and said hers were huge too! Maybe because we move the uterus can create room? Kevin took credit saying it was all the supplements that he gave me.
After I was cleaned up, everyone left Kevin, Twyla, and I for a few hours to be together.
Later, the midwife who had done yesterday’s kick-start membrane sweep, Lindsay, called me to congratulate me. She, the other midwives, and nurses all said what an amazing job that I had done. I was a bit in shock but I didn’t really feel like I had done anything. The birth process happened. It unfolded beautifully and quickly and wildly. I started realizing that maybe the thing that I had done was to not interfere with it. And for that I was grateful because in the past, I’ve struggled with that! I have a history of sexual abuse and it took me many years to process my triggers, when I dissociate and freeze, to understand what makes me feel safe, my own needs, and to advocate for them. I realized that I had done that enough that I could surrender to the birth process, rather than fight or fear it. Pregnancy and birth made me feel more embodied than ever before. It made me feel that I understood and trusted myself, and therefore could trust these bigger life force energies.
Labor and birth felt like a dance. Life energy moved my baby through me-- and her will and volition were part of it! I’d imagine any other baby would have a very different process! My job was to engage with it and not fight it. I feel like I did that by moving, managing intensity in the bath, and allowing the process to open and flow without obstruction. I was able to do that with so much amazing support-- most primarily from Kevin but also from family and my amazing, beautiful midwifery practice. And, from Twyla.