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  • Cindi Denbow

Isla James: The story of how you became You

I wrote this story for you, my beautiful Isla. Maybe one day you will decide to become a mother, and maybe you will read your story while you're experiencing pregnancy. Maybe you'll read a few chapters in early labor as encouragement that your body was designed just for this. Anyone else who reads this story will probably find its content is way too detailed and think that it just makes the story unbearably long, but...I didn't write it for them or for me...I wrote this story for you. I really don't know where your "birth" story begins, but I think it is one that deserves a prologue, as your story began long before you were you. We always knew we wanted a second child. Even before your sister was born we knew we wanted you both to have each other. We talked about three, maybe four, but at least two. It was August 2015 when we decided it was the perfect time to start really trying. I would give birth in the late spring, just before the hellacious heat of the South Florida summer. It only took us 11 days to make your sister. 11 days. Back then, we were under the false pretense that it always took a few months to make a baby. Apparently, for us it didn't. We got pregnant right away, again. I guess your dad's sperm are ingrained with excellent directional ability, and my eggs are more than willing to host guests. (Sounds just like us, doesn't it?) I found out I was pregnant on September 21st. A huge box of cheap pregnancy tests sat under the bathroom sink waiting for that morning--you know, because it was "supposed" to take months to make a baby, and I didn't want to pay hundreds of dollars on plastic sticks to pee on. That feeling you get when you "just know" overwhelmed me. Well, that and my period was 4 days late. And after the long 3- minute wait there it was--that incredibly faint pink line that said there was a tiny cluster of cells becoming a human being right there inside of me. Your dad was coming home to have lunch that day, and I found it the perfect opportunity to finally dig out that "best big sis" shirt hidden in the back of your sister's closet for when this time came. I proudly put it on her and anxiously awaited his arrival. It was only an hour's worth of waiting, but it felt like a century. My patience was worth it to see the look on his face instead of telling him over the phone. He walked in the door, took one look at your sister's shirt, and excitedly yelled, "no way!!" His smile beamed as brightly as mine. Three days later I awoke with unbearable pains in my back, and I immediately went to urgent care. I knew what was going on, but I didn't want to accept it. I didn't want to lose that exciting feeling of hope and joy for a new life growing inside of me. I wanted the doctors to tell me something else was going on and that the pregnancy was fine. There I found out I had a very advanced double kidney infection that would require intravenous antibiotics. I was relieved. It was my kidneys causing this pain, not the pregnancy. I asked if they were safe for the baby. Coldly and matter-of-factly the doctor replied, "your HcG levels are much too low for this to be a viable pregnancy. That is, unless, you just got pregnant today before you came here." I have always been a very science-minded person. Your own great grandmother was a biology major before it was even widely acceptable for women to study science. I always believed that if a women lost a pregnancy it was because it wasn't a healthy pregnancy--her body rejected something that was abnormal to prevent it from continuing to grow into something potentially dangerous for mother or baby. Logically, I knew that the loss of the pregnancy had a biological reason. Maybe it was the kidney infection or an abnormality with the embryo...there had to be a reason. Thinking this way, it surprised me how hard it hit me emotionally. That loss of excitement and hope for this baby who was to be ours. This pregnancy that was completely robbed from me the second the bleeding started. How is it that I already developed feelings for the tiny beginnings of this new life? I cried for days, then on and off for months. Logic did not prevail, despite my constantly reminding myself that there was a reason for the loss of the pregnancy. I didn't care about the reason--I wanted that baby, and I convinced myself that it must've been something that I did wrong. "I should've been more careful and not gotten a kidney infection." "I should've gone to the doctor sooner with the back pain." "I shouldn't have had that one glass of wine last month when we started trying." "What did I do to deserve this?" All I wanted was to go back to thinking logically about it and to take my raging emotions out of the equation. Your dad was ready to try again for you right away. I wasn't. Little did I know the healing process for me, for something that was supposed to feel completely normal and with scientific reasoning, would take a few months. (Who am I kidding? I still feel residual emotional pain now and again, which I have come to find out is totally normal. I will forever be part of the group of "1 in 4.") After talking a lot about it, we decided to wait until the New Year to start trying for you again. Holidays are stressful, and after what we went through we didn't need more stress...and I looked forward to having a glass of wine with your aunts--for once not one of us was pregnant during the holidays and we could all partake. Christmas came and went, and it was time to begin again. My period started on Christmas Eve. That would be day 1 of the first cycle of "trying." This time around I wanted to be sure we got pregnant right away. All of that fun and excitement of the unknown was completely erased for me--this had become a process. That is not to say it wasn't full of love and passion. Your father and I are still madly in love. It's just that this time I was armed with ovulation test strips and a systematic approach to knowing we did everything we could to make you. I started peeing on pregnancy tests 9 days after my presumed ovulation date. That first test had the faintest line that I think is even possible. No one else could see it, but I could see it. I could see the hope of you. With cautious optimism I waited until the next day to take another test--faint again. After 5 days of testing and confirming with squinted eyes that the little line was getting darker I mustered up my courage to take a digital test that would tell me definitively "YES" or "NO." It was a yes! You really were in there! I told your dad in a photo text message while he sat beside me (Your Appi was here, and I wanted your father to be the first to share our tiny growing secret.) I know what you're thinking... “how magical. How very "2016" of my parents.” It was magical, though. I sprung for the extra pricey digital tests that have the capacity to tell you how pregnant you are. "1-2 weeks" beamed on the tiny screen in the photo. His smile beamed to match. We beamed together, excitedly, but with the slightest caution in our newly guarded hearts. We did it. We made you. Right away again, we made you. On January 9, 2016 you started becoming you. As the weeks went on, the nausea began. At first I was glad, as nausea is a good sign that my body was making hormones that were holding you in and helping you grow. My gladness quickly turned to misery. Nausea, I thought, was the understatement of the century. By 6 weeks, I struggled to keep even water down, and I could barely move myself from the bed to the couch, let alone take care of your sister. It got worse. I was getting dehydrated. I was losing weight. We were on this tiny island with horrible healthcare, and there I was, approaching hospitalization. The midwife I was seeing at the time (the only midwife on our little island) was outwardly getting annoyed at my calls for help. There I was, lying in bed, your sister asking for a cheesestick, and I couldn't even walk downstairs to feed her. I made one last call to that midwife, begging for help, for something ANYTHING to help me. She replied, irritably, that she was on her break and didn't have time for this. Shocked. Hurt. Discouraged. My "care" provider wouldn't care for me. This wasn't what we were used to. Our care during your sister's pregnancy was paramount. We had developed the most loving, trusting relationship with our midwife then, Cindi. When your father got home from work I sobbed into his arms. I didn't know what to do. I couldn't do this. I couldn't have you on this island where he was my only trusted advocate. I wasn't going to make it. I was so lost, but he wasn't. As usual, he saw things with the brightest clarity. "Call Cindi." I will never forget the relief that washed over my tired, aching body when he suggested we forfeit local care and do whatever we had to do to receive care from our midwife, Cindi. I vividly remember the call I made to Chelsea, the office manager of Gentle Birth Options. She told me she was waiting for my call. That she had a post-it with my probable birth month on it saving me a spot. (How did she know? I swear, these women are my angels.) We came up with a care plan and immediately set it into motion. For the remainder of my pregnancy with you, every 6 weeks I kissed your sister and daddy "see you later," and I hopped two planes to Fort Walton Beach to go to appointments with Cindi at GBO. We reached deep into our pockets to make it all possible, but to say it was "worth every penny" would be understating it. We would do it again ten fold to bring you into this world the way that we were able to. When 36 weeks (finally) rolled around, we packed up the car and your dad drove us 800 miles to Grandma's house. Your poor father...he somehow survived 800 miles with a screaming toddler who swore she "had to poop" every hour on the hour, and a gigantically pregnant uncomfortable, hormonal wife who had to pee at the most inopportune times. While the drive was long with countless stops, it flew by. It was one of those trips that you have been so anxiously awaiting and are so excited for that all you do is keep your eye on the prize--the final destination, Grandma's house. I don't think your grandma knew what she was getting herself into. Your sister and I were literally moving in, taking over her space with toys, coloring books, 1,000 stuffed animals that had to come with us, and eventually transforming her entire home into our sacred birth space. Totally still, with my feet up on the coffee table, I sat and nervously waited for your dad to return. He had to go back to work for 3 weeks, and despite dying to not be pregnant a second longer, I SWORE I would cross my legs and hold you in up until the second he walked back through the door. And I did. 39 weeks came as slow as molasses. All the while, Cindi kept assuring and reassuring me that you would wait for Daddy to get here. And you did. You waited...and then you waited some more. You waited until I was positive my abdomen would just explode open if I got any more pregnant. My stomach stretched beyond measure, giving me permanent reminders of your being a part of me, while you fooled me with more than enough "false labor" contractions every...single...night. You trickster. Just as I was beginning to become "The Pregnant Lady Who Cried 'Labor!'" it was 2am on Thursday, October 6th. I woke up with the immediate need to go to the bathroom. (Such begins the glamour that is birthing a baby. You will see.) When I came back to bed I awoke your father. I said, "I think my uterus hurts." He told me to close my eyes and get some sleep. I guess after weeks of telling him this every single night he stopped feeling the urgency to wake up and talk about it...Ha! In hindsight, I guess I couldn't really blame him. Don't worry. I didn't let him get away with brushing it off. After a few vigorous shakes and me demanding that "THIS. IS. IT!" he jumped out of bed and automatically went into birth partner mode. Since my water broke with your sister before labor started, the first thing we did was make the bed...a shower curtain, a sheet, a shower curtain, a sheet. It was getting more real by the minute. We were finally going to meet you. All of our supplies were ready and sorted for weeks, staring at me every time I walked by, and we were finally going to use them to help bring you into this world. As your father blew up the birth tub in the living room, I laid in bed excited, nervous, anxious, relieved it was finally time, breathing through each contraction and reminding myself to relax my face, relax my shoulders. Sleep was out of the question. Instead, adrenaline filled my veins, and I stared at the birth affirmations hung on the sea blue walls of my room at grandma's house. "I am not afraid." "Each surge brings baby closer to me." With every passing minute, you were getting so much closer. We decided to wait to wake anyone up until morning. (Except my sisters...they received immediate messages that it was go-time!! I needed them to cheer me on and send us some positive labor vibes...even if from thousands of miles away.) Chances were I would labor with you for at least 6.5 hours (half of the time I labored with your sister.) At 6am, as the sensations of our contractions were getting stronger, we agreed it was time to fill Cindi in. After a phone call to her, and texts to my best friend, Monica, her husband and our videographer, Bruce, and our (incredible) birth photographer, Katie, we were set to just calmly and collectively labor for awhile longer. Sometime around 8am, I decided it was time to give Katie the green light to come over. In my mind, I was definitely going to only labor for the "promsied" 6.5 hours, and it had been 6 at this point. Even though I wasn't feeling super strong contractions yet, I figured it wasn't much longer and I should probably have at least the photographer present for your birth. Your daddy called Cindi and she asked to listen to me. It still amazes me that she is so in tune with birth that she doesn't need any of the continual monitoring devices, constant cervical checks, or anything else to know where a woman is in her labor. She can literally just hear it. She knew we still had time, and I absolutely trusted her, so I continued to labor and to wait. Katie arrived, and I swear it was like she was immediately intertwined and ingrained in our labor. We had only just met a couple of weeks prior, but I felt like she was always meant to be there for us. She sat, smiling beside me, as I reminded her I wanted her to document everything about your matter how unglamorous and raw, I wanted to remember it forever through captured images. I felt her calming presence beside your father and I as I breathed through each contraction. (She also continually reminded me to pee...drink water...pee...drink water......) She was so much more than just our birth photographer. She was a part of our story forever. Our contractions began intensifying, and I knew we were getting closer to meeting one another. As my body began to shake uncontrollably, Katie hinted to Stephen that he should probably give Cindi a call. Oh glorious transition--this is the part where things begin to blur together. The part where a laboring woman's soul leaves her body in preparation to transform into a mother, or in our case, to become a mother again. As I fell deeper and deeper into transition all I could think about was the incredibly strong sensations we were experiencing together. With each sensation I envisioned surfing a wave, (an activity I enjoyed back when I was "cool." Yes, I was cool once.) It started and I mentally pushed to pop up on the board. It intensified and I came to the sweet spot right on top of the wave. Then it gradually decreased as I finished the ride, until it was time to swim back out and pop up again. I barely remember Cindi showing up, but I remember her reassuring presence calming me. Struggling through each sensation, Cindi suggested that I sit on the toilet and lift my belly up to help you drop lower and lower into the birth canal. With each contraction, I lifted and gently and instinctively bore down. Scarlet insisted that she "check me," so she did, and proclaimed, "I see her hand!!" It was just the comic relief we all needed in such a heavy moment. My desire to birth you in the water was strong. During my pregnancy with you the water was the only place I could go to alleviate the “symptoms” of pregnancy... the weight of my belly, the swelling of my legs, the pressure on my pelvis. I knew you enjoyed it, too, as your kicks and flips softened each time I plunged my aching body into the pool. Nothing was different about this time. The second we sat down in the birth pool you were tranquil. Ten minutes passed as you gave me the break I needed to have the energy to bring you into this world. Then our contractions returned, and you were ready to continue. My body tightened around you, and I reached down to feel our progress. Very few things are cooler than feeling you before you're even out. You were still in your amniotic sac, still consumed inside of your first home, inside of my body. I looked around the room and saw so many faces of people who I loved, who I knew loved you already. It truly was a Birth Day party. Everyone was there to cheer us on, to celebrate you. Before your birth I wasn't sure how involved I wanted your sister to be. My first instinct was to have her as silent and invisible during the birth as possible. Luckily, Cindi had other plans. She asked Scarlet to go put her swimsuit on, and she returned to the living room in little pink, ruffled polka dot bikini bottoms. Excitedly, she was helped into the tub with me. Fearless and calm, she comforted me in a way I never knew she could--encouraging me to push with each contraction, dabbing my head with a cool washcloth in between contractions, pouring soothing water over our us as we contrated, and playing with her Barbie dolls on my taut belly. Her companionship in the tub with me was indescribable and unforgettable--I will forever be grateful that Cindi suggested she get on that little polka dot bikini and be present with us. Your father sat beside me, caressing my back and offering his hand when I needed to squeeze it tightly. With one big contraction and one big push I felt my water break. I saw it, too, like a jet of water filled with vernix. "My water just broke! My water just broke!" "It's okay." I remember immediately looking at your daddy and telling him that I was scared. He told me I could do it. Cindi suggested I go from sitting to a more desirable position up on my knees. As I knelt I looked right at Cindi. "I'm so scared. I don't know if I can do it." I will never forget how comforting, reassuring, and empowering it was when she grabbed my shoulders and hugged me and told me that I WAS doing it. I was having this baby. I was having you. 4 minutes and barely any more pushes later, that instant feeling of relief consumed my body and you were here! In my arms, earthside, in the water. "She's here! She's here!" I looked at you in your already big, beautiful, wondering eyes. "I'm your momma. I'm right here for you. I'm here for you." And with that you let out your first big cry. What a relieving sound to hear. You held your daddy's finger as your sister looked on so thrilled to finally meet you. It was 1:28pm on that sunny October afternoon. Joy and complete solace washed over me as the warm water of the tub washed over you. You were outside of my body, but bound by the cord that fed you life we were still one. My gaze fleeted your eyes as I glanced down to see it pulse with the same quick beat of my heart. We all stared at you, so glad to finally meet you face-to-face, until the water cooled and it was time to get out to warm you up and to go to the bed to deliver our placenta. It was time for you to just be you, and for me to morph into my new role as a mother of two amazing small people. Cindi and Kassie hoisted me out of the tub by my arms, my legs weak and wobbly from working so hard to get you out. Hayley, the birth assistant who I had only just realized was present, held onto you, still holding onto me. It's funny how deep in the zone a woman gets during labor. She is so intensely connected to her body and her baby that she can catch quick glances of people's faces, but never really notice them. In those moments it is just her and her baby and the world is just white noise. It was only after a few steps that I felt the overwhelming sensation of one final big contraction and the innate push that I couldn't control. "I have to push!" I declared, before Cindi and Kassie caught our placenta in a towel beneath us. Just in that moment, as if you weren't quite ready to be separated, you latched on for the very first time. Your tiny mouth consumed my breast the best that it could, and in that moment you continued to capture the life that my body was giving you. One of my favorite parts about birthing at home is that we are given the opportunity to become a family before you're poked and prodded, weighed and measured. We are given a peaceful moment to absorb our new life with you and the miracle that just occurred in the comfort of our own bed and the sound of silence. Nothing beeping, no one coming in and out interrupting our private meeting. It's funny. Cindi was eating her Thai salad while Snapchatting in the kitchen while we bonded in the other room. I felt like you needed to know that, because some day you will laugh about the fact we "Snapchatted way back in 2016.” Monica came in and made sure I had water. Occasionally, Katie or Bruce peeked in to document our little moments of awe. Then somewhere around 30 minutes later it was time to sever our tie, to cut the cord that kept your heart beating for all of those months. Cindi asked if I was ready, and upon my nodding she clamped your cord. With one, or maybe a few, cuts Daddy separated you from our placenta, and there you were. You were by every definition your own person then, ready to experience all that this world could offer you. My beautiful, inquisitive, thoughtful baby. My Isla James. After a few stitches while Cindi laughed about my immodesty as Bruce had a full-frontal shot of it all, it was time to take a shower. With a little help I was out of the bed, but something didn't feel quite right. I was weak. I felt dizzy. As I was guided to the bathroom I felt a large gush of blood and tissue and red covered the floor. I could remember telling Grandma, before we birthed you in her house, that homebirth wasn't as bloody and gorey as the nay-sayers made it out to be. In my head I wondered if she would be okay, and I kept apologizing for making a bigger mess for my birth team to clean up. I could barely stand in the shower as I washed the blood from my legs. Red-tinged water swirled down the drain and I called for assistance. I couldn't stand any longer. After help putting on one large adult diaper and a pad to absorb it all, I was directed back to the bed to rest. As much as I knew I should feel fear in a situation like this, I had none. My absolute trust in Cindi's care for my well-being was constant in my mind. She suggested Pitocin. Pitocin. It's kind of ironic actually. As a natural-birther you spend countless hours researching ways to avoid Pitocin in labor, but here I was needing it to save my life. She pulled out a needle that I swear was the size of a kabob skewer. "That is going in my leg!?" She laughed and jokingly hid it behind her back. Then she reminded me that it was necessary. Pitocin. I am positive the devil invented this drug. Contractions commenced again, but this time my body was confused and not ready for them. I call the feelings during childbirth "sensations," but these were not sensations this was pain. (Birth story side note: Mad props to any women who encounter this drug in the throws of labor, as it was heinous enough post-birth.) As I rested, Cindi measured you (22in long, 14.5in head) and listened to your heart and lungs. She checked your hips and your reflexes and stamped your tiny footprints. Then it was time to weigh you. Maybe it was because you felt so much smaller inside me than your sister did, but I was sure you were only 7lbs. Your Daddy guessed somewhere around 8lbs 3oz. Cindi guessed 9lbs 8oz. There was a silent drumroll, 9lbs 6oz! Our big, beautiful, healthy baby girl. My bleeding slowed, the color returned to my face, I drank so much water I thought I would float, and then it was time for our birth team to go. Your big Birth Day party was over and our guests were leaving. Now it was just the four of us. Our dream birth didn't come easy, but to make it happen it was worth every single crazy minute of it all. Welcome to the world, our baby made on our little island, our Isla James Barber.

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